Bursting onto the television landscape in 2009, Glee proved to be courageously groundbreaking and wildly successful. Following the musical exploits of the glee club at William McKinley High School in Lima, Ohio, the Fox series quickly became a cultural touchstone that championed LGBTQ+ rights while shining the spotlight on real issues faced by teenagers. And it did so with exuberant Broadway-style musical performances that put a new spin on familiar pop hits.
With ratings through the roof and the show’s cover songs regularly topping the iTunes charts, the soaring popularity of Glee made it a magnet for celebrity guest stars, luring the likes of such A-listers as Gwyneth Paltrow, Britney Spears, Jeff Goldblum, and many more. The result of the series’ meteoric success meant that its young cast of relative unknowns became instant celebrities, from Broadway baby Lea Michele to Golden Globe winner Chris Colfer. Yet, as is often the case with sudden fame, some serious darkness and shady controversy lurked beneath the surface of the Hollywood glitz.
“I have very fond memories of the show,” Matthew Morrison (a.k.a. Mr. Schue) told People in 2019, before adding, “It was a hard show with the filming schedule and the tragedies and all that stuff.” Let’s uncover the dark secrets of the cast of Glee.
Several Glee stars have called out Lea Michele's on-set behavior
While there had been whispers of Glee star Lea Michele’s alleged diva-like behavior on the set (which she categorically denied in a 2012 interview with Marie Claire), the truth appeared to emerge years later when a former co-star called Michele out on social media.
In June 2020, actress Samantha Marie Ware made headlines when she tweeted out racism allegations against Michele, claiming that the actress who starred as ingénue Rachel Berry “made [her] first television gig a living hell” and “made [her] question a career in Hollywood.” It didn’t take long for Michele’s former co-stars to pile on, with shade thrown by Alex Newell, Amber Riley, and Heather Morris. “Was she unpleasant to work with? Very much so,” the latter tweeted in part. “For Lea to treat others with the disrespect that she did for as long as she did, I believe she SHOULD be called out.”
Michele subsequently offered an apology in an Instagram post. Admitting that she “clearly acted in ways which hurt other people,” she added, “Whether it was my privileged position and perspective that caused me to be perceived as insensitive or inappropriate at times or whether it was just my immaturity and me just being unnecessarily difficult, I apologize for my behavior and for any pain which I have caused.”
A woman sued Mark Salling for sexual battery
Mark Salling portrayed Glee‘s Puck, a rough-around-the-edges character that was, it turned out, not far off from the actor’s real-life personality. That first seemed to become clear in January 2013, when TMZ reported that ex-girlfriend Roxanne Gorzela had filed a lawsuit against Salling, accusing him of sexual battery and forcing her to have sex without a condom in 2011. When Gorzela showed up at Salling’s home weeks later to confront him about the “emotional distress” she’d endured over worries that she may have contracted an STD from him, she alleged that the actor grabbed her and threw her to the ground, injuring her knees.
Salling’s rep responded by telling the outlet that “there is no truth to this,” describing the allegations as “the textbook case of a disgruntled girl looking to cash in on a TV star’s success.” According to TMZ, Salling settled the case in March 2015, agreeing to pay Gorzela more than $2.7 million (through an insurance claim) when she agreed to drop the charge of sexual battery. Salling did, however, admit responsibility for the injuries she suffered by causing her to fall.
Beloved Glee star Cory Monteith's fatal overdose
Cory Monteith was a star on the rise thanks to his role as Glee‘s quarterback-turned-singer Finn Hudson. Throughout his tenure on the show, Monteith was candid about his past substance abuse, using his own experiences with drugs as a cautionary tale. In a 2011 interview with Parade, he admitted he “had a serious problem” with drugs when he was younger, entering rehab for the first time at age 19 when friends and family staged an intervention over fears he wouldn’t survive to see 20.
Despite outward appearances that Monteith had conquered his demons, he apparently suffered a relapse in March 2013, when the actor’s rep confirmed to People that he had “voluntarily admitted himself to a treatment facility for substance addiction.” By late April, he’d completed treatment and left rehab. But tragically, on July 13 of that year, Monteith was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room due to an apparent overdose. The coroner’s report, CBC News noted, indicated that investigators at the scene found “a spoon with drug residue and a used hypodermic needle, along with two empty champagne bottles and glasses.” The cause of death was determined to be “mixed drug toxicity involving heroin and alcohol.” Monteith was just 31 at the time of his passing.
Naya Rivera's arrest for domestic battery
Two years after Glee left the air, Naya Rivera (who played cheerleader Santana Rivera) and then-husband of three years Ryan Dorsey had a disagreement during the Thanksgiving weekend of 2017. According to a report from WSAZ News, the argument escalated and allegedly turned violent when Rivera, who had apparently been drinking, reportedly physically attacked Dorsey by striking him in the head and bottom lip. Dorsey responded by calling 911, telling the dispatcher, “My wife is out of control.”
When police officers arrived on the scene and took a look at Dorsey’s battered face, Rivera was arrested and charged with domestic battery. However, the charges against Rivera were dropped following the New Year. Per TMZ, the prosecutor dismissed the case when Dorsey decided not to press charges against his wife, from whom he had once again become estranged: weeks after the incident, Rivera had filed for divorce for a second time — she initially filed in 2016, per The Blast, but subsequently called off that earlier attempt at dissolving their marriage. In June 2018, People reported that the couple’s divorce had been finalized.
Were Melissa Benoist's domestic violence allegations about her fellow Glee star?
Melissa Benoist and Blake Jenner joined the cast of Glee in 2012, with Us Weekly reporting in July 2013 that they had become engaged. The on-screen and real-life couple, who played Marley Rose and Ryder Lynn (a.k.a. the new Rachel and Finn), secretly wed two years later, but by December 2016, Benoist filed for divorce (via People).
However, there may have been more going on than fans realized. In a video Benoist shared on Instagram in November 2019, she declared herself “a survivor of domestic violence,” revealing that she’d been in a long-term abusive relationship. The Supergirl star, who has since moved on with co-star Chris Wood, went on to claim, “The stark truth is I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly, punched so hard the wind was knocked out of me, dragged by my hair across pavement, head-butted, pinched until my skin broke, shoved into a wall so hard the drywall broke, choked.”
The final straw came when her abuser threw an iPhone at her face and badly injured her eye, tearing the iris and causing the pupil to remain permanently dilated. Though she didn’t name names, fans quickly put two and two together, believing the person in question was Jenner: during a March 2016 appearance on The Tonight Show, Benoist claimed she’d injured her eye when she “slipped and fell” into a potted plant. However, neither Benoist nor Jenner has commented on the speculation.
Glee's Heather Morris was 'mortified' when her nude photos leaked
Heather Morris was still portraying Glee‘s ditzy cheerleader, Brittany S. Pierce, when some of her intimate photos were leaked online without her consent in 2012. As Perez Hilton reported at the time, her cellphone had apparently been hacked; and, according to Page Six, among the pictures was one in which a naked woman appearing to be Morris posed in front of a webcam.
For her part, Morris didn’t directly address the leaked photos until nearly a decade later on Instagram. “To say I was MORTIFIED is an understatement,” she wrote in part in May 2020, captioning a snapshot of herself rocking a bikini. “… My body was and still is part of my job and I felt like I couldn’t even walk around my work place thinking that everyone had seen every single piece of me (a couple of snide comments from co-stars game [sic] my way which didn’t help).”
The point of Morris’ message was to promote body positivity, and she concluded with, “Let’s not anyone feel ashamed of who we are and just go kick some a** when we want to and feel good about ourselves, okay!!?” Well said.
Did Naya Rivera seek revenge after Mark Salling reportedly cheated?
At some point, Glee co-stars Naya Rivera and Mark Salling briefly became an item. According to a source cited by Us Weekly in 2010, Rivera was reportedly not happy when she found out that Salling had allegedly been dating other women during the course of their relationship, even though they were supposedly not “exclusive.” In fact, the source claimed that Rivera “went crazy when she read about [the] other girls,” and was allegedly sent on a revenge mission when “she and some pals trashed his Lexus.”
Meanwhile, Radar Online quoted an eyewitness who offered additional details, revealing that the alleged trashing involved smashing eggs on the car and smearing it with dog food. Claiming that Rivera and a friend had gone to a liquor store to buy the supplies at around 1 a.m., the insider said, “They were laughing hysterically the whole time they were in the store. They didn’t seem drunk, they were just being silly.” Rivera allegedly capped off her revenge-fueled vandalism by keying the vehicle.
For his part, Salling was asked about the alleged incident during a red carpet interview with Ryan Seacrest. Per Us Weekly, the actor technically didn’t deny anything, but quipped, “They should throw a cheeseburger at my car. I’d appreciate that!”
Mark Salling's tragic end following his child porn charges
Fans of Glee were shocked in late December 2015, when the Los Angeles Times reported that Mark Salling had been arrested on suspicion of possessing child pornography. The following May, he was officially charged with the federal felony in the wake of an investigation undertaken by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, per The Hollywood Reporter. If found guilty, Salling would face between five and 20 years behind bars.
By December 2017, E! News reported that Salling’s lawyers had cut a plea deal, with the actor pleading guilty to possession of child pornography involving a prepubescent minor. He had been freed on bail, and was scheduled to be sentenced the following March. However, the sentencing never took place.
On Jan. 30, 2018, police officers responded to a “welfare check” after a family member reported Salling had gone missing, per TMZ. Officers eventually discovered his body hanging from a tree near a baseball field close to his home. The coroner later determined his death to be a suicide. As Glee‘s cast and crew reacted on social media, Salling’s attorney told People in part, “Mark was a gentle and loving person, a person of great creativity, who was doing his best to atone for some serious mistakes and errors of judgment.” Salling was 35.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
The mysterious death of Glee star Becca Tobin's boyfriend
Becca Tobin was among the new cast members who joined Glee for its 2012 season, playing the role of cheerleader Kitty Wilde. Sadly, tragedy struck in her personal life two years later. As TMZ reported, the actress’ boyfriend, Matt Bendik, had traveled to Philadelphia on a business trip in July 2014, where a maid found him dead in his hotel room.
According to police sources who spoke with the outlet, the circumstances of Bendik’s death were beyond mysterious: there was no evidence of foul play, no drug paraphernalia or weapons at the scene, and no indication of suicide. In fact, Bendik’s passing was referred to as a “sudden death.” An autopsy was conducted, but didn’t shed any further light on the cause of his death and found “no evidence of trauma,” per Entertainment Tonight. Bendik was 35.
For her part, Tobin later broke her silence the following month and addressed the loss on Instagram. “Thank you all for the love and support,” she captioned a photo of the pair together. “Matt was the most extraordinary man I knew and he will live in my heart forever.”
Dianna Agron was reportedly 'terrified' of her ex-boyfriend
Dianna Agron was an O.G. cast member of Glee, playing Cheerios leader Quinn Fabray in the show’s first season and beyond. In her personal life, she dated British actor Alex Pettyfer (her co-star in the 2011 sci-fi flick I Am Number Four) until the relationship came to a screeching halt that February.
According to Us Weekly, Agron reportedly became “terrified” of Pettyfer when he allegedly flew into a jealous rage at a Los Angeles nightclub, accusing actor Sebastian Stan of “hooking up” with Agron. Claiming that Pettyer “absolutely lost it” and threatened Agron, a source cited by the magazine alleged that the actor had been acting like “a psycho loose cannon,” leaving Agron so fearful she was “staying at a hotel under an alias.” Pettyfer’s rep insisted no threats had been made. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail appeared to corroborate Us Weekly‘s report, claiming that Agron was so scared of Pettyfer that she went into “hiding” after they called it quits.
Agron never publicly addressed these reports, but Pettyfer certainly didn’t do himself any favors when he trashed Hollywood in a subsequent interview with VMAN magazine (via E! News). “Being an actor is like being in prison,” he lamented, before describing Los Angeles as “a s**thole.” He added, “I think it’s this insidious pool where nearly everyone lives in fear. Geographically it’s fantastic, but socially it’s disgusting.” Yikes.
Naya Rivera had a secret pregnancy during her Glee run
The 2016 publication of Naya Rivera’s memoir, Sorry Not Sorry, offered much insight into the tumultuous life of the Glee star. “I’ve done a lot of living,” the actress told People ahead of the book’s release. “I’m a 79-year-old trapped in a 29-year-old’s body.”
One revelation Rivera made in the tell-all book was that she had become pregnant with future husband Ryan Dorsey’s child in 2010, while she was starring on Glee. Shortly before, they had called it quits so the actress could prioritize her career endeavors. While they later reconciled, married, had a child, and divorced, at that earlier time in her life, a baby was not part of the TV star’s plan — and she ultimately decided to terminate the pregnancy.
“It was very scary to open up about everything,” Rivera admitted to People of spilling all her secrets, particularly that one. “It’s not something a lot of people talk about, but I think they should. I know some people might read it and say, ‘What the hell?’ But I hope someone out there gets something out of it.”
Jane Lynch's battle with addiction
Glee star Jane Lynch won an Emmy in 2010 for her portrayal of Sue Sylvester, the devious coach of the Cheerios cheerleading squad and sworn enemy of the glee club. In a pre-publication excerpt of her 2011 memoir, Happy Accidents (via Page Six), the actress wrote of overcoming an addiction to Miller Lite in 1991 only to develop another one — to cough syrup.
While she had quit drinking beer, Lynch wrote that she “did, however, continue [her] habit of taking NyQuil before bed.” Without the beer, she confessed, “I was still in need of something to soothe me. The fact that NyQuil had alcohol in it was not something I acknowledged at all. I still considered myself on the wagon.” This situation worsened when she was cast in a 10-month stage production of The Real Live Brady Bunch in New York. Lynch was “miserable the whole time,” writing, “I’d close the drapes of my tiny room, take a swig of NyQuil, toast with a simple ‘Bye-bye,’ and go into a deep sleep.” She ultimately kicked her NyQuil habit after a marijuana-fueled night of partying with her co-stars led her to Alcoholics Anonymous. “I smoked myself into oblivion that night,” Lynch wrote. “I still felt like crap and even lonelier than I had felt before.”
Having officially kicked both habits, Lynch later told More magazine (via People), “Relatively speaking, my personal bottom was rather benign.”
This Glee star's divorce cost her a fortune
In her 2011 memoir, Happy Accidents (via Page Six), Glee‘s Jane Lynch not only wrote about her addictions, but also gushed about meeting her wife, clinical psychologist Lara Embry. As Lynch wrote, she was “immediately smitten” with Embry after having “only known her a minute.”
Just a couple years after the book’s publication, however, Lynch and Embry seemed to have lost that loving feeling. By 2013, Lynch released a statement to People revealing that the couple had split: “Lara and I have decided to end our marriage. This has been a difficult decision for us as we care very deeply about one another.”
For Lynch, dissolving the marriage was not an inexpensive proposition. As the primary earner in the relationship, per TMZ, the divorce settlement resulted in Lynch giving her ex a $1.2 million lump sum payment, in addition to half of the money in their bank and trust accounts (about $847,485). Embry also received half of their 401K (an additional $315,079) and their 2012 tax refund ($56,810), along with half of Lynch’s TV appearance royalties, which included the money she earned from Glee. Thankfully, Lynch wasn’t too bothered by the settlement, telling Access Hollywood (via E! News), “It’s just money … [California] is a half and half state, as well as it should be, so that’s fine.”
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