The show kicked off in 2009 when Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), a former glee club member-turned-teacher sought to revive New Directions and overheard Finn’s vocal prowess. He turned to the quarterback for help in launching the club, believing one of McKinley High’s most popular students would create a domino effect to lift the club to the 12 members it needed to compete.
When the series premiered to strong word-of-mouth following its 2009 preview in the prime post-American Idol slot, Monteith — along with stars including Lea Michele (Rachel) and Chris Colfer (Kurt), among others — rocketed to stardom.
While the reluctant Finn initially had some trepidation about joining the club after his football teammates began to reject him for joining the “loser” extracurricular activity, the character — with Mr. Schue and Rachel’s tutelage, continued to develop what would become a strong moral compass. He frequently stood up to his opponents, including his then-girlfriend and captain of the school’s cheerleading squad Quinn (Dianna Agron), and eventually enlisted them into New Directions’ ranks.
His vocal pairings with Michele’s Rachel Berry, the overly driven diva-in-training know-it-all, led to an enduring chemistry that would see the duo become one of the most beloved couples — on- and off-screen. He was the popular all-American boy; she was the social outcast. Fans of the series, which became a worldwide phenomenon in its first season, began actively rooting for the pairing, dubbing them “Finchel.” The ‘shipper name often would trend worldwide on Twitter during Glee‘s original airings.
As Monteith’s character further developed, he would become the co-captain, with Rachel, of New Directions, often earning solos for the club during its key competitions. His songs, including Glee‘s signature hit “Don’t Stop Believin’,” became some of the 20th Century Fox-produced series’ best-sellers.
Despite several hiccups along the way during the musical dramedy’s four seasons, Finn would support Kurt, his openly gay New Directions cohort and eventual stepbrother, when he was bullied at the hands of the school’s football team.
Finn also would take responsibility for Quinn’s pregnancy (though the baby ultimately wasn’t his) and support those around him as they dealt with their personal problems including Rachel’s identity crisis when she feared she’d never sing again and Kurt again, after his father had a heart attack.
At the end of Glee‘s third season, with Finn and Rachel both graduating, he made a life-changing decision and opted against going to New York after his application to the Actors Studio was denied. As the couple headed to get married, new graduate Finn made a very adult decision and put Rachel on a train for New York to help the aspiring Broadway star kickoff her career at an arts-based school, while he headed for the military as a way to pay tribute to his late father.
Ultimately, the military wasn’t for him and he returned to Ohio, making frequent trips to New York to see Rachel. The distance between them, both physical and emotional, led them to split, though it was clear to everyone — including both Rachel and Finn — that they both still had feelings for each other.
As Finn struggled to find his identity and figure out his future, his path led him to filling in for Mr. Schue as the head of New Directions, leading the club to a big win at Sectionals. His story line would ultimately conclude when Mr. Schue agreed to co-coach the club with Finn as the latter attended an Ohio college with the long-term goal of following in his mentor’s footsteps to become a teacher.
His role in the final episodes of season four was ultimately reduced after Monteith checked himself into a rehab facility to seek treatment for a substance abuse problem. Fox, 20th Television and Michele supported the move.
“Cory is a beloved member of the Glee family and we fully support his decision to seek treatment,” 20th TV said at the time. “Everyone at the show wishes him well and looks forward to his return.”
Representatives for 20th TV told The Hollywood Reporter on Sunday that it was too soon to know how Monteith’s passing would impact the series, which earlier this year earned a rare two-season renewal. It was unclear how far along writers were in crafting season five and when Monteith was due to return to work on the series. Monteith was among a small number of original stars slated to return to Glee as a regular for season five.
In frequent interviews with THR, Monteith — like his onscreen counterpart — was always humble. On the surface, he never let the success of the show or his quick rise to fame change who he was at his core; he’d regularly smile when discussing the series and Finn’s relationship with Michele.
Monteith’s brought a boyish charm to playing Finn. While the football player was not the typical mean-spirited jock, the character had a kind heart that closely mirrored the young actor’s persona. While Finn was a reluctant leader, Monteith’s humble nature helped define the character that would create the tone that made Glee the mega-hit that it evolved into. The actor auditioned for the role via multiple video interviews playing the drums using pencils and Tupperware containers that singled out the actor to co-creator Ryan Murphy. The late actor’s performance of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling” ultimately was written into the series premiere as many of the cast’s audition songs were. His presence will be greatly missed both onscreen and off.
Monteith was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room Saturday. A cause of death has not yet been determined. An autopsy is scheduled for Monday.