In 2009, Ryan Murphy’s musical TV series Glee took the world by storm when it premiered on Fox.
The show quickly catapulted its ensemble cast to superstardom, and its success culminated with 32 Emmy nominations, an Oprah Winfrey interview, two national tours, a 3D concert movie, and a series of bestselling compilation albums.
But despite all of its triumphs, the legacy of the hit series has been tainted by a so-called Gleecurse due to the tragedies and negative reports that have impacted the show.
The “curse” is used as a blanket term for everything from the deaths of three cast members, to Melissa Benoist’s domestic abuse allegations against Blake Jenner, her ex-husband and former costar.
And all of it has now been explored in the ID and Discovery+ docuseries The Price of Glee, which premiered Monday.
The three-part documentary consists of interviews with crew members, background actors, and close friends and family members of the Glee cast — and they do not hold back when it comes to opening up about the show.
Here is everything that we learned from The Price of Glee.
Cory Monteith was 27 years old when Glee premiered in 2009, with the actor playing high school quarterback Finn Hudson in the show. In 2013, just weeks before filming for Glee’s fifth season was due to start, Cory died of mixed drug toxicity involving heroin and alcohol.
In the new documentary, some of Cory’s close friends detail the impact that they believe that Glee had on him and shed some new light on his experience with addiction.
Frederic Robinson, a friend from Cory's home city of Vancouver, says that Cory first started using alcohol and drugs at the age of 13 following his parents’ divorce.
Throughout his teen years, the star would often steal “large sums of cash” from his family, and when Cory was 19 his mom and friends staged an intervention that ended with him entering a drug rehab program in 2001.
Frederic admits that Cory was worried about his “past getting out” when he landed his role in Glee and that he wanted to be “the good kid.” However, he was open about his addiction with other people in his life.
At the end of the second season of Glee, Cory went public with his history of substance abuse as he wanted to be honest with fans and “help others who perhaps were in that same situation to show them that you can come out on the other side and do well in life.”
But Cory began to struggle as his star power grew, and he even told his former roommate Justin Neill that he wouldn’t wish fame on his worst enemy.
"There was a period where it seemed Cory was getting more and more isolated,” Justin reveals. "He just got to the point where he just hated fame; ‘I’m just so tired, I want to rest for a bit. I'm sick of singing of these songs,' and I remember him specifically saying, 'I wouldn't wish fame on my worst enemy.'"
In spite of his struggles, it is believed that Cory remained sober until shortly before his death. Dugg Kirkpatrick, head of the Glee hair department, claimed that it was one of Cory’s costars who encouraged him to start drinking again.
While Dugg was cutting his hair, Cory confided in him that he had attended a party but resisted drinking alcohol.
"But he was told by a certain cast member that same night, 'You know what? If you want to have a drink, you should have a drink. I'll be here. You can always trust that I'll be here for you,'" Dugg recalls.
The hairstylist refuses to name which cast member said this “because I wasn’t there, I didn’t hear the person say it.” He adds that Cory was “confused” by the comment and “resented” what had been said.
According to Dugg, this remark “set him on a path to destruction” and that Cory started to drink again “because he was given permission by somebody that he loved.”
Cory’s relationship with his costar Lea Michele also comes under scrutiny on The Price of Glee, with the two striking up a romance in 2012 and remaining together until his death the following year.
Several crew members said they were “surprised” by the pairing, and remained unsure whether Cory and Lea were good for each other.
They also struggled with Lea’s decision to keep filming after his death, with the show’s creator largely leaving the decision up to her.
She was given various options, including taking a hiatus and canceling the show altogether, but Lea chose for everybody to return to work just two weeks after their costar had died.
Speaking to Ellen DeGeneres back in 2013, Lea recalled: “I said, ‘We have to go back to work.’ We have to. They’re my family,” but many of the people interviewed in The Price of Glee did not support her decision.
Naya Rivera’s stand-in, Jodi Tanaka, says in the docuseries: “It was only a couple of weeks. All of the actors had to just pull themselves together and get back to work. Everyone was just kind of forced to.”
Lea has been at the center of multiple scandals since Glee came to an end in 2015, with her former castmates speaking out against her and accusing her of bullying and racism.
In 2020, Samantha Ware said that Lea made her life on set “a living hell,” and claimed that she threatened to “shit” in her wig in addition to a series of other racial microaggressions.
Amber Riley supported Samantha through the exposé and said that it had made her “feel liberated,” Heather Morris added that Lea was “very” unpleasant to work with, and Naya said that Lea “didn’t like sharing the spotlight” and would pointedly ignore her.
Garrett Greer, an assistant to the executive director of Glee, fuels all of these claims on The Price of Glee. He brands Lea a “narcissist” and alleges that there was “conflict” whenever Lea felt that the amount of “attention” she or her character received was under threat.
And Dabier Snell, who appeared in a Season 4 episode of Glee, recalls Lea banning him from sitting with the main cast during their lunch break because she didn’t think that he belonged.
“After we had filmed that scene and obviously there was lunch, Darren [Criss] was like, 'Yo, you should come by. All the cast members will probably sit down.' I was like, alright, cool. I was there maybe 10 minutes and then I got pulled by somebody on set," Dabier says.
"They were like, 'Hey, Dab, can I talk to you for a minute?' And I was like, yeah, sure. So, she goes, 'Somebody specifically at the table doesn't want you sitting there,'" he goes on. "And I was like, what? So, she was like, 'I'm really sorry about that. It's not about you. It's just the person there doesn't feel like you belong with the rest of the group.'"
Dabier asked the crew member if Lea was the culprit and says that they made a wincing face before nodding to confirm. The guest star concludes: “Like, wow, I really just got pulled because of my status on the show. I've never really experienced anything like that, even in a high school setting."
Naya’s dad, George, also says that Lea was the only person that his late daughter had “trouble with” at work, saying that they “hated” each other. He also alleges that Naya was briefly let go from Glee after she complained about Lea to production.
Naya was 22 years old when she was cast as Santana Lopez in Glee, and she tragically died from drowning in 2020. Her body was discovered after her 4-year-old son, Josey, was found alone on a boat.
Josey told investigators that he and his mom had been swimming, but after she’d helped him back on the boat, she wasn’t able to pull herself up to safety.
Speaking on The Price of Glee, Naya’s father recalls talking to his daughter via FaceTime shortly before her death — and how he’d tried to warn her to be safe on the water.
George says that he had a “sinking feeling” even though he knew that Naya had a lot of boating experience and was a strong swimmer. He says: “I was FaceTiming with her trying to talk her through the pitfalls of trying to anchor your boat. First of all, I said, 'Naya, you're on a pontoon boat, that's not a boat… Why are you on a pontoon boat?'"
"I said, 'Do not jump off that effin' boat. If you've got an anchor, you can anchor it, but do you know how to anchor it? We went through a couple iterations like that and then the FaceTime call hung up, and that was the last time I talked to her," he goes on.
George also admits that he immediately feared the worst and “had no hope” when he got a call from authorities about Naya.
"I knew immediately when I got the phone call in Knoxville that it was over with," he explains. "You don't find a drifting 5-year-old child asleep on a boat at the end of a lake without his mother and have any hope. I had no hope."
Mark Salling starred as Noah "Puck" Puckerman on all six seasons of Glee. Just months after the show ended, he was arrested on the suspicion of possessing child sexual abuse materials after one of his ex-girlfriends tipped off the police.
The actor eventually pleaded guilty to the charge of receiving and possessing child sexual abuse materials, with it reported that he had 25,000 images and videos. In 2018, Mark was found dead by suicide.
In the docuseries, it is maintained that Mark’s crimes were a huge shock to the people who worked on Glee, although some crew members admit that he always seemed different to the rest of the cast.
“He was quieter, for sure, and kept to himself because I think he felt more of an adult than the others,” set decorator Barbara Munch remembers. “He just was, you know, a bit off. He wasn’t just a regular young man. He had some issues going on, it seemed obvious.”
While the deaths of Cory, Naya, and Mark are widely known to the public, The Price of Glee also draws attention to the fact that multiple crew members died during filming.
J.A. Byerly and his brother Mitchell both worked on Glee as rigging crew, and he shares his belief that his brother’s death by suicide was a direct result of the demands of the show.
"On the rigging crew, you are constantly working daily. Most of our time cards are at 72 hours,” Byerly says. “We don't win the Oscars, we don't win the Emmys, but we're the ones who make it happen. The intenseness of the show, I think, got to my brother.”
In addition to Mitchell, production assistant Nancy Motes also died by suicide, and Jim Fuller — who was in charge of the second team and background actors — died after he had a heart attack at the age of 41.
A “lead prop guy” named Paul also died when he had a heart attack while jogging, and one of the “main stand-ins” who worked with cast member Matthew Morrison died suddenly. Details of his death remain unknown, but it is thought to have been related to a “car fire.”
Director of photography Christopher Baffa says of the string of deaths: “This was a big set, a lot of people… But to lose so many people, so quickly, you see a pattern forming there that to me is still unbelievable. Was that Glee or just the industry? I don't know.”
Glee’s main cast members are notably missing from The Price of Glee, and some of them previously shared their discomfort with the docuseries being made.
Kevin McHale branded the show trash before telling In Touch Weekly: “Us and all of our friends have nothing to do with it, so we'll see what happens.”
"We're not really associated with it," Jenna Ushkowitz added to the publication.
They have not publicly commented on the show since it premiered.