Ryan Murphy’s cheerfulness was an inexplicable phenomenon in the early years. A darkly comedic musical set in a high school glee club didn’t sound like it would draw nearly 10 million viewers per episode, but the show was a runaway success for Fox from the start.
In the decade since it debuted, however, cheerfulness has had a tumultuous image. The quality of the show quickly burned out, trying to keep up with what was popular on the radio and with what the fans wanted from the series and its characters. On set, the drama bubbled up and was hard to mask.
Then there was a series of deaths – tragic, sudden and horrific – that would make people believe that a “cheerfulness curse” exists. Cory Monteith, the show’s previously unknown protagonist who played lovable quarterback Finn, was found dead at age 31, between the show’s fourth and fifth seasons. Mark Salling, who played less-lovable quarterback Puck , was charged with both sexual battery and later possession of child pornography, he would die from suicide in 2018. Naya Rivera, who stole scenes as snarky cheerleader Santana, died from an accidental drowning in California’s Lake Piru while traveling with her son.
Interest in unraveling the mystery of what the heck was going on with this show’s cast has made the series more popular now than it was when it went off the air in 2015.
Enter The price of cheerfulness, a three-part documentary from ID and Discovery+ premiering January 16. Unfortunately for Gleeks yearning to know the truth about all the romances and fights that took place on set during the show’s heyday, this isn’t the tea party longtime fans have long hoped for. Instead, it’s a crime-poisoned look that focuses on the sudden deaths of Monteith, Rivera, and Salling. In an attempt to make sense of the unexplainable, the docuseries seeks answers and fails to find answers, instead passively blaming the show and its cast for those losses.
The price of cheerfulness has a conspiracy approach to storytelling, largely due to the fact that the actual cast refused to participate and even denounced the docuseries when announcing it. The series relies on the actors’ stand-ins, backup dancers, various crew members, publicists, and even a supporting actor on Big hurry to piece together the story, with lots of vague half-baked theories about what went wrong.
Instead of being a really juicy narrator with behind-the-scenes gossip, the doc exploits both the newsmaking and the behind-the-scenes deaths of the cast and crew. While much of the information shared by the talking heads is speculative, here’s some of what we’ve learned from those involved with this series.
The cast’s work schedules were grueling.
Typically, casts of popular television series get a few months off between movie seasons, no matter how big the show gets. cheerfulness was not structured like a normal show: the cast versions of popular songs became hits themselves, while the show fueled an insatiable online fanbase. As soon as season one ended, the cast was sent out Live Live! Tour, which they also embarked on the following year in 21 cities around the world. For the first year and a half of making the series, the cast worked on the set and off the brand. Their workdays include hours of dance and vocal rehearsal, as well as time in the booth recording the songs for their songs and, of course, filming the actual scenes.
Every talking head in it The price of cheerfulness takes the time to point out how extremely grueling and isolating their schedules were. To put more on the line, the young, hot cast of actors turned tabloid, paparazzi, and stanbait. Filming in public became a harrowing ordeal with hordes of fans and cameras showing up. Monteith even had to move out of his Culver City apartment because of a stalker. Eventually, a walled tunnel was built on the studio lot to directly connect the casts’ trailers to keep them safe (and yes, some talking heads use this walled tunnel as a cheesy metaphor about the casts’ loneliness).
A cast member allegedly encouraged Cory Monteith’s relapse.
Monteith was open about his history of substance abuse as a child. He got caught up in a “bad mob” and spent his teenage years in deepening drug and alcohol abuse before his mother and friends intervened. He had been sober for several years before he was thrown in cheerfulness, his big breakthrough. Though his friends like college roommate Justin Neill notice how much he hated fame, Monteith otherwise seemed to keep up his sobriety until season four of the show. He started showing up on shoots unprepared and then disappeared for most of the season, having entered a rehab center. On July 13, 2013, he was found dead in a Vancouver hotel room, surrounded by empty champagne bottles and with heroin in his system.
Speculation surrounding Monteith’s death The price of cheerfulness is treated badly and clings to empty ideas of how and who caused him to spiral out of control instead of dealing with the reality that addiction is an ongoing disease that a person struggles with throughout their life. One of the most shocking claims comes from Dugg Kirkpatrick, a barber who ran the hair department cheerfulness. He continued to cut some of the cast members’ hair after he left the show and had Monteith’s cut not long before he died. According to Kirkpatrick, Monteith was drunk at the cut and told how he ended up drinking again. Kirkpatrick claims another cast member had been at a party with Monteith and told him he could drink if he wanted to. Not witnessing the actual interaction, Kirkpatrick refuses to name who Monteith claimed gave him permission, only saying it was someone they loved.
Sadly, Kirkpatrick isn’t the only person in the doctor pointing the finger. Several people in the doc spend a lot of time pointing out how strange and mismatched Monteith and co-star Lea Michele, who he was dating at the time of his death, were. In turn, they thinly try to connect real accusations of her bad initial behavior towards her castmates and extras with Monteith’s sudden relapse.
There were several other deaths within the cheerfulness family.
The tragic and sudden deaths of Monteith and Rivera, as well as Salling’s suicide following child pornography allegations, have received significant media attention. Many have deemed the show “cursed.” The show’s former crew members and stand-ins also point out that there were numerous other sudden deaths of people who worked on the show behind the scenes, and many blame the rigorous production schedule and studio pressure for some of those losses. Among the deaths that occurred while the show was still airing: a car fire that killed Mark Watson, who was Matthew Morrison’s deputy, and assistant director Jim Fuller’s suspected heart failure at age 41. Production assistant Nancy Motes committed suicide, as did an unnamed rigger.
In mentioning these losses, The price of cheerfulness begins a final episode about the deaths of Salling and Rivera, two completely different circumstances that have no reason to be connected.
Naya Rivera’s family is still searching for answers after her death.
The third and final episode of The price of cheerfulness focuses on Rivera’s accidental drowning in 2020 while on a boat trip with her son. The episode also addresses Salling’s child porn allegations and Melissa Benoist’s revelation that she was a victim of domestic violence, which was later linked to castmate and ex-husband Blake Jenner (the pair joined cheerfulness in season four, becoming regulars in season five).
Rivera’s father George describes his daughter’s acting career, unstable relationship with Salling and, later, her untimely death. The docuseries features a journalist on a pontoon as Rivera was last seen on, with an expert offering practical reasons why such a “strong swimmer” as Rivera might not have been able to pull herself back onto the boat. George hints that he’s still looking for answers, though no one suggests foul play as the cause. Some theories the researchers have suggested were her history of dizziness worsening underwater, as well as a weakened physical state after rescuing her son in the current.