You don't need to be a Gleek to know how vital Cory Monteith -- found dead in his Vancouver hotel room over the weekend -- was to the success of "Glee," one of TV's most important series of the past decade.
Even at 31, his Finn Hudson was that classic TV "boy next door" -- with a certain sweetness, melancholy and soul that made him so essential in the constellation of characters that show creators Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk established back in 2009.
In a joint statement Sunday, the show-runners said, "We are deeply saddened by this tragic news. Cory was an exceptional talent and an even more exceptional person. He was a true joy to work with and we will all miss him tremendously. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones."
Lea Michele, his girlfriend in real life as well as on the show -- as Rachel Berry -- did not immediately comment. A spokesman said only, "We ask that everyone kindly respect Lea's privacy during this devastating time."
Police said foul play was not suspected, and that an autopsy would be performed Monday.
A number of original cast members -- including Dianna Agron and Heather Morris -- were not expected to return next season. But Monteith was, and neither Fox nor the show-runners have said how his character was to evolve in the fifth season. But clearly, his loss is huge for a show that struggled creatively during the fourth season: The Rachel Berry/Finn Hudson story line has long been a default one for the show, as in: When in doubt, go back to the star-crossed lovebirds.
Born Cory Allan Michael Monteith in Calgary, he came from a broken home, went to 16 schools, including some for troubled youths, and had a well-publicized bout with addiction. Two days before voluntarily checking himself into a rehab facility in March, he tweeted, "such a beautiful day! truly seeing the forest for the trees."
After a series of odd jobs, he drifted to Vancouver -- one of North America's major TV production centers -- to get into acting, which also yielded rejection and disappointment, the lot of so many young actors. Before "Glee," there were bit parts on other series, including ABC Family's "Kyle XY." In a later interview he said of those years, "I definitely experienced a marginalized situation. I was not homeless, but I was definitely at risk."
As the "Glee" jock who rejected high school alpha dog status and football glory for New Directions glee club at McKinley High in Lima, Ohio, Monteith's Hudson was core to Murphy's musical Utopian vision of people -- gay, disabled, Asian, black, white -- who accepted one another for their differences and, as a result, accepted themselves for what they were.
Compassionate, romantic, impulsive, Monteith's Finn also came from loss: His father, a soldier, died in the Iraq War, and the son fetishized him to such an extent that he struggled to locate his own identity. By the end of the past season, Finn Hudson appeared to have his own new direction -- as a teacher -- but he was still very much a work in progress.