As you’ve probably heard by now, Glee actress Naya Rivera disappeared while boating with her son at a lake in Southern California on Wednesday.
Tragically, Rivera is now presumed dead, and authorities have shifted the focus of their efforts from rescue to recovery.
The incident triggered a good deal of talk — much of it wildly insensitive and disrespectful — about the challenges Rivera had faced off-camera in the years since Glee ended its six-season season run in 2015.
Some took the macabre speculation a step further by suggesting that the entire cast of the popular Fox musical might be in some way “cursed.”
Obviously, this is absurd, but it’s a popular enough argument (at one point on Thursday, “Glee curse” was a trending topic on Twitter) that it’s worth addressing, simply so that it can be put to rest once and for all.
Let us begin by saying, yes, a number of tragedies and public misfortunes have befallen the cast of Glee in recent years.
Back in 2013, male lead Cory Monteith passed away at the age of 30.
Monteith had struggled with addiction throughout his life, but had been sober for over a year at the time of his fatal relapse.
The show addressed his passing with an episode about the death of his character, beloved school quarterback Finn.
Out of respect for Monteith and his loved ones, the cause of Finn’s passing was never mentioned in the episode.
Sadly, the tabloid press was not quite so respectful.
Also bringing out the worst impulses in America’s media figures was the sad death of Mark Salling, who played the rebellious Puck on the show.
Salling committed suicide in 2018 at the age of 35.
At the time of his passing, he was facing a lengthy prison sentence on child porn charges.
Some of the show’s stars met with far less severe misfortunes, such as Lea Michele, who — just last month — was branded a “horrible human being” by her former co-stars.
Obviously, that’s a pretty minor setback compared to what some of her ex-castmates have endured, but the fact remains that Michele — who is currently eight months pregnant — might never again work in Hollywood.
Despite all of these unfortunate turns of events, any talk of a “Glee curse” is purely asinine.
As Entertainment Weekly points out, Glee was an ensemble show, and thousands of actors appeared on camera over the course of its run.
The show’s Wikipedia page lists 24 actors in its “starring” section.
With a cast that size, it’s only natural that a handful of actors would meet with tragedy over the course of several years.
It’s worth noting, of course, that a TV show with a cast made up largely of adolescents is not your typical work environment.
The phrase “child star” conjures images of young people being broken by intense pressure coming from the very people who should be looking out for their best interests.
There’s a reason it doesn’t come as much of a surprise when such environments foster unusually high rates of addiction and mental illness, and it has nothing to do with some supernatural curse.
Rivera dated Salling for a time when they were still on the show, and she stated that she adopted some of his bad behaviors — including heavy drug use — during their time together.
All teens face pressure to engage in risky behaviors and the problem is only exacerbated when the peers who are influencing them are independently wealthy and largely unsupervised.
So while the idea of a supernatural curse might make for a more compelling headline the truth of the situation is more commonplace and less mysterious.
But the main reason that talk of a Glee curse is so disrespectful is that it turns the grief experienced by these actors’ loved ones into ghost story fodder.
It also suggests that terrible fates are yet to befall the show’s dozens of other cast members.
Thus, people who are already grieving the loss of a former colleague are forced to imagine thousands fantasizing about their death.
The fact is, Naya Rivera took her 4-year-old son on a boating expedition; they jumped in the water to go swimming, and she never resurfaced.
Stories don’t get much sadder than that, and Rivera — a tremendous talent and devoted mother — deserves to be mourned as an individual cut down in her prime, not as further evidence of some absurd campfire story.
Please keep that in mind when commenting on her passing on social media.
Our thoughts go out to Naya’s loved ones during this immensely difficult time.
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