How many people from Glee have died? Cast is no stranger to tragedy

Bruno Cooke January 18, 2023
How many people from Glee have died? Cast is no stranger to tragedy
Photo by FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

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Investigation Discovery (ID) documentary The Price Of Glee recounts the tragedies and triumphs associated with the popular Fox series, including the stories of some of the actors and crew members who have died following its release.

The New York Post reported in July 2020 that Naya Rivera, who played Santana Lopez on the show, may have just become the “latest victim” of the show’s “tragic history.”

BuzzFeed News journalist Alanna Bennett, meanwhile, argues that the time has come to “retire the ‘Glee Curse.”

While noting that the show’s legacy has been “complicated,” she takes issue with anyone attempting what she calls a “relitigation” of the series. But the question of how many people have died after working on Glee, including both actors and crew members, remains.

Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

How many people from Glee have died, including actors and crew members?

At least 13 people who worked on Glee in some capacity have passed away, according to reports.

The four to have played the most substantial roles in the show are actors Cory Monteith (who played Finn Hudson), Mark Salling (Noah “Puck” Puckerman), Robin Trocki (Jean Sylvester) and Naya Rivera (Santana Lopez).

But besides these higher profile deaths, three members of the Glee crew have also died. These are assistant director Jim Fuller, who died of a heart attack; production assistant Nancy Motes, who committed suicide in 2014 (Daily Mail); and Mark Watson, who stood in for Matthew Morrison. Watson died in a car fire, according to Jodi Tanaka, who was a stand-in for Rivera.

In addition to these seven people from the Glee team who have died since the show first aired, rigging gaffer J A Byerly says in the documentary that his brother Mitchell died by suicide at the end of season 6. He says the “intenseness” of the show got to him – the “pace and the pressure” of it all.

But that’s not all – credit to the cameos

A count of how many people have died after appearing in some capacity in Glee would not be complete without mentioning actors Jean Sincere, James Lipton, Meat Loaf, Olivia Newton-John, Mike Hagerty and Tim Conway.

Jean Sincere played a character billed as “Ancient Librarian” in three episodes of Glee. They were in its first and second seasons. She basically either shushed or glared, writes Looper. She died of natural causes, age 93, on April 3, 2013.

James Lipton, of Inside The Actors Studio fame, was in the season 3 finale. He died of bladder cancer, also age 93, on March 2, 2020. Meat Loaf, real name Marvin Lee Aday, is among the most recent Glee cast members to pass away. He died at the age of 74 on January 20, 2022.

Olivia Newton-John’s cameo came in season 1, in 2009. She had already defeated breast cancer once by that point, but it returned in 2017, and metastasised. She died in August last year, age 73. Mike Hagerty and Tim Conway died in 2022 and 2019 respectively. Read more about them on Looper.

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

How many of the people who worked on Glee have died by natural causes?

It would appear that two of the first seven people from the Glee team mentioned above – actors and crew included – have died of natural causes.

Jim Fuller died following a heart attack, according to Billboard, on September 14, 2013. He was 41 years old. In season 4 of the series, Emma and Schue have a conversation about wedding seats. Eagle-eyed audience members may have noticed the name Jim Fuller inscribed on one of the seats in the shot.

The only recurring Glee cast member to have died from natural causes appears to be Robin Trocki. She passed away on December 14, 2019 at the age of 63, following complications from Alzheimer’s. Like her character Jean Sylvester, Trocki had Down Syndrome.

Besides her work as an actor, she worked in a bakery, took karate lessons, and was a published writer. In 2010, she and fellow Glee actor Lauren Potter received The Arc’s Inclusion & Image Award for “breaking down barriers, increasing awareness and challenging stereotypes.”

Photo by FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

How did the other Glee cast and crew members die?

Besides those with the more substantial parts or roles, Jean Sincere, Olivia Newton-John, Tim Conway and James Lipton all also died of natural causes. 

Tim Conway was 85. He died a year after receiving his dementia diagnosis. Ultimately, his cause of death was a condition that causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up in the brain.

Meat Loaf’s cause of death was never made public; Mike Hagerty had an adverse reaction to antibiotics and lapsed into a coma, eventually dying at a medical center in Los Angeles.

That leaves the higher-profile actors Cory Monteith, Mark Salling and Naya Rivera. The coroner’s report for Monteith reportedly said he died of “mixed drug toxicity, involving intravenous heroin use combined with the ingestion of alcohol.”

Mark Salling died by suicide in early 2018, and Naya Rivera died by drowning in July 2020 while boating with her four-year-old son on a lake in California.

If you are affected by any issues raised in the article or would like someone to speak to, please call the Samaritans for free on 116 123. You can also email them at [email protected] or visit samaritans.org to find your nearest branch in the UK. In the US, please visit Samaritans USA for more information. You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741 to get in touch with the Crisis Text Line. Americans can now call or text 988 to reach out and speak to a counsellor.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.