Friend of actor Cory Monteith cautions people against overdose conclusions

VANCOUVER – As the coroner, police and media search for answers around the cause of death for “Glee” actor Cory Monteith, one of his close friends cautions against jumping to conclusions.

“Fame happened to the right person,” said actor Joe MacLeod of his friend Monteith.

While Monteith had a hard childhood, he was completely grounded and didn’t let fame go to his head, MacLeod said in an interview Monday.

“It’s easy to jump to conclusions and think that he just went on a bender and OD’d, but it doesn’t seem to add up,” said MacLeod. “But I don’t know, that’s all speculation, and at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. It’s all the same result.”

The BC Coroners Service said Monday that an autopsy and toxicology tests will be performed on the body of the 31-year-old man, but results from the tests could take several days.

“We do understand there’s a lot of public interest in this case,” said Coroner Barb McLintock. “We will try and get it done in as good a time as we can without compromising the integrity of the investigation or the testing.”

MacLeod met Monteith at the first wardrobe fitting for an MTV show, “Kaya,” that was filmed in Metro Vancouver in 2007. The two Canadians became good friends during production, and remained close following the show’s cancellation.

“He was always awkward,” MacLeod remembered, laughing. “I think that’s what I initially liked about him, because he’s a tall dude and really good looking, so it’s easy to have preconceived notions of who he’s going to be or who he should be.”

For MacLeod, Monteith’s history with addiction does not necessarily mean his death was drug-related.

He said that Monteith had been sober for eight or nine years when they met on the set of Kaya, and he was amazed by Monteith’s resilience.

“We partied a lot,” MacLeod said. “We were all in our mid-twenties doing this MTV TV show about being in a rock band and we would go out almost every night in Vancouver. We were all living in hotels and we had a great time, and he was there with us, and never once was it ever awkward that he wasn’t drinking.”

Even when Monteith was cast in Glee and moved to L.A., MacLeod said he resisted the urge to drink.

“He would have parties at the mansion he was living at and there’d be booze around all over the place, and he would be having the fake beers,” says MacLeod. “I always thought that was so great.”

MacLeod was so inspired by Monteith’s sobriety that he did not drink for an entire year.

“If Cory can go down to Vegas with us for 48 hours and be fine, I’m sure I can do that,” said MacLeod about his decision to give up alcohol for all of 2011.

Although Monteith’s sobriety lapsed and he eventually went to rehab earlier this year, MacLeod said he thought the actor was back in control of his life.

“I still don’t really believe that it happened,” MacLeod said.

Vancouver police said Monday that they are stepping back from the investigation into Monteith’s death after ruling out foul play.

Sgt. Randy Fincham said police see bad drugs in the city on occasion and officers recently noted two teenagers died of overdoses as a result, but so far there is nothing to indicate Monteith’s death was due to illicit drug use.

Others who also knew Monteith continue to show their support.

“Cory Monteith was a beautiful soul,” said Virgin Group founder and chairman Richard Branson in a blog post on his company’s website.

“His awareness of his own struggles led him to reach out to young people all over the world with deep compassion and empathy to help them through their struggles,” he said.

In May 2012, Monteith and Branson travelled to Vancouver to announce their support for a performing arts program in the city’s poverty-stricken and drug-addled Downtown Eastside. Called Project Limelight, the program offers the neighbourhood’s children and teenagers a creative, positive outlet.

“We’ll never forget watching him on the streets in Canada,” wrote Branson. “Cory wanted other youth to have the chance to discover their strengths and potential through the arts.”

“I think kids really need a place to go and feel like they belong,” said Monteith in a video clip posted on the project’s website.

“When I was kid, I struggled a lot with who I was and where my life was going,” he said. “I was fortunate to have the arts inspire me.”

Project Limelight’s founders, Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver, declined to be interviewed.

“Cory was an amazing young man with a generous heart,” they said in an emailed statement on Sunday. “We are deeply saddened by the unexpected death of our good friend.”

The project is accepting donations in Monteith’s memory on its website.

As for MacLeod, he said there’s one memory of when he visited Monteith in L.A. that keeps coming to mind.

“We were driving up, literally up, the Hollywood hills to this mansion that he was living in,” he said, when Monteith had a “this is actually happening” moment.

“I remember, for whatever reason, that one moment in that car,” MacLeod said. “I could see it in his eyes. He was so happy to have finally achieved his dream.”

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