Cory Monteith: A troubled Youth and His Road to Redemption

Friday, April 15, 2011

Back before Glee, before the hordes of adoring fans, before life got good, Cory Monteith had a place he felt accepted.

It was called the Western Opportunity Network then, Pacific Secondary now -the same alternative school where Kimberly Proctor and her killers went to classes.

The murder left those who work at the West Shore school feeling shaken. So here's what Monteith can tell them now: Sometimes it works out. Sometimes lives that have gone off the rails can be brought back on track.

Monteith, 28, has hit the big time, starring as quarterback Finn Hudson in Glee, one of the most popular shows on television.

His own life wasn't much like that of the students at McKinley High School, though. Born in Calgary, Monteith moved to Victoria at age two. He was barely into his school years when his parents split. By his teens, things had gone sideways.

"I had such a wayward youth," he says, on the phone from the airport in Burbank, Calif. "I got in a lot of trouble as a kid."

He doesn't offer specifics. Just say it was typical troubled teen stuff.

The bad choices he made often left him at odds with his family. He would live with his mother for a bit, then pull something that would leave him bunking with friends. He recalls sleeping on a couch in his girlfriend's parents' basement in Langford.

Monteith wasn't familiar with Proctor's death, but remembers another. "I was going to Shoreline when Reena Virk was murdered." He didn't know Reena, but was acquainted with some of the students who attacked her the night she was killed in 1997. "We kind of ran in the same circles." Not evil people, he says, just messedup kids wallowing in a bad environment, some of them -but not him, thankfully -coming from violent, abusive homes.

Monteith bounced from school to school. "I would go for a couple of weeks, then stop." In 1999, when he was 17, he found himself at what is now Pacific Secondary. Tucked in a nondescript commercial complex off the Island Highway, it was the school for those who for whatever reason just didn't fit in the regular system.

It would be nice to say he turned the corner and graduated. He didn't. He dropped out. "But I spent a lot more time there than I did in other schools."

And, no matter what else was going on, it kept his head above water. "I still got on the number 50 Goldstream bus and went to school."

He recalls teachers who made him feel welcome.

"There was a non-judgmental tone to them," he says.

"The most important thing to them was keeping kids in the building."

He remains friends with one of those teachers, Blair Sloane, and is grateful for his approach to students.

"It's a true compassion. He actually gives a shit on a human level." Monteith invited Sloane to join him on the set of Glee when in Los Angeles last month.

Feeling valued at WON was huge, Monteith says.

"For kids in alternative school, it's not about curriculum. It's about feeling wanted."

Sloane has a slightly different view: "The kids have to know they are wanted, valued and respected.

Then the curriculum comes. And if it doesn't come right away, we wait for them."

Sloane says Monteith was a typical student. And as with most of those who have trouble gaining their footing when young, Monteith eventually found his way. Hollywood is familiar with the rest of his story now: he worked as a Walmart greeter, Bluebird cab driver and roofer before turning to acting in his 20s, being cast in Glee in 2009.

Monteith's mother recently sent him a newspaper article that argued that certain behavioural traits that land kids in reform school can also lead them to acting. Looking back, he doesn't disagree.

And he remains concerned about kids in whose lives he hears echoes of his own; his philanthropic efforts are aimed at at-risk youth. "It's such a hard time, being a teenager."

Monteith is looking forward to coming home soon with his band, Bonnie Dune. They're playing Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom, then Victoria's Sugar nightclub in mid-May. "The Vancouver-Victoria shows, I couldn't be more excited."

It's a dream, right? "I always wanted to be a drummer in a band."

It's worth noting that not once in that conversation from the Burbank airport did Monteith mention Hollywood or Glee. The talk was all about the perils of youth, and his gratitude for those who stuck with him back on the West Shore.

"Considering the course on which I was on, it was a shining spot in kind of a dark time in my life."

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