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GONE TOO SOON
With his camera-ready good looks, smooth vocals and boy-next-door charm, Cory Monteith shot to fame and gained a loyal following as quarterback Finn Hudson on the FOX hit Glee. But four years after the series premiered, Monteith, 31, was found dead on July 13 at Vancouver's Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, the result of a mixture of heroin and alcohol. "We are in shock and mourning the tragic loss," his rep said in a statement, while costar Dot-Marie Jones added on Twitter, "My heart is broken." Here, we look back at the actor's rise to fame and tragic death.
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A ROUGH START
Monteith grew up in Calgary, Canada, where he and his older brother, Shaun, were raised by his single mother, Ann McGregor (pictured). His parents divorced when Monteith was just 7. "I didn't have an easy run," he later recalls to Maclean's. "There were a lot of negative things going on. It sort of multiplied in school."
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FINDING HIS WAY
By ninth grade, he had quit school, picking up part-time jobs and playing the drums in a local band until meeting casting director Maureen Webb. "It didn't even occur to me what actors did," he later tells the Times Colonist. Three weeks later, he moves to Vancouver "with just a bag of T-shirts and two pairs of pants."
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Monteith makes his onscreen debut in a 2004 episode of Stargate: Atlantis, which jumpstarts a string of guest-star gigs on shows such as Smallville, Kyle XY (pictured) and Fear Itself. "I call myself a working-class actor," he recalled to The Toronto Star. "You know, you go from one-line gig to the next one-line gig, to a couple of episodes on this show, a couple episodes on that show, to a small part in a movie ... I was making a good living, but it really wasn't a life."
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HEAD OF THE CLASS
Monteith wins over Glee producers with a video of himself playing what he dubs "the Tupperware drums." After singing at his final audition, he's selected to play the role of jock-turned-Gleek Finn Hudson. "When they picked me for the part, I thought they were mistaken," he later tells Entertainment Tonight. "I thought I was going to be swiftly recast and fired and deported back to Canada." After debuting in spring 2009, the soon-to-be FOX musical smash officially premieres Sept. 9, ultimately introducing fans to the McKinley High School gang and launching his career.
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WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS
As the show's music climbs the Billboard charts, Gleeks notice more than the actor's vocal abilities. His boyish smile and easy charm earn him a spot on PEOPLE's 2009 Sexiest Man Alive list, in which he's featured with costars Matthew Morrison (center) and Mark Salling (right). During their Vegas-themed photo shoot, he reveals his equally sexy non-Hollywood sensibility, describing his perfect Sin City weekend: "Bring a girl, see a show, have a beautiful dinner! Always avoid the Vegas hookup."
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SWIFT & SWEET
But his heartthrob status is truly solidified when he's linked to Taylor Swift in 2010. The two are spotted together at a pre-Grammys party in January and, months later, getting friendly at an L.A. bowling alley, where the songstress "kicked my ass," he cheekily admits. Still, Monteith downplays the relationship in May, telling Ellen DeGeneres, "We're just friends. I don't know where the time is to date these days."
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Monteith picks up a Teen Choice Award in 2011 for his leading role on the comedy, which, to date, has also swept four Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards and nearly 200 nominations in its commercial success. That year, the show even snags the coveted post-Super Bowl time slot.
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With the show's third season in full-swing, Monteith's off-screen relationship with costar Lea Michele is ultimately confirmed when they're spotted kissing at a May 2012 NHL game in New York. They continue to pack on the P.D.A. around the city – and on Twitter, where Michele refers to Monteith as "really hot."
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A RETURN TO REHAB
While filming Glee's fourth season in March 2013, Monteith, 30 at the time, announces that he has voluntarily checked into rehab for substance addiction. It's the second trip to rehab for the actor, who admitted in 2011 that his past struggles landed him in rehab at age 19. "I don't want kids to think it's okay to drop out of school and get high, and they'll be famous actors, too," he told Parade. "But for those people who might give up: Get real about what you want and go after it."
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"I love and support Cory and will stand by him through this," Michele tells PEOPLE after Monteith enters rehab. By April, he completes treatment and reunites with his girlfriend, who joins him for a Vancouver Canucks game and, days later, a May trip to Mexico. Less than a month before his death on July 13, the couple are photographed together for seemingly the last time as they made their way through New York's SoHo neighborhood on June 18, days after a dressed-up appearance at the 12th Annual Chrysalis Butterfly Ball in L.A.