The Fall of Mark Salling: From a Big Break on Glee to His Child Porn Case & Apparent Suicide
The Glee alum's death comes a month before he was to be sentenced to prison for possession of child pornography
“I can confirm that Mark Salling passed away early this morning,” his attorney Michael Proctor told PEOPLE. “Mark was a gentle and loving person, a person of great creativity, who was doing his best to atone for some serious mistakes and errors of judgment. He is survived by his mother and father, and his brother. The Salling family appreciates the support they have been receiving and asks for their privacy to be respected.”
Salling was best known for playing Noah “Puck” Puckerman from 2009-15 on Glee. A mohawked jock known for tossing students into a dumpster, Puck was best friends with Cory Monteith‘s character Finn Hudson — though he had a baby with Finn’s girlfriend — and evolved over six seasons, eventually enlisting in the Air Force.
In the years after the hit Fox series’ concluded, Salling led a troubled life. Here’s a look back at his rise and fall.
His Big Break
Born in Dallas, Salling began playing the piano at age 5 and performed in rock bands in high school, he said in a 2010 Teen Vogue interview. He moved to California to study guitar at music college for a year before trying to make it as a singer-songwriter.
“I decided I eventually wanted to pursue my own work, and so that kind of led to seeking other opportunities, and that’s when Glee came along,” he told the magazine, calling the gig “pretty much my dream job.”
Glee marked Salling’s first major TV role: Before then, his only acting credits were an appearance in a 1999 episode of Walker, Texas Ranger and a part in the 1996 straight-to-video Children of the Corn: The Gathering.
In a 2010 promotion for the show’s open casting call by Fox All Access, Saling recalled his “mind-blowing” and “stressful” audition experience.
“I mean, [there are] 30 people in a room watching you read five scenes and singing, and you do that over and over,” he said. “And there’s like four other dudes around you that are like, breathtaking, and you’re like, ‘What am I doing here? I’m a freaking troll.’ ”
Salling and Monteith were close on and off screen, and the leading man’s sudden death in 2013 from a drug overdose was a devastating blow.
“Cory Monteith was a great leader as a character and person in real life,” Salling told PEOPLE in 2014. “It’s a big, obvious hole. I still think about him all the time.”
His ex-girlfriend Denyse Tontz also discussed the tragedy’s impact on him.
“It wasn’t something he talked about much, but it definitely took a toll on him,” the former Nickelodeon actress told PEOPLE in a separate interview. “It left everybody shocked, and especially [Salling].”
Life After Glee
Salling focused on his music career after the curtains closed on Glee, working on a project with his band Camp Coyote and releasing a solo rock album in 2010.
The actor — who was once linked to costar Naya Rivera — dated Tontz in summer 2014, before their busy schedules led to a breakup.
“You never know what could happen down the road,” she told PEOPLE that December, adding of his band: “That’s one thing that Mark will never let people down on — he’s incredible live. Honestly, as an artist, I have so much respect for him, because he is the most talented musician.”
Sexual Assault Allegations
In January 2013, Salling’s ex-girlfriend Roxanne Gorzela sued him for sexual battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, accusing him of forcing her to have unprotected sex with him in March 2011.
According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Gorzela went to confront him at his home later but allegedly found him in bed with another woman. She alleged that they got into an argument and he pushed her to the ground, causing her to hit her head. Gorzela eventually dropped her sexual battery claim and Salling agreed to pay her about $2.7 million.
In October 2016, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office opted not to to file charges against Salling after he was accused of raping a woman. According to a document obtained by PEOPLE, a woman claims she entered a room with Salling in 2012 to have intercourse, but then changed her mind and told him no. She alleged Salling refused to stop and forced himself on her.
The alleged victim claimed she and Salling had been dating a few months before the alleged incident. She filed the police report in April 2016, nearly four years after the incident allegedly took place, claiming she found the courage to report the alleged crimes after Salling was arrested for possession of child pornography in December 2015.
According to the district attorney’s charge evaluation worksheet, the office declined to file charges because of insufficient evidence.
“I personally interviewed the victim,” wrote deputy district attorney Emily Spear. “She appeared very emotional over the trauma inflicted upon her and presents as a credible and accurate historian of the events surrounding the rape. However, given the delay in reporting the crime, suspect’s apparent denial of the rape in victim’s pretext call to him and lack of other corroboration, there is insufficient evidence, at this time, to file this case.”
“I explained the standards and ethics of filing a case to the victim and she appeared to understand,” she added. “I also explained that if more evidence is discovered in the future, that the case may be reopened and presented again for filing.”
Pleading Guilty to Child Pornography
On Dec. 30, 2015, Salling was arrested for possession of child pornography after LAPD’s Internet Crimes Against Children unit obtained a search warrant for his home in Sunland, California. Investigators said a laptop, hard drive, and USB flash drive seized from his residence contained thousands of images and videos depicting child pornography. (His former girlfriend alerted police, according to the court documents.)
The actor was named in a two-count indictment in May 2016; the trial was delayed that June as he sought new legal representation. On Oct. 4, 2017, he pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography involving a prepubescent minor.
After striking a plea deal Dec. 18, he was due to be sentenced in March and expected to serve four to seven years in prison.
“Mark is focused on accepting responsibility and attempting to atone for his conduct,” his attorney said in a statement to PEOPLE at the time.
Federal investigators say they found more than 25,000 images and 600 videos depicting child pornography on computers and thumb drives that belonged to Salling. The content depicted children as young as 3 years old being abused, according to court documents.
According to documents obtained by PEOPLE, Salling had to register as a sex offender and enter a treatment program; have no verbal or electronic contact with anyone under the age of 18; stay 100 feet away from schools, parks, public swimming pools, youth centers, playgrounds and arcades; and pay $50,000 in restitution to each victim.If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).