Naya Rivera
Credit: Charley Gallay/Getty Images

This time, let's stop the cruel talk quickly: Glee is not cursed.

The former Fox musical isn't under a supernatural spell that dooms its cast to an early demise. There is no Final Destination-like mechanization at play that stalks its actors, one by one, to succumb to various tragic fates.

On Wednesday night and into Thursday, "Glee curse" chatter was all over social media (and in a few media publications) due to the disappearance of actress Naya Rivera, who played cheerleader Santana Lopez on the series. Rivera vanishing at a Southern California lake is being dubbed a "tragic accident" by the Ventura County Sheriff's Office. Previously, actor Mark Salling (who played Noah "Puck" Puckerman) committed suicide in 2018 and actor Cory Monteith (who played Finn Hudson) died from a drug overdose in 2013.

"The Glee curse" declared a UK Daily Mail headline. "This Glee curse is real!!" exclaimed trailblazing celebrity news blogger Perez Hilton. The sentiment was likewise echoed on social media by several other blue-checkmark professionals. While The Mercury News tried to have its curse cake and eat it too with the headline, "A Glee curse? Fans reject the idea, but show has been haunted by tragedies" — which is a bit like saying, "There is no curse, except there might be a curse."  

This isn't meant to scold. It's perfectly natural, particularly for those of us in the media, to look for wider meaning in tragedy. Humans search for patterns and narratives when faced with the terrifying randomness of fate and the heartbreak of loss. But let's remember that Glee had a sprawling cast. According to IMDB, more than one thousand named actors appeared on the show in non-background roles over the course of its six seasons on Fox. That misfortune would befall some of them over the last 11 years isn't due to a divine or demonic intervention, but math combined with happenstance. Also, just in general, it's not weird for one show to have a cluster of tragedies. It would be weird if there weren't any shows that had a cluster of tragedies.

The point might strike some as irrelevant — Who cares if Glee is called a cursed show? It matters because it's disrespectful to those who have perished and to their loved ones; a way of suggesting that some higher power wanted them to die. It also removes the rather important element of free will — Monteith had a history of substance abuse and Salling killed himself while facing a potential four-to-seven-year prison sentence.

In addition, saying "Glee is cursed" suggests that the rest of the show's cast are doomed as well.

The idea of a hit title being cursed isn't unique to Glee. Curse rumors have been attached to other projects over the years, particularly horror films. The best known is Steven Speilberg's iconic 1982 film Poltergeist, which was widely dubbed "cursed" after the deaths of two young cast members (Heather O'Rourke, who died in 1988 of a medical issue, and Dominique Dunne, who died after being strangled by her ex-boyfriend in 1982).

Another popular curse rumor was "the Superman curse," given that actor George Reeves, who starred in the 1950s TV series, was killed by a gunshot wound and four-time big-screen Superman Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident in 1995 and then died in 2004. That might sound eerie until you run down all the actors who have played Superman who are still around (Gerard Christopher, John Haymes Newton, Henry Cavill, Brandon Routh, Tom Welling, Tyler Hoechlin, Dean Cain, Matt Bomer, and, in voiceover, many others).

Ultimately, the curse label is a protective reflex, but one best abandoned. Calling a show cursed is a Band-Aid to cover grief, albeit an understandable one. To quote Brittany Pierce: "Sad songs make me really sad, and I don't want to be sad."

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