"I'm not Finn Hudson," the actor who plays him, Cory Monteith, tells Parade magazine in an eye-opening interview that will appear Sunday.
When it comes to his present and his past, Monteith, 29, admits, "I'm lucky on so many counts – I'm lucky to be alive."
A precocious child whose parents divorced when he was 7, Monteith was, at 13, skipping school, getting drunk and smoking pot in his native British Columbia. By age 16, he says, "I was out of control."
His pot use escalated to drugs. "Anything and everything," he says, "as much as possible. I had a serious problem."
Fearful he "could die," Monteith's mother and some friends staged an intervention – and, at 19 Monteith found himself in rehab. "I did the stint but then went back to doing exactly what I left off doing," he recalls.
The turnaround came unexpectedly. "I stole a significant amount of money from a family member," he says. "I knew I was going to get caught, but I was so desperate I didn't care."
Accused of the theft, Monteith replied, "Yeah, it was me" – an admission he calls "the first honorable, truthful thing that had come out of my mouth in years."
The relative delivered an ultimatum: get clean or face robbery charges. Now looking back, Monteith says, "I was done fighting myself. I finally said, 'I'm gonna start looking at my life and figure out why I'm doing this.' "
He adds: "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 ... But for those people who might give up: Get real about what you want and go after it."