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Glenn Quinn: The Irish actor whose star shone brightly but burned out too quickly

Glenn Quinn was the most successful thespians from the Green Isle - a heart-throb who dated Gwyneth Paltrow. But exactly 14 years ago, his life ended in tragedy

By Donal Lynch

At his home in Dublin, Ciaran McQualie Quinn sat down at his computer, took a deep breath, and typed in the words "Glenn died". In less than a second, the screen was filled with images of a handsome young actor called Glenn Quinn, presumably - from the results - the most famous Glenn who had ever died.

There he was kissing Gwyneth Paltrow, hanging with John Travolta, laughing with Roseanne Barr. There he was on the set of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There were fan sites, online tributes, pictures of billboards emblazoned with his million dollar smile. And there, in black and white, was the young actor's obituary. He had died a few years previously in Los Angeles and was survived, so the article said, "by his mother Bernadette, his sisters Louisa and Sonya and his father Murty".

Bernadette had another son, however. Ciaran McQuaile Quinn had been adopted as a child and was on a quest to find his birth family. He had spent years gathering little fragments of information and he knew who his father was. He also knew that his mother's name had been Bernadette. But he did not know about his sisters. And he had no idea that he had a famous brother, who he had never met and now never would meet.

A whole generation of kids had grown up watching Glenn play the dim-yet-handsome boyfriend of Becky, Roseanne's daughter, on Roseanne. In the late-1980s, it had become the most-watched programme of all on US television. It was syndicated around the world and hailed for its groundbreaking depiction of working-class America and family strife.

Glenn's father was the famous musician Murty Quinn of The Miami Showband, which had seven number one hits in Ireland during the 1960s and 1970s. Dickie Rock became the lead vocalist for the group and would go on to represent Ireland in Eurovision, while still playing with the showband. In 1967, despite their great success, the group broke up, with Murty and three of the other members leaving to form the Sands.

The group of men that remained part of The Miami Showband would go on to be associated forever with a infamous attack during the Troubles. In 1975, on a lonely country road outside Newry, the band were making their way home to Dublin from a gig at the Castle Ballroom in Banbridge, Co Down when they were flagged down by men in military dress.

The band presumed that the men who stopped them were Army, but in fact they were members of the UVF, who tried to plant a bomb in the van carrying the band. It detonated prematurely and in the melee that followed the paramilitaries opened fire on the entertainers, killing three of them.

Bernadette and Murty's marriage was troubled and they eventually split. Bernadette moved to America in 1988 and she and the three children lived in Los Angeles because of family connections in the area.

Glenn was educated at Clonkeen College where former classmates described him as "a fun, intelligent guy" and a "practical joker". By his teens it was apparent that Glenn had inherited his father's musicality. He played drums in a band and dreamed of being a popstar. In the 1980s, his world would shift on its axis.

Glenn, by now in his late teens, did a variety of odd jobs to support himself, including time working as a waiter and on a building site. His first speaking part came in the pilot episode of Beverly Hills 90210. Glenn had a slightly more substantial appearance in the Outsiders, which co-starred David Arquette. In 1991, he had his first major role in the film Shout, which also starred Hollywood superstar John Travolta.

The film marked the big screen debut of another budding starlet who would go on to great things, Gwyneth Paltrow. The two young actors would share an on-screen kiss and, according to Ciaran, it went further than that. "A number of his friends told me that he was knocking around with her and they were young and impressionable and anything went."

In the late-1990s, he made the transition from Roseanne to Angel, the big-budget David Boreanis vehicle, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, which tapped into teenager vampire mania a generation before the Twilight series. The series seemed to represent a chance for him to jump-start his career, but he would arrive with some baggage.

Reports from the period claim that by this time he had addictions to alcohol and cocaine and on the set he was reported to be confrontational.

On Angel, playing the character of Doyle he was allowed, for the first time, to use his Irish accent, giving his many fans around the world the first indication of his heritage. When the character was killed off, fans campaigned online to bring him back.

Quinn used his television money to buy a part share in an LA nightclub called Goldfinger. However, his partners in the club soon bought him out and there were contemporaneous reports that he was begging money from customers and staff and getting into fights.

In December 2002, Glenn was asked to leave a Miami rehab centre, for using drugs. Later that week, he appeared at the apartment of his friend Dwayne Higgins in North Hollywood, asking if he could stay for a while. Higgins went to bed at around 9pm on the night of December 3, with Glenn resting on the couch.

The next morning, when Higgins looked at Glenn, he thought he was sleeping, so he went out. When he got back he went to wake Glenn up but got no response.

Panicked he immediately called emergency services, but it would be too late. Glenn was just 32 when he died.

Police would later find syringes amongst his possessions. Autopsy reports would later record the cause of his death as an accidental heroin overdose.

"It's difficult to imagine the pain that news caused for my mother and sisters," Ciaran said. "To lose a son and brother is the worst thing anyone could go through."

Today, there are dozens of online tributes to the actor.

He had arguably been the most successful Irish actor of his generation - a little older than Colin Farrell and younger than Daniel Day-Lewis and Brendan Gleeson.

Glenn's mother never remarried and she still lives in the US. She travelled back to Ireland this past summer and stayed with Ciaran. Glenn was buried in the City of Angels, but there are still important mementos of him here.

"I have his drum-set believe, it or not," Ciaran said. "I wear his Claddagh ring. Bernadette has given me as much as she possibly can. I never had any issues. I just would have loved to have gotten to know him."

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