When Mark Salling was arrested in late 2015 after federal investigators found more than 25,000 images and 600 videos depicting child pornography on computers and thumb drives belonging to the late actor, the star’s close friends and family were stunned.
“His loved ones — actual loved ones — were absolutely shocked,” a Salling family source tells PEOPLE. “In the last few years, we had very little contact. When you’re living against your own morals or what you know to be right, you tend to avoid people who will hold up mirrors.”
Looking back at the last few years of Salling’s life, “it’s clear he was dealing with demons himself,” says the source. “The problem doesn’t live in the existence of demons or pain or sexual appetites that began to skew as time went on. The inherent problem is that he did not seek help or have someone close enough to him willing to call it out.”
Raised in Dallas in a tight-knit family, the star — who died of apparent suicide at age 35 on Tuesday, one month before he was to be sentenced to prison — moved to California to attend music school in Pasadena after high school but didn’t land his breakthrough role in Glee until he was 25.
“He grew up in a really loving and supportive home with incredible parents,” says the source about his “humble” childhood. “He had a great relationship with them but was also particularly close with his grandmother, whom he loved dearly. They wanted the best for him and wanted to make sure he was pursuing his dreams and being responsible.”
After Glee became a worldwide phenomenon, however, Salling struggled with the downsides to fame. “He literally went from having very little success to suddenly getting stopped by fans everywhere he went. That’s a drastic and tough transition for anyone to make.”
RELATED VIDEO: Glee Star Mark Salling Pleads Guilty to Possession of Child Pornography
Last October, Salling pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography involving a prepubescent minor and later struck a plea deal; he was due to be sentenced next month and serve four to seven years in prison.
“As he continued to fight his demons — ultimately alone — there was some comfort there,” says the source, who adds that Salling spent time in recent years at a wildlife rehabilitation center writing music and playing frisbee golf.
Adds the source: “I don’t believe he ever intended harm … but I do believe he was really sick and it severely clouded his judgement, which kept him living in an alternate reality.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).