Naya Rivera, a singer and actor who played a gay cheerleader on the hit TV musical comedy Glee, was found dead Monday in a Southern California lake. She was 33.
Rivera’s body was discovered six days after she disappeared on Lake Piru, where her son, Josey, was found July 8 alone on a boat the two had rented, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the body was Rivera’s.
“Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were,” wrote Glee co-star Jane Lynch on Twitter. Steven Canals, who co-created and produced the FX television show Pose, tweeted that he was “heartbroken over all the stories that will remain untold.” Viola Davis sent her prayers to Rivera’s family and Kristin Chenoweth said: “Thank you for what you gave the world.”
Rivera began acting at a young age, but she rose to national attention playing a lesbian teen on Glee, which aired from 2009 until 2015 on Fox. She is survived by her parents, Yolanda and George; a younger brother, Mychal; a sister, Nickayla; and her 4-year-old son.
“Naya Rivera was a fierce talent with so much more to do and this is such a terrible tragedy. We are forever grateful for the indelible contribution she made to ‘Glee,’ from the first episode to the last,” said a statement from 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment.
A native of Santa Clarita, California, Rivera began acting at 4, appearing in such series as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters and The Bernie Mac Show. As a teen, she struggled with an eating disorder and had breast implants put in at 18 (“a confidence thing, not a sexual thing,” she would later write in her autobiography).
“I had the lowest self esteem in high school possible. I wasn’t popular, I didn’t have friends, but I would say it’s really important that you know who you are and you’re going to win in the end because of that,” Rivera said in a 2011 interview with The Associated Press.
She worked odd jobs as a telemarketer, a nanny, a waitress and an Abercrombie & Fitch greeter before landing the role of Santana Lopez on Ryan Murphy’s Glee. She auditioned by singing Destiny’s Child’s Emotion. The pilot offered her no speaking lines.
Rivera played a secondary character — the mean cheerleader with blistering put-downs — in the show’s first season, but became a show regular in the second season as she struggled to reveal her character’s sexual identity. Many on social media credited her character for making them feel better about their own sexuality.
She and actor Ryan Dorsey were married in 2014 and their son, Josey, was born in 2015. She called her young son “my greatest success, and I will never do any better than him.”
Rivera was arrested and charged in West Virginia in 2017 with misdemeanour domestic battery after she allegedly hit Dorsey. The charge was dismissed because Dorsey did not wish to press charges. They divorced soon after.
Most recently, Rivera had a role on Lifetime’s Devious Maids, released her memoir in 2016 and played school administrator Collette Jones in the YouTube Red online series Step Up: High Water starring Ne-Yo. The show is about a cutthroat performing arts school in Atlanta.