Actress Naya Rivera, TV star of ‘Glee’ and ‘fierce talent’, dies at 33

Actress Naya Rivera, best known for playing a sharp-tongued cheerleader and Glee club member in Fox’s hit musical comedy drama “Glee,” was found dead Monday morning after an extensive search on Lake Piru. in Ventura County. She was 33 years old.

At an afternoon press conference, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said he was “sure” that the body he found floating in the lake was that of Rivera, who disappeared Wednesday. Their 4-year-old son, Josey, was discovered Wednesday night sleeping alone in a boat that his mother had rented for them that afternoon.

The area had been extensively screened by diving teams and sonar teams, and the cabins around the lake were also explored. Rivera’s body was found at 9:10 a.m. in the northeast part of the lake, Capt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said Monday.

20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment released a joint statement Monday.

“Naya Rivera was a fierce talent with much more to do and this is such a terrible tragedy. We are eternally grateful for the indelible contribution he made to ‘Glee’, from the first episode to the last. Our hearts are broken and our thoughts are with Naya’s family, friends and young son, “he said.

Rivera rose to stardom with her big role in “Glee” when she debuted on Fox in 2009. Created by Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, the series transformed its mostly unknown young cast into television superstars.

Naya Rivera and Kevin McHale in

Naya Rivera, left, and Kevin McHale in “Glee.”

(Fox Image Collection via Getty Images)

Rivera played the popular and intriguing entertainer Santana López, who joins the school’s Glee club as a spy for cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), but soon finds herself developing an interest in music while dancing and singing at the hallways of McKinley High School. Rivera became a regular series in the second season of the program.

“Glee,” which ended his six-season run in 2015, was one of Fox’s biggest hits with young viewers during his airtime, though his ratings fell in his past two seasons.

But the beloved series and its cast have been plagued with tragedy. Rivera is the third leading member of the “Glee” cast to die in seven years.

Cory Monteith, who played leading football star and singing coach Finn Hudson on the series, died on July 13, 2013 of a drug overdose after a battle with substance abuse. And Mark Salling, who played Noah “Puck” Puckerman, died in 2018 of an apparent suicide; He was weeks away from sentencing after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. (Like their characters, Rivera and Salling came out from time to time during the show’s presentation.)

Naya Rivera, left, with Gloria Estefan in

Naya Rivera, left, with guest star Gloria Estefan on an episode of “Glee.”

(Fox)

Most recently, Rivera played a former dancer-turned-school administrator in the television series “Step Up” based on the popular dance movie franchise. (Originally on YouTube Red, the series will be ported to Starz for its upcoming third season.)

The news that Rivera’s body had been found sparked an outpouring of friends and admirers. Because she played a strange character in “Glee,” she was remembered by many as a pioneer in LGBTQ representation on television.

Rest, Naya. What strength were you. Love and peace for your family, ”actress Lynch tweeted Monday.

“I will never be able to articulate the importance of seeing Naya, a black Puerto Rican, portraying a strange Afro-Latina on primetime television. I am heartbroken by all the stories that will go untold, ”Steven Canals, co-creator and executive producer of FX“ Pose, ”tweeted Monday.

“How can you convey all your love and respect for someone in a publication? How can you summarize a decade of friendship and laughter just with words? If you were a friend of Naya Rivera, you simply cannot,” wrote the co-star of “Glee Chris Colfer on Instagram after the Ventura Sheriff held his press conference.

His post continued: “His brilliance and humor were unmatched. Her beauty and talent were from another world. He spoke the truth to power with poise and courage. You could turn a bad day into a great day with just one comment. She inspired and uplifted people without even trying. Being close to her was both a badge of honor and armor. Naya was truly one of a kind, and always will be. “

The GLAAD organization noted in a tweet: “Naya Rivera will be remembered by many. She was a friend of GLAAD and even hosted the GLAAD Media Awards twice. She was kind, friendly, and personally used her platforms and voice to tell LGBTQ Youth who are loved. Our hearts go out to their loved ones. “

Naya Marie Rivera was born and raised in Santa Clarita and began her Hollywood career at age 4 with a role in the CBS comedy “The Royal Family” created by Eddie Murphy in 1991. Rivera appeared on the television shows “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ”,“ The Bernie Mac Show ”and“ 8 Simple Rules ”, before earning his role in“ Glee ”by auditioning with the Destiny Child version of“ Emotions ”. “

Rivera’s performance on “Glee” drew attention in the show’s third season with the story of her character, which involved Santana in being publicly revealed by a rival member of the Glee club.

“I get so many stories from people that the story really touched them and it was a success for them. It has built me ​​a fan base that I never thought I would have, “Rivera told the Hollywood Reporter in 2012.” It’s really cool to know that there are people who care about this and that their work does matter. “

Rivera attempted to translate the musical success of “Glee” into a real-life musical career. She signed a deal with Columbia Records in 2011 and released her debut single, “Sorry,” with then-boyfriend Big Sean, in 2013. But the album was eventually shelved, and her music career stalled.

In 2014, she married actor Ryan Dorsey, with whom she had her son. A few years after their marriage, in 2017, Rivera was arrested on suspicion of domestic battery against Dorsey. The charges were eventually dropped and the couple divorced in 2018.

The actress and singer recounted many of the ups and downs of her career and personal life: fights on “Glee,” her struggles with anorexia as a teenager, her decision to abort, in her 2016 revealing book, “I’m Sorry, I’m Not Sorry. . “

Rivera is survived by his son, Josey, and his parents, Yolanda and George Rivera, as well as brother Mychal and sister Nickayla.

On July 2, Rivera posted a now tragically moving message on Twitter and Instagram that said: “No matter the year, the circumstance or the difficulties every day you are alive is a blessing. Make the most of today and every day they give you. Tomorrow is not promised. “

Times writer Christie D’Zurilla contributed to this story.

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