Naya Rivera

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Naya Rivera
Naya Rivera at 2012 ALMA Awards (cropped).jpg
Rivera in September 2012
Born(1987-01-12)January 12, 1987
DiedJuly 8, 2020(2020-07-08) (aged 33)[a]
Cause of deathAccidental drowning[1]
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)[3]
Other namesNaya Rivera Dorsey[4]
Occupation
  • Actress
  • Singer
  • Model
Years active1991–2020
Spouse(s)
Ryan Dorsey
(
m. 2014; div. 2018)
Children1
RelativesMychal Rivera (brother)
Musical career
Genres
InstrumentsVocals
LabelsColumbia
Websitewww.nayarivera.com

Naya Marie Rivera (/ˈn.ə rɪˈvɛər.ə/;[5] January 12, 1987 – July 8, 2020) was an American actress, singer, and model. She began her career as a child actress and model, appearing in national television commercials before landing the role of Hillary Winston on the short-lived CBS sitcom The Royal Family (1991–1992) at the age of four and earning a nomination for a Young Artist Award at five. After a series of recurring television roles and guest spots as a teenager, Rivera got her breakthrough role in 2009 as lesbian cheerleader Santana Lopez on the Fox television series Glee (2009–2015). For the role, she received critical acclaim and various awards, as well as three Grammy nominations.

Rivera was signed to Columbia Records as a solo musical artist in 2011 and — despite never releasing a studio album — released a single, "Sorry", in 2013. On film, Rivera made her debut in the horror film At the Devil's Door (2014) before playing a supporting role in the comedy film Mad Families (2017). Her personal life garnered significant press and media attention throughout her career, and in 2016 she published a memoir titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up. Because of her varied roles across her three decades as a performer, Rivera is seen as having been a vanguard of Afro-Latinx and queer representation on television.

On July 8, 2020, Rivera drowned at Lake Piru, near Santa Clarita, California while swimming with her four-year-old son Josey, who was found alone on their rented boat. Her body was recovered from the lake on the morning of July 13, following a five-day search. At the time of her death she was between seasons of the television show Step Up, in which she played the female lead.

Early life[edit]

Naya Marie Rivera was born in Santa Clarita, California, on January 12, 1987,[6] and was raised in Santa Clarita's Valencia neighborhood. She lived in or around Los Angeles for most of her life.[6] She was of African American, German, and Puerto Rican descent.[7][b] When the term "Afro-Latinx" became widespread in the 2010s she was often identified as such.[9][10] Her parents are Yolanda Previtire (née White), a former model, and George Rivera,[11][12] who worked various IT jobs, including positions at Disney and the Universal Music Publishing Group.[13] George and Yolanda had married in 1986 but divorced in 1996, and Yolanda married Charles Previtire in 1999; Rivera was close with her stepfather,[11] but did not really know her grandparents.[14] She was the oldest of three children: her younger brother is former NFL tight end Mychal Rivera (b. 1990),[15] and her younger sister is runway model Nickayla Rivera (b. 1994).[16][17] During the time her parents were married, the family's income would fluctuate dramatically, sometimes living lavishly and other times struggling.[13] Rivera said that her family often went boating when she was young, which she enjoyed though she did not like to get her hair wet, adding that they had a scary experience on one occasion when their anchor got stuck and her father injured himself on the propeller trying to free the boat.[18] She still enjoyed boating as an adult and took many trips to Lake Piru near her home, which she considered a "sanctuary".[19]

At 8 or 9 months old, Rivera began to be represented by the same talent agent as her mother, who had moved to Los Angeles to pursue modeling.[20] Rivera was a fan of Michael Jackson from a young age and became friends with one of Jackson's nieces as a child actress on the audition circuit, visiting Neverland Ranch twice (though not with Jackson present).[21] She also met Tupac Shakur as a child; he was a fan of her acting and went over to introduce himself after spotting her family at LAX.[22] Rivera attended Valencia High School in Santa Clarita and graduated in 2005.[23][24] Her mother had convinced her to join a choir in her freshman year, but she quit it after a few weeks because she was constantly overlooked for classmate Nazanin Mandi. She challenged Mandi to a sing-off for a solo, but Mandi declined and so Rivera left.[11][14][22][25] She had wanted to be a cheerleader, but her family could not afford this.[16] Instead of high school activities, Rivera spent her free time at acting auditions.[7] She suffered with anorexia as a teenager, something she opened up about as an adult.[13] In 2019, Rivera described her high school experience as "terrible",[26] though has indicated part of this was her attitude towards education compared to her career and the lack of coffee served there.[24][27]

Career[edit]

1991–2008: Career beginnings[edit]

Rivera appeared in commercials for Kmart as a baby, but her first significant acting job was at age 4 when she appeared as Hillary Winston in The Royal Family sitcom in 1991.[20] As she could not read the scripts, she would learn her lines through recitation and memorize them. This skill stayed with her, as she was known for learning lines quickly and never messing up on set.[13] The show received positive reviews and high ratings initially, but it was canceled soon after star Redd Foxx suffered a sudden heart attack on set,[28] which Rivera witnessed.[29] Rivera wrote that she and Foxx "were intergenerational BFFs from the moment [they] met", and that she considered him like a grandfather.[14] Watching Foxx die in front of her at a young age affected her for the rest of her life, with a colleague from her final role saying that since the incident, for Rivera, season finales "were devastating [and] could represent the end of her life as she knew it".[30] Still, she said that on The Royal Family she "fell in love with being on TV";[14] she received a Young Artist Award nomination for her performance in the series.[31]

As a child and teen actor between 1992 and 2002, Rivera was part of the golden age of Black sitcoms,[8] and had small roles in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Live Shot, Baywatch, Smart Guy, House Blend, Even Stevens and The Master of Disguise. In 2002, she also appeared in the music video for B2K's "Why I Love You". She then had a guest appearance on The Bernie Mac Show in 2002, before returning to the show for ten episodes throughout its five-season run.[31][32][29][33] Growing up mixed-race in the entertainment industry, she found that her ethnicity could both help and stifle her opportunities: sometimes she found that she could not be typecast by casting directors because she "wasn't Black enough, or Latina enough" and struggled to get roles as either ethnicity,[34] but has also said that she "could play a lot of different ethnicities, from just plain old dark-skinned white girl, to Latino, to African-American", broadening the roles she could audition for.[13] This also concerned her, feeling that she may have been picked for modeling jobs to be the "ethnic girl".[35]

As she got older, she was featured in episodes of 8 Simple Rules and CSI: Miami.[20][36] By this point, roles dried up and she was working less frequently.[13][37] In between auditions and roles, Rivera worked jobs as a telemarketer, a nanny and a greeter at an Abercrombie & Fitch store.[38] In 2006 and 2007, Rivera took part in a production of Mark E. Swinton's play, U Don't Know Me: The Musical, both in Los Angeles and when the production was taken on national tour.[39] Rivera auditioned for an unspecified season of American Idol during the San Francisco auditions, but was cut in the first round.[40]

2009–2011: Breakthrough and acclaim with Glee[edit]

In 2009, Rivera was cast as Santana Lopez, a high school cheerleader, on Fox's musical comedy series Glee, about a high school glee club. She auditioned for the opportunity "to sing, dance and act all in the same show," and because she was a fan of co-creator Ryan Murphy's previous work on Nip/Tuck.[36] She drew on her own high school experience of unpopularity to prepare for the role, as well as watching films such as Mean Girls to "really get in the zone and feel like a bitchy sophomore".[36] Rivera described her character Santana as "a bit of a bad girl"[41] and "your typical high school cheerleader, for the most part",[36] saying that she enjoyed playing Santana because she "always has these really witty one-liners she throws out there".[41][36] Rivera enjoyed the fact Santana is competitive and headstrong, as they shared those traits, but disliked Santana's mean streak.[42] She found the show's pacing challenging, especially the dancing, and said in June 2009 that her most memorable moment on Glee was performing the Cheerios' glee club audition piece, "I Say a Little Prayer".[36] Santana played a more prominent part in the last nine episodes of Glee's first season,[43] with Rivera commenting at the time: "Santana's been wreaking havoc with people's boyfriends and people's babies and teachers – she's the high school terror, and she's going to continue to be the villain".[44]

Rivera performing the song "Valerie" in character as Santana Lopez at the Manchester Arena during the Glee concert tour in 2011.

After having her screen time and musical involvement increased in the second half of the first season, Rivera was promoted to series regular as of the beginning of the second season,[45] something said to be earned because her "magnetism on screen was undeniable".[46] She was given her first solo in the fifth episode of season two, "The Rocky Horror Glee Show", and performed several others as the season progressed. During the second season, Rivera's role in the show was radically changed when it was revealed that her character was a lesbian. Rivera portrayed Santana struggling to come to terms with her sexuality, with her love for her best friend, and with her inability to come out of the closet. Rivera spoke about the development of this aspect of her character, saying that it was first thought up by the writers as a "funny little thing" for a quick punchline; the actress pushed for the relationship to be taken seriously.[47] She received favorable reviews for her performance,[31][48][49] and is celebrated for the representation that Santana and her portrayal of the character provide:[c] one feature on Rivera's legacy said that "in a landscape starved of representation, Santana was an oasis. A bold, well-rounded, hilarious woman of colour who was openly and unapologetically gay".[46] In relation to the show, Rivera was a guest mentor on The Glee Project's second season episode "Sexuality" and,[50] in January 2011, appeared in a Funny or Die parody of "Nuthin' but a 'G' Thang", called "Nuthin' But a Glee Thang", which had been co-written by her Glee co-star Heather Morris.[51] Morris and Rivera, who played girlfriends and ultimately wives on the show, remained close friends for the rest of Rivera's life.[52][53][54]

In 2011, Rivera won her first ALMA Award, as Favorite Female Music Artist;[55] she won two more in 2012, in the categories of Favorite TV Actress – Leading Role in a Comedy and Female Music Artist.[56] She received a great amount of critical praise for both her acting and her singing performances in the latter part of season two and the beginning of season three of Glee.[37] As 2011 ended, she or her character were on many "Best Of" lists, including HitFix's 25 Breakout Stars of 2011,[57] TV Guide's Best Performances of 2011,[58] and MTV's Best TV Characters of 2011.[59] In the third season, Rivera's character Santana was outed and began to publicly accept her sexuality, giving Rivera more complex and emotional storylines.[50][37] She also performed a duet with Ricky Martin,[60] and worked with Gloria Estefan, who was cast as Santana's mother. Estefan said that she studied Rivera's performance as inspiration for her own character, explaining: "I already knew [Santana] was very sarcastic, but [she] also has a heart, [...] So her mother had to be tough as nails, but with that little sarcastic edge", while also being supportive.[61]

As the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards approached in 2012, Rivera was listed by many critics and media outlets as deserving of a nomination; The Hollywood Reporter included her in their "Emmys 2012: Supporting Players" photoshoot,[62] the annual class photo of the 25 top contenders across the various Supporting performance categories,[63] and she was honored by media outlets like E!,[64] HitFix,[65] and TV Guide.[66] She was chosen by the Television Academy to host the "Countdown to the Emmys" video for the upcoming awards ceremony, a video introduction to each year's ceremony that is watched by an estimated 25 million people.[50] For the 2012 Emmys, Rivera submitted the Glee episode "Mash Off" for consideration in the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category, an episode that had generated lots of Emmy buzz, and said that it "was so well rounded. [Glee is] a comedy but [she] also got to show off some dramatic aspects of the character" in it.[50] Despite this, Rivera was not nominated for an Emmy in 2012, nor in her lifetime, with the media generally considering this a snub.[67][68][69][70][71][72]

2011–2014: Musical solo debut and film debut[edit]

In May 2011, it was announced that Rivera had signed a deal with Columbia Records to produce a solo album.[73] In 2012, the musical duo 2Cellos released the second single to their second album, a cover of Muse's "Supermassive Black Hole" featuring vocals by Rivera. She also starred in the music video for the song. Rivera and 2Cellos had first met and worked together with Grant Gustin for a song featured on Glee, with the cellists thinking that Rivera's "sexy voice" would be perfect for their Muse cover.[74][75] At a point in the early production of the 2012 movie adaptation of The Hunger Games, Rivera had been considered for the role of Katniss Everdeen, a part she did not get.[76]

Rivera's debut single "Sorry", featuring rapper Big Sean, was released as a digital download on September 17, 2013.[77][78] While her most popular performances on Glee were softer ballads, she chose to write "something a little more glossy and soulful" for her own music and worked with her own team, including Glee drummer John Lock, rather than go with Columbia's suggestions; she said she told the label: "This is what I'm doing. Get on or get off. I think ["Sorry"] is a summer song, and I want it on the radio by the end of the summer".[16] The single quickly reached the top 40 on the Billboard Rhythmic chart and the top 10 of the iTunes download chart.[16] However, production on the album "kind of halted" due to "so many things going on".[79] Rivera said: "Politics got involved so I've been putting it on the back burner".[79] During this period she starred in an M&Ms commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLVII on February 3, 2013, as the 'girlfriend' of the anthropomorphic "Red" M&M character,[80] and voiced a rebellious reindeer character called Sparkle in the 2013 Christmas movie The Naughty List,[81] for which she won a voice acting award.[82]

On May 1, 2014, it was reported that Columbia had dropped Rivera because her debut single had underperformed,[83] but Rivera's representative released a statement to news outlets stating that such claims were false, and they may pursue legal action to ensure Rivera's creditability.[84] Rivera subsequently worked on a project with Guillermo Díaz, directing a short film PSA about the effect of immigration on children and their parents. Díaz's part of the project focuses on telling the stories of young dreamers and the fear they have of their mothers being deported, and Rivera's part explores the problems immigrants face in the United States.[85][86]

At the Devil's Door, Rivera's debut feature film, premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas on March 9, 2014. The film has been described by its director, Nicholas McCarthy, as "a unique kind of genre film I think, almost like a Rubik's cube of a horror movie".[87] The film was released through video on demand on August 8, 2014, and theatrically released on September 12, 2014.[88][89] The film continued to play at festivals, receiving mixed reviews. Rivera's acting, however, received praise.[90][91][92] Edgar Chaput of Sound on Sight called Rivera "the standout [and] the most natural performance in the film",[93] and Marsha McCreadie of Film Journal wrote that the film "doesn't pick up steam until late in the story, when Rivera carries the narrative".[94] Diabolique magazine's Jeremy Kibler wrote: "Coming primarily from a TV background and fun to watch [...] the eye-grabbing Naya Rivera adjusts to the big screen with ease in front of the camera. Her Vera is headstrong and rigid but cut with just the right amount of vulnerability".[95]

2015–2020: Return to television[edit]

Rivera posing with a fan at a book signing in 2016.

In 2015, Rivera portrayed the recurring role of Blanca Alvarez in the third season of Lifetime's drama series Devious Maids,[96] and from 2014 to 2015 was a recurring guest host of The View.[97] She was initially set to only host a few episodes of The View, but her appearances all produced "soundbites that have gone viral" and gave the show a boost on social media; it was reported that the producers were considering "bigger plans" for Rivera before she was made a more regular guest host.[98] As Blanca on Devious Maids, Mitchel Broussard for We Got This Covered said that Rivera was "maybe [the] most interesting" part of the season opener, mysteriously starting off her own storyline "that oozed the show's telenovela origins".[99] She wrote a memoir titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up in September 2016.[100] After the birth of her son, Josey, in 2015, Rivera chose to take some time off acting to spend with him because of the disruptive lifestyle that comes with filming for television.[27] She returned with a secondary character role in another film, Mad Families, in 2017. The film focuses on three families – one white, one Latino, and one African-American – being forced together on a camping trip, with Rivera's "peacemaker" character Felipa as one of the Latinos.[18] In 2018, she auditioned for the role of Anita in the 2020 remake of West Side Story with the song "America", a song and role that she had performed on Glee.[101]

Rivera was announced as part of the cast for the YouTube Red series Step Up: High Water in 2017, taking the leading role of school administrator and dance instructor Collette Jones, alongside Ne-Yo and Faizon Love.[102][103] The show's executive producer, Adam Shankman, had directed Rivera in the Glee episode "The Rocky Horror Glee Show" and helped her prepare for her first solo in it. He said that Rivera took the leading role in Step Up as "a favor" to him before becoming "the mother of [the] whole cast" and the show's "North Star".[104] Showrunner Holly Sorensen recalled that Collette was one of the last characters to be cast; Shankman called Rivera as soon as she was discussed for the role and Rivera was immediately enthusiastic.[30] Rivera said during the second season that the show felt like home in the way making Glee did.[26] The series moved to Starz in May 2020, and Rivera was announced to be continuing her role; at the time, the third season was in production, but no timetable for its release was given.[105] Of the renewal, Sorensen said Rivera was "more excited than she's ever been for a season of TV".[106] After Rivera's death, Deadline reported that the third season would be rewritten, but "not right away" as the cast and crew took time away to process the loss.[107]

In February 2020, shortly before filming was shut down, Rivera recorded a guest spot in an episode of the Netflix show Sugar Rush, to be released on July 31, 2020. Following her death shortly before this date, Netflix entered discussions with Rivera's family and manager about releasing the episode; it was announced on the day before the season's release that it would be airing as planned, with the episode dedicated to her.[108] In 2019, it had been reported that the comic Batman: The Long Halloween was being adapted into a two-part animated movie, with Rivera voicing one of the main roles.[109][110] Both parts of the film were expected to be released in 2020,[111] though it was still in production in June 2020[112] and currently has no release date.[113]

Public image[edit]

During her career, Rivera appeared on the covers of several magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Maxim, Rolling Stone, FHM, Complex, Glow, Prestige, The Hollywood Reporter, Cosmo for Latinas, Latina, Fit Pregnancy and Baby[114] and Galore.[115][116][117] She was highly ranked on various magazines' most attractive lists. She made the Maxim Hot 100 list in 2010, 2011, and 2012, being ranked number 27 in 2012.[118] For two years, in 2011 and 2012, she was ranked at number one on AfterEllen.com's "Hot 100" list, ranking at number three in 2013.[119][120][121] In 2012 she was selected by People en Español for their 50 Most Beautiful list,[122] and was listed on FHM's 100 Sexiest Women list, coming in at number 39.[123] In May 2013, she posed nude in an issue of Allure magazine.[124]

In October 2012, Rivera was featured in the third episode of MTV's series This Is How I Made It. In the episode, Rivera recounted her childhood career as an actress and a model, as well as the lean times that came between the age of 16 and 21, leading up to her big break when cast on Glee.[125] In December 2011 she was named a celebrity spokesperson for Proactiv.[126]

Representation and legacy[edit]

Rivera and Heather Morris at San Diego Comic-Con in 2010. The actresses played a couple on Glee, with Refinery29's Ariana Romero praising the portrayal because "none of their panic comes from being in an interracial relationship".[9] In 2013, Rivera told Latina: "There are very few ethnic LGBT characters on television, so I am honored to represent them".[127]

With her diverse acting roles, Rivera was seen as one of the earliest and most profound examples of both Afro-Latinx representation and queer Latinx (as Santana in Glee) representation on prime time television.[9][10][34][46] In 2011, the president of GLAAD said that Rivera's storyline as Santana was "one that hasn't been told on a prime-time network television show at that level, particularly by an LGBT teen of color".[127] In industry tributes after her death, NBC wrote that Rivera "[redefined] queer and Afro-Latino representation on TV"; Lionsgate wrote that her "remarkable contributions to our industry created a lasting memory";[10] Digital Spy said that "Naya Rivera's impact was nothing short of groundbreaking";[46] and NME called her a "trailblazer [who] leaves behind an enormously powerful legacy".[47] Erika Abad, a professor of Gender and sexuality studies and scholar of Latinx studies,[128] wrote that "Naya Rivera's characters provided solidarity and visibility, [her] career [and] diverse roles [showcase] the demand to support and build upon Afro-Latinx storylines".[129]

Queer media journalist Dana Piccoli wrote a tribute feature on the actress's legacy for NBC, saying: "I don't use the word "legacy" lightly. But Rivera and her beloved Glee character, Santana Lopez, helped change queer television history".[130] Piccoli stated that later examples of representation, like Elena Alvarez in One Day at a Time, are attributable to Rivera's role.[130] Steven Canals – a co-creator of the 2018 show Pose, which is set in queer African-American and Latino culture – wrote that he will "never be able to articulate the importance of seeing Naya [Rivera], a Black Puerto Rican, portraying a queer Afro-Latina on prime-time TV" at the time.[10]

Discussing Rivera in Glee, Alicia Ramírez for O, The Oprah Magazine wrote that her casting was impactful from the start, that "her mere existence on the small screen confirmed" that people from her background can be successful, before the representation grew as the character developed: "Not only was she an Afro-Latina actress on primetime network television, but she was also playing one of the most visible Latinx lesbians on primetime TV".[34] Refinery29's Ariana Romero explained that "Rivera's performance is still all the more powerful because Santana isn't merely an unapologetic Latina – itself a painful rarity on-screen, particularly [during Glee's run] – but she is unapologetically Afro-Latina".[9] Romero noted that while Santana starts the show as little more than "the feisty Latina trope", Rivera's performance gave her more nuance and the character ultimately confronted others for perpetuating harmful Latino stereotypes in the episode "The Spanish Teacher"; this episode notably included a duet between Rivera and the queer Latino Ricky Martin, something Romero describes as one of the show's more subtle nods to queer representation and "one of Santana's best moments of Latinx pride".[9] Ramírez also highlighted Santana's confidence in performing typically white roles in musical theatre as positive representation, showing her "unapologetically taking up room in [a] predominantly white space".[34] After Glee, Rivera had a role as a recurring character on Devious Maids, the first show on prime time television to feature five Latina actresses.[10]

Romero also elaborated on the impact of Rivera appearing on television with her darker skin tone, noting that, even in 2020, shows with prominent Afro-Latinx performers – with the exception of Pose – have mostly been canceled after one season, and that other queer Latinx characters exist as "one extremely restrictive vision" where they "are all fairer-skinned" and have personalities that fit a stereotypical mold, while "Santana looks nothing like these women. She acts like them even less".[9]

Other elements of her queer representation as Santana in Glee were discussed by Browne, who wrote that it was significant how Rivera could portray Santana's emotional response to her sexuality while not being defined by it, and show her as being a character who is "a popular, confident, smart femme".[46] She also contextualized the representation by explaining: "The landscape of queer television and lesbian representation was very different [in 2009]. The L Word had been and gone, and most LGBTQ+ representation on TV consisted of brief, one-dimensional storylines or characters shoehorned in during sweep periods".[46] A BBC retrospective in 2020 looked at the impact of Rivera's role as Santana in providing important representation, internationally, for young queer women and the idea of being out in the music industry. The article did note that casting a straight actress for the role may have been frowned upon in later years, but that just having the representation was revolutionary at the time and it was positive that Rivera openly embraced playing the lesbian character.[131] The impact of the character spread through pop culture, with Jorge Rodriguez-Jimenez of Mitú writing that "Rivera's command of the role was impactful. You didn't have to be an avid viewer of the show to understand and appreciate the magnitude of Santana Lopez".[132]

Personal life[edit]

Relationships and family[edit]

Rivera was engaged to rapper Big Sean between 2013 and 2014; after they broke up, he wrote two diss tracks about her.

Rivera dated actor Tahj Mowry between 2000 and 2004, after having first met shooting a commercial when Rivera was four[23] and later working together on Smart Guy in the 1990s. She remained close with Tahj and his sisters, Tia and Tamera Mowry, for many years, including helping the sisters find an apartment when they got kicked out of their house[133][134] and appearing on Tia Mowry at Home in 2017.[97] In an Instagram tribute post on July 12, 2020, after Rivera was declared missing, Mowry professed his love for his ex-girlfriend, writing: "You were my first experience with everything; love, intimacy, heartbreak. No woman has ever measured up [to] what you gave me or how you made me feel".[133][135] He also said he never stopped loving her and "wished for the day where God would bring us back together to be what we dreamt we could have been".[133][135] Rivera then dated Glee co-star Mark Salling between 2008 and 2010. The two had a rocky relationship and ultimately split at the request of Salling's publicist; she later said that Salling breaking up with her felt like "the worst thing ever" at the time.[136] Salling was arrested in 2015 for possessing child pornography; in her book (written before Salling's subsequent suicide), Rivera expressed that she was not "totally shocked" at this, but it still took her by surprise.[136]

She began dating recording artist Big Sean in April 2013.[137] They announced their engagement in October 2013,[137] but ended their relationship in April 2014.[138] In her memoir, Rivera wrote that she found out their relationship was over "at the same time as the rest of the world", when Big Sean published the news on the internet.[139] After they broke up, she asked Big Sean not to write a song about her; this instead encouraged him to do so, and he added verses to "I Don't Fuck with You",[25][140] the lead single from his 2015 album Dark Sky Paradise, about Rivera.[141] The song peaked at number one on the US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs[142] and at number 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100.[143] Rivera performed the song on a 2018 episode of Lip Sync Battle.[144] In 2017, Big Sean released another diss track about Rivera, "No More Interviews", which In Touch Weekly said "really takes aim at Naya's neck".[145]

Soon after her split from Big Sean, Rivera began dating actor Ryan Dorsey, who she had previously dated four years earlier. They were married in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, on July 19, 2014.[146] In February 2015, Rivera announced that she and Dorsey were expecting their first child,[147] and their son, Josey Hollis, was born in September 2015.[148] Rivera spoke Spanish,[27] though she did not grow up speaking it at home,[16] and was raising Josey as bilingual.[27] In her memoir, Rivera revealed that she had an abortion in 2010, shortly after splitting from Dorsey, due to the fact that her career was taking off with the success of Glee;[149] she had not told Dorsey about the abortion until they got back together.[25] In November 2016, she filed for divorce after two years of marriage,[150] but called off the separation in October 2017.[151] In late November 2017, Rivera was arrested and charged in Kanawha County, West Virginia with misdemeanor domestic battery against Dorsey after she allegedly hit him in the head during an altercation over their child;[152] she was released and picked up from the courthouse by her father-in-law.[153] She subsequently refiled for divorce in December 2017,[154] and in January 2018 the domestic battery charge was dismissed at the request of Dorsey, who "notified both the prosecution and the defense counsel that he was no longer seeking prosecution and has confirmed he was never at any time injured by the conduct of Ms. Rivera".[155][156] On June 14, 2018, Rivera and Dorsey finalized their divorce.[157]

In January 2015, during an appearance as a guest host on The View, Rivera suggested "that she might be bisexual".[37] In the episode, Rosie O'Donnell remarked on a study showing that bisexual women were more likely to have mental health problems than lesbians, to which Rivera replied: "Rosie, no wonder I'm crazy. This just solves it all".[37][158]

Philanthropy[edit]

Rivera performing at the Young Storytellers "The Biggest Show" in 2012 with other actors from Glee and Baby Daddy.

Rivera was a lifelong Democrat who supported various charities, particularly for the LGBT+ community and immigrants,[37] dedicating her time to organizations including GLAAD, Stand Up to Cancer, The Trevor Project, The Elephant Project, and The Sunshine Foundation.[159][160][161][162] Rivera, best known for lesbian character Santana, also championed LGBT+ rights off-screen.[163] In May 2011, Rivera hosted the San Francisco GLAAD Media Awards,[164] and in November 2011, Rivera and her Glee co-star Amber Riley performed at the 10th Annual Celebration of Dreams Event for the Dream Foundation.[165] On March 24, 2012, she co-hosted the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City with Glee co-star Cory Monteith. Along with John Stamos, a guest star on the show, both hosts auctioned off kisses to the crowd, raising $15,000.[160] For Pride Month in 2017, she was invited to write for Billboard, composing "Love Letter to the LGBTQ Community", thanking fans for embracing her character and reiterating her active support for the community.[163] In October 2012, along with other members of the Glee cast, Rivera took part in "The Biggest Show", a performance of young writers' scripts for the literacy non-profit Young Storytellers,[166] and in December 2012 she attended the annual Trevor Live! event, where she performed a cover of the song "Silent Night".[161]

Rivera's favorite charity was Alexandria House, a women's shelter in Los Angeles, which she organized fundraisers for and volunteered at during 2019 and 2020.[23][167][127][168] After her death, a GoFundMe drive she had started for Alexandria House saw an influx of donations in her memory.[167] On June 5, 2020, Rivera attended a Black Lives Matter protest, on what would have been Breonna Taylor's birthday.[23]

Religion[edit]

Rivera wrote on her religion in her memoir, and was a lifelong Christian. Her mother became very religious for a period during Rivera's childhood, and from the age of seven until her teens she recalls that she and her brother were only allowed to listen to Christian music; in junior high school talent shows she would perform Christian songs, which "didn't really bring the house down".[14] Rivera explained that she had always felt comfortable with her Christianity and would particularly return to it in stressful times during her career, highlighting a point in 2014 when it was rumored that she had been fired from Glee in the same week Big Sean broke up with her, saying that to move on she "had to just be with [herself], and with God".[14]

Disappearance and death[edit]

On July 8, 2020, Rivera was declared a missing person after her four-year-old son, Josey, was found alone in Rivera's rented boat at Lake Piru, a man-made reservoir in the Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, California. Rivera had been visiting the lake for years. The search for both Rivera and Josey had begun at 4:00 p.m. PDT, three hours after they left the dock, when their rental was over and they had not returned. Another boater discovered Josey alone, asleep on the boat with his life jacket on, around 5:00 p.m.[19][169][170] The boat was in the Narrows, an area at the north of the lake that can be quite deep and windy.[171] An adult life jacket was found on board, along with Rivera's identification.[172] Josey told investigators that they were swimming and his mother had helped him climb back into the boat, but she was unable to climb back onboard herself and then disappeared underwater.[172][173][174][175] He also stated that his mother was not wearing a life jacket. Lake Piru is known locally for strong, unpredictable currents and whirlpools that have caused the deaths of swimmers in the past. Rivera's vehicle, a black Mercedes G-Wagen, was found in the parking lot.[172]

The Ventura County Sheriff's Office suspended the search and rescue operation that evening and resumed again the following day. The lake was closed to the public, with dive teams from across the region taking part in the search.[176][177][178][179] On July 9, the sheriff's department confirmed to NBC that Rivera was presumed dead and that rescue efforts would now shift to recovery efforts:[180] on the first day of the search, efforts had been made on land to determine if Rivera had made it out of the lake; a lack of evidence and Josey telling officers that he saw his mother disappear underwater led them to change the search to recovery.[174] They also released closed-circuit television footage of Rivera and her son arriving in the parking lot and leaving the dock on the boat,[181] and on July 10 the number of divers involved was cut from around 100 to around 40. The sheriff's department explained that the visibility was so poor it was more probable Rivera would be found by using sonar devices.[182] As well as dive teams and sonar, sniffer dogs were taken out on the lake.[183]

On July 11 and 12, Rivera's parents and stepfather, brother, ex-husband Ryan Dorsey and friend and co-star Heather Morris joined the search team at the lake.[184][185][186] Morris had wanted to conduct her own search around the shoreline, and was in contact with the sheriff's captain in charge of the search, Eric Buschow, who she already knew, several times.[186] The sheriff's office dissuaded more civilians from trying to search because of dangerous terrain. They restated that they were searching on land as well as in the lake.[187] On July 11, the sheriff's office had announced that other counties and a private contractor were assisting with the search.[188]

On July 13, it was announced that a body had been found floating in Lake Piru by divers when the search resumed in the morning, at around 9:30 a.m.;[173][189][190] the body was confirmed to be Rivera's at a press conference held later that day.[190][175][191] She was officially declared dead on July 13,[173] which is reflected on her death certificate, though this document does state that she died "within minutes".[2] The Ventura County sheriff suggested that Rivera and Josey may have found themselves caught in a rip current – these can be common in the area of the lake they were in, especially during the afternoon – and struggled to get back to the boat, which was found unanchored and so may have drifted from where they entered the water. He concluded that she likely "mustered enough energy to save her son, but not enough to save herself", noting how Josey described being pushed back onto the boat by his mother.[175][192][193] On July 14, the Ventura County medical examiner released an autopsy report stating that the cause of death was an accidental drowning, and that there was no evidence of injury or intoxication.[1] Buschow told the media that the body had been found just north of Diablo Cove.[186] Rivera was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills, Hollywood, a cemetery known for its many entertainment industry burials, following a private service attended by family and close friends, including members of the Glee cast, on July 24, 2020.[2][3][194][195]

Reactions[edit]

Rivera and Cory Monteith performing during the Glee concert tour in 2011; the friends and co-stars were found dead seven years apart, with tributes being made to both of them.

Fans of Rivera posted messages of support during the time of her disappearance, and tributes after she was found dead. Her family thanked them for the "outpouring of love" in a message shared on July 15.[196] Rivera's ex-fiancé Big Sean wrote a tribute post on July 19, saying she was "a hero [...] because of the barriers [she] knocked down for so many people to make them feel confident in themselves".[197] Her ex-husband Dorsey made no public statement until after Rivera's funeral, when he posted on Instagram to say that he was still finding her death hard to believe, but that having their son makes coping easier "because a part of [Rivera] will always be with [him]", promising to raise Josey knowing who his mother was.[198] Other tributes came from Rivera's many Glee co-stars, a group of which had gathered at the lake on July 13 to say prayers, shortly before her body was found.[199] Jane Lynch was one of the first to react after her death, tweeting "Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were";[200] several other members of the cast also described her as "a force".[201][202] The show's creators, Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuk, announced that they planned to start a college fund for Rivera's son, Josey.[203] Heather Morris posted photos of their sons together, calling her a "consistent and loving friend" who was the "strongest and most resilient human being [she knew]".[204] On July 21, Morris also posted a video of herself dancing to Rivera's song "Radio Silence" in tribute,[205] and Chris Colfer guest wrote an article for Variety eulogizing her.[206]

The media noted that Rivera's body was found on the anniversary of the death of her co-star Cory Monteith seven years earlier;[173][207] a tribute she had sung for him, the song "If I Die Young", saw a surge of views.[208][209] Lea Michele posted black-and-white images of Monteith and Rivera on Instagram to remember both of the actors,[210] while Max Adler tweeted "Hey, July 13th" followed by a middle finger emoji as a reaction to the deaths of his co-stars.[211] Another member of the cast, Kevin McHale, tweeted that "[he is] not religious by any means, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince [him] that Cory didn't help find our girl [Rivera] today".[212] Monteith's mother, Ann McGregor, also posted a lengthy tribute, writing how much Rivera's friendship had meant to her son and their family and saying: "We'll carry you in our hearts forever. We miss you. Friends reunited for eternity".[213]

U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a tribute, saying that "as a Latina, it's rare to have rich, complex characters reflect us in media. Naya worked hard to give that gift to so many",[35][214] and California senator Kamala Harris wrote in a tweet that Rivera inspired "countless young LGBTQ+ people to unapologetically be themselves".[215] Singer Demi Lovato, who played the girlfriend of Rivera's character on Glee in its fifth season, expressed similar sentiments, writing: "The character you played was groundbreaking for tons of closeted (at the time) queer girls like me and your ambition and accomplishments were inspiring to Latina women all over the world".[216] A memorial to Rivera was constructed under the Lake Piru sign in the days after her death.[217]

Filmography[edit]

Film
Year Title Role Notes Ref.
2002 The Master of Disguise Captain America Kid [97][218][219]
2009 Frankenhood Hottie [220]
2011 Glee: The 3D Concert Movie Santana Lopez [221]
2013 The Naughty List Sparkle Voice [222]
2014 At the Devil's Door Vera [87]
2017 Mad Families Felipa Jonas [223]
2017 And the Winner Isn't Herself Documentary [224]
Television
Year Title Role Notes Ref.
1991–92 The Royal Family Hillary Winston 15 episodes [29][33]
1992–93 Family Matters Gwendolyn 3 episodes [33]
1993 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Cindy Episode: "Bundle of Joy" [29][33]
1993 The Sinbad Show Party Guest Episode: "It's My Party, I'll Cry If I Want To" [225]
1994 Sirens Shelly 1 episode [97]
1995 Live Shot Ann Episode: "Another Day, Another Story" [32]
1996 Baywatch Willa Episode: "Scorcher" [33]
1997–99 Smart Guy Tanya
Kelly
Episodes: "Baby, It's You and You and You"
"Never Too Young"
[29]
2002 House Blend Chloe Pilot episode [32]
2002 Even Stevens Charlene Episode: "Short Story" [29][33]
2002 My Wife and Kids Amber 1 episode [97]
2002–06 The Bernie Mac Show Donna 11 episodes [33]
2003 Soul Food Lauryn 2 episodes [33][226]
2004 8 Simple Rules Nice Girl Episode: "Halloween" [29]
2008 Girlfriends Karin Episode: "Stand and Deliver" [97][227]
2008 CSI: Miami Rachel Calvado Episode: "Power Trip" [36]
2009–15 Glee Santana Lopez Recurring role (seasons 1 & 6)
Main role (seasons 2–5)
[228]
2015 Devious Maids Blanca Alvarez 5 episodes [96]
2016 American Dad! Lolo Fuentes Episode: "The Unincludeds" [226]
2017 RuPaul's Drag Race Herself Guest judge; episode: "Good Morning Bitches" [226]
2018–19 Step Up: High Water Collette Jones Main role (seasons 1–2)
Season 3 in production at the time of her death
[229][230]
[105]
2020 Sugar Rush: Extra Sweet Herself Guest judge; episode: "Birds of a Feather"
Posthumous release
[108][231]
Music videos
Year Artist Song title
2002 B2K "Why I Love You"[31]
2012 2Cellos "Supermassive Black Hole"[232]

Stage[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2006–2007 U Don't Know Me Keila Los Angeles, California and U.S. national tour[39]

Discography[edit]

In 2012 Rivera was featured on a single by the music duo 2Cellos, performing a cover of the Muse song "Supermassive Black Hole".[74] In her own musical career, she released her debut single "Sorry", featuring then-boyfriend Big Sean, in 2013. The planned album had been stuck in development, and when the single underperformed it was canceled entirely.[78][83] Rivera's next and last release was a six-track EP titled My Heart in April 2019,[233] containing the tracks "Seven Days"; "Prayer for the Broken"; "My Heart"; "Think You Slick"; "Beautiful Boy"; and "Radio Silence".[234] She also contributed to the original soundtrack for Step Up: High Water, singing a piano version of "Amazing Grace".[235][236]

Singles[edit]

Released as Naya Rivera.[d]

Title Year Peak positions Album
US
Rhythmic

[237]
IRE
[238]
UK
[239]
"Supermassive Black Hole"
(2Cellos featuring Naya Rivera)
2012 In2ition
"Sorry"
(featuring Big Sean)
2013 34 81 73 non-album single
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

With Glee[edit]

As a featured singer in the cast of Glee, Rivera and her castmates released many singles and held numerous accolades; in 2011 they were collectively nominated for a Grammy Award for their version of "Don't Stop Believin'",[240] receiving two other album Grammy noms,[241][242] and by the start of the sixth season they were the most-charting act in history[243] – a record held until March 2020.[244] Rivera's first Glee single as a lead vocalist was a duet cover of "The Boy Is Mine" performed with Amber Riley (as Mercedes Jones).[245] The last Glee single to chart during the show's run was Rivera's cover of "If I Die Young".[246][247] Besides her charting singles, several other performances by Rivera have been particularly highlighted, including "Mine" and "Girl on Fire" in season 4; "Don't Rain on My Parade" and "Doo Wop (That Thing)" in season 5; and "Science Fiction Double Feature" and the original song "Trouty Mouth" in season 2.[248][249][250]

Charting singles released by Glee cast with Naya Rivera as a featured singer
Title Year Peak positions
US
Hot 100
[251]
UK
[246][252]
IRE
[247]
CAN
Hot 100
[253]
ARIA
[254]
France
[255]
NZ
[256]
SCOT
[257]
US
Airplay 100
[247]
World
Top 40
[247]
"Like A Virgin"[258]
(featuring Jonathan Groff)
2010 87 58 47 83 43
"The Boy Is Mine" 2010 76 62 46 60 97
"Bad Romance"[259] 2010 54 41 10 46 40
"Me Against the Music"[260] 2010 56 54 86
"River Deep, Mountain High"[261] 2010 41 45 30 36 44 38
"Valerie"[261] 2010 54 70 90
"Songbird"[262] 2011 68 54 70 52
"Back to Black"[261] 2011 82 98
"Dancing Queen"[263] 2011 74 89
"Thriller / Heads Will Roll"[248][264] 2011 38 23 37 17 38 19
"Blame It On the Alcohol"[265] 2011 55 63 61 58
"Loser like Me" 2011 6 27 23 15 28 68 75 19
"I Love New York / New York, New York"[266] 2011 81 83 81 77
"Light Up the World" 2011 33 48 46 26 188 44
"We Got the Beat"[267] 2011 83 83
"Run the World (Girls)"[268] 2011 91
"Touch a Touch a Touch a Touch Me"[269] 2011 72 96 59
"Landslide"[270]
(featuring Gwyneth Paltrow)
2011 23 52 36 35 38 46 40
"Hit Me with Your Best Shot / One Way or Another"[271] 2011 86 95
"Rumour Has It / Someone Like You"[249] 2011 11 35 19 12 28 37 16
"I Kissed a Girl"[272] 2011 66 87
"Constant Craving"[273]
(featuring Idina Menzel)
2011 89
"Survivor / I Will Survive"[248] 2011 51 97 47 90
"We Are Young"[274] 2011 12 56 32 11 49 53 21
"We Found Love"[275] 2012 56 55
"The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face"[275] 2012 70 78
"Smooth Criminal"[249]
(featuring 2Cellos)
2012 26 86 46 28 76 34
"Bad"[276] 2012 80 90
"Black or White"[276] 2012 64 69
"La Isla Bonita"[277]
(featuring Ricky Martin)
2012 99 93
"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)"[278] 2012 80
"How Will I Know"[278] 2012 60 73 61 79
"Fly / I Believe I Can Fly"[279] 2012 56 59
"What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)"[279] 2012 66 51
"Shake It Out"[249] 2012 71 54 29 60 49
"The Scientist"[250] 2012 91 72
"If I Die Young" 2013 82 56 73
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Rivera was first nominated for an award at the age of 5, in 1992, but did not win one until 2010, eighteen years later. After this she was consistently nominated for – and won – awards for acting, singing, and her public image, including various audience awards. For her work on Glee, she won 6 awards from 17 nominations. Her last award, given in 2018, 26 years after her first nomination, was for the cast and production of Step Up: High Water providing equal female representation.

Year Association Category Work Result Refs.
1992 Young Artist Awards Exceptional Performance by a Young Actress Under Ten The Royal Family Nominated [280]
2010 16th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Glee Won [281]
TV Land Awards Future Classics Glee Won [282]
Imagen Awards Best Supporting Actress – Television Glee Nominated [283]
Teen Choice Awards Choice Music: Group Glee Nominated [284]
Gold Derby TV Awards Ensemble of the Year Glee Nominated [285]
2011 17th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Glee Nominated [286]
Grammy Awards Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals "Don't Stop Believin'" (Glee cast version) Nominated [240]
Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media Glee: The Music, Volume 1 (Glee cast) Nominated [241]
Teen Choice Awards Choice Music: Group Glee Nominated [287]
ALMA Awards Favorite Female Music Artist Herself Won [55]
Gold Derby TV Awards Best Comedy Supporting Actress Glee Won [288]
2012 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Glee Nominated [289]
Grammy Awards Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media Glee: The Music, Volume 4 (Glee cast) Nominated [242]
NewNowNext Awards Cause You're Hot Herself Won [290]
ALMA Awards Best Female Music Artist Herself Won [56]
Favorite TV Actress – Comedy Glee Won
Gold Derby TV Awards Best Comedy Supporting Actress Glee Won [291]
2013 19th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series Glee Nominated [292]
Giffoni Film Festival Giffoni Experience Award Herself Won [293][294]
2014 People's Choice Awards Favorite TV Gal Pals Glee (with Lea Michele) Won [295]
Teen Choice Awards Female Scene Stealer Glee Nominated [296]
2018 The ReFrame Stamp Television season (featuring women in key roles) Step Up: High Water (season 1) Won [297]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Rivera was officially pronounced dead on July 13, 2020, after her body was recovered.[1] Rivera's death certificate lists her legal date of death as July 13, 2020, but also notes as part of the cause of death that she died "within minutes", meaning actual date of death was July 8.[2]
  2. ^ Her mother is American Afro-Puerto Rican, and her father is Stateside Puerto Rican and German-American. She self-described her race as "one-quarter African-American, one-quarter German and one-half Puerto Rican".[8]
  3. ^ See section on Representation and legacy.
  4. ^ Singles released under the name "Glee cast" with Rivera as a featured singer are below.

References[edit]

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