Five days after being reported missing, Naya Rivera was officially confirmed dead yesterday. Ventura County authorities found her body in Lake Piru, where she had been boating with her four-year-old son, who survives her. Reports indicate that she saved her son from drowning but was not able to save herself. The discovery of her remains came on the seventh anniversary of her former Glee co-star Cory Monteith’s death.
The Hollywood triple threat got her start in show business as a child model and actress, appearing on TV shows such as Family Matters and Smart Guy. But it was her role on Ryan Murphy’s hit teen musical Glee that propelled her to stardom.
On Glee, Rivera played Santana Lopez, a character who started out as a mean-girl cheerleader. However, by season two the character became more developed, and Rivera delivered the nuance and depth that a character such as Lopez—a girl tormented by her romantic feelings toward women and how the world would perceive her—deserved. Rivera stunned viewers with a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” as the character began to reluctantly explore her sexuality. Her rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird,” to profess her love to Brittany (played by Heather Morris), another cheerleader, was also a standout performance. Rivera had the rare ability to take classic covers and make them her own.
“The reason ‘Songbird’ by Fleetwood Mac is one of my favorite songs ever is because of the Glee soundtrack version. She transformed it,” tweeted singer-songwriter Kehlani.
Naya Rivera’s role on Glee was an integral part of the show because of the LGBTQ+ plotlines, which at that time were groundbreaking on network TV. Lopez’s relevance to pop culture and queer TV history wasn’t lost on Rivera, as many of her fans said the character inspired them to come out.
Rivera was much more than Santana Lopez, as the numerous tributes published can attest. Statements are still pouring in from castmates and fans mourning her loss and celebrating her life.
Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were. Love and peace to your family.
— Jane Lynch (@janemarielynch) July 13, 2020
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How can you convey all your love and respect for someone in one post? How can you summarize a decade of friendship and laughter with words alone? If you were friends with Naya Rivera, you simply can’t. Her brilliance and humor were unmatched. Her beauty and talent were otherworldly. She spoke truth to power with poise and fearlessness. She could turn a bad day into a great day with a single remark. She inspired and uplifted people without even trying. Being close to her was both a badge of honor and a suit of armor. Naya was truly one of a kind, and she always will be. ???? Sending all my love to her wonderful family and her beautiful son.
She was bold. She was outrageous. She was a LOT of fun.
Naya made me laugh like no one else on that set. I always said it while we were working together and I’ve maintained it ever since. Her playful, wicked sense of humor never ceased to bring a smile to my face.
— Darren Criss (@DarrenCriss) July 14, 2020
THIS was the scene that changed my life. Naya made it feel so real & genuine. I used to watch this on repeat as a young closeted lesbian so that I would feel less alone. I knew that if I came out, I would be disowned/kicked out. Thank you naya rivera. I love you. pic.twitter.com/4yS2udEYpY
— nadia ツ (@fineIinelesbian) July 13, 2020
santana lopez saved my life. she was the first explicitly canon lesbian character i ever saw and was the reason i realised that i was into girls. naya rivera was a part of my entire childhood, me becoming comfortable in who i am, and the fact that she’s gone is breaking me
— phee ミ☆ (@dykeaIvarez) July 13, 2020
as a closeted queer kid, santana is the only representation i remember having. naya rivera was so so important to me. i know i’m not alone, and i hope she knew how many people felt this way.
i’ve been looking for words all day, but this is all i have for now. just… devastated. pic.twitter.com/OswMTFQ84x
— “rachel” (@rachellobaugh) July 10, 2020
the reason songbird by fleetwood mac is one of my favorite songs ever is because of the glee soundtrack version. she transformed it. ???????? Rest Easy Naya Rivera
God cover and hold her loved ones!
— Kehlani (@Kehlani) July 13, 2020
Rest Peacefully, Naya Rivera. pic.twitter.com/HjXOzQIF74
— freddie ransome (@Ransome_Note) July 13, 2020
????Rest In Heaven, Naya Rivera. Sending so much prayer, love and courage to her family. ???????? pic.twitter.com/w54tci7pFx
— Holly Robinson Peete (@hollyrpeete) July 13, 2020
Remembering Naya Rivera's first interview with E!, just after the first season of Glee aired. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/52hoOM2HOi
— E! News (@enews) July 14, 2020
On a very similar but unrelated note, Naya inspired me to take up drama at school. I’m so proud of that A*. Performing arts very quickly became my thing!
It all started with Santana, she inspired me to pursue my brief stint in musical theatre. Yes I did that! #NayaRivera
— brit-ish (@YoursTrulyUmara) July 13, 2020
Naya’s last act on earth was saving her son and risking her own life to do so. that's how she will be remembered, a hero and an extraordinary mother. rest in peace #NayaRivera ???? pic.twitter.com/vIbgtCkeEi
— أزره (@azrahmajiet) July 14, 2020
— Naya Rivera Team (@NayaRivera_Team) July 14, 2020