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RIP, Naya Rivera: Tributes to the ‘Glee’ actress celebrate her life and contribution to LGBTQ characters

She leaves behind a son, whose life she saved before dying. Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer, and Darren Criss are among those mourning her death.

RIP, Naya Rivera: Tributes to the ‘Glee’ actress celebrate her life and contribution to LGBTQ characters
[Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images]

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.

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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.

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