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Naya Rivera

Naya Rivera

American actress and singer
Naya Rivera
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American actress and singer
A.K.A. Naya Rivera
Was Singer Actor Child actor Model Television actor Film actor
From United States of America
Type Fashion Film, TV, Stage & Radio Music
Gender female
Birth 12 January 1987, Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Death 8 July 2020, Lake Piru, California, USA (aged 33 years)
Star sign Capricorn
Residence Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, USA
Siblings: Mychal Rivera
Spouse: Ryan Dorsey
Notable Works
Pop music
Naya Rivera
The details


Naya Marie Rivera (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. For the part she received a nomination for a Young Artist Award. After a series of recurring television roles and guest spots as a teenager, Rivera received her breakthrough role as Santana Lopez on the Fox television series Glee (2009–2015). For the role, she received nominations for numerous awards and critical acclaim.

Rivera was signed to Columbia Records as a solo musical artist in 2011 and—despite never releasing a studio album—released a single, "Sorry", featuring rapper Big Sean, in 2013. On film, Rivera made her debut as Vera 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. In 2016, she published a memoir titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up.

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, near Santa Clarita, California. Her body was recovered from the lake on the morning of July 13 following a five-day search.

Early life

Rivera was born in Santa Clarita, California, on January 12, 1987, and raised in Santa Clarita's Valencia neighborhood. She lived in or around Los Angeles for most of her life. She was of African-American, German, and Puerto Rican descent. Her parents are Yolanda, a former model, and George Rivera. She was the oldest of three children: her younger brother is former NFL tight end Mychal Rivera, and her younger sister is runway model Nickayla Rivera. 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.


1991–2008: Career beginnings

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. 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, which Rivera witnessed. She received a Young Artist Award nomination for her performance in the series.

Between 1992 and 2002, she 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. She was later featured in episodes of 8 Simple Rules and CSI: Miami. In between auditions and roles, Rivera worked jobs as a telemarketer, a nanny and a greeter at an Abercrombie & Fitch store. 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. Rivera auditioned for an unspecified season of American Idol during the San Francisco auditions, and she was cut in the first round.

2009–2011: Breakthrough and acclaim with Glee

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. 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". She described her character Santana as "your typical high school cheerleader, for the most part," explaining: "She's really mean and loves boys. She's really witty so I love playing her", as well as characterizing her as "a bit of a bad girl" who is "really snarky and always has these really witty one-liners she throws out there." Rivera enjoyed the fact Santana is competitive and headstrong, as they shared those traits, but disliked Santana's mean streak. She found the show's pacing challenging, especially the dancing, and commented in June 2009 that her most memorable moment on Glee was performing the Cheerios' glee club audition piece, "I Say a Little Prayer". Santana played a more prominent part in the last nine episodes of Glee's first season, 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".

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. 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. She received favorable reviews for her performance. A BBC retrospective in 2020 looked at the impact of Rivera's role as Santana, and the important representation it gave 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. In January 2011, Rivera 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. Morris and Rivera, who played wives on the show, remained close friends for the rest of Rivera's life.

In July 2011, Rivera was nominated for two ALMA Awards, in the categories of Favorite Female Music Artist and Favorite TV Actress – Leading Role in a Comedy. Rivera 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. As 2011 ended, she or her character were on many "Best Of" lists, including HitFix's 25 Breakout Stars of 2011, TV Guide's Best Performances of 2011, MTV's Best TV Characters of 2011, as well as others. In the second half of the series' third season, she was given the opportunity to do a duet with Ricky Martin, and worked with Gloria Estefan, who was cast as Santana's mother. As the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards approached, Rivera was listed by many critics and media outlets as deserving of a nomination; The Hollywood Reporter included her in their "Emmy 2012: Supporting Players" photo shoot, and Rivera was also honored by E!, HitFix, TV Guide, and others. She was also chosen by the TV Academy to take part in a promotional video for the upcoming awards ceremony.

2011–2020: Musical solo debut and film debut

In May 2011, it was announced that Rivera had signed a deal with Columbia Records to produce a solo album. 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. Her debut single "Sorry", featuring rapper Big Sean, was released as a digital download on September 17, 2013. However, production on the album "kind of halted" due to "so many things going on". Rivera said, "Politics got involved so I've been putting it on the back burner; there are a lot of things that I'm doing that I'm excited about".

On May 1, 2014, it was reported that Columbia had dropped Rivera because her debut single had underperformed. Rivera's representative released a statement to news outlets stating that any claims were falsified, and that legal action would be potentially taken to ensure Rivera's creditability; at the time of publishing, Columbia Records could not be reached for comment. Rivera subsequently worked on an immigrant project with Guillermo Diaz, directing a short film PSA about the effect of immigration on children and their parents. While Diaz's part is about telling the stories of young dreamers and the fear they have of their mothers being deported, Rivera's PSA is about the problems immigrants deal with or face in the United States.

At the Devil's Door (previously titled Home), 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". The film was released through video on demand on August 8, 2014, and theatrically released on September 12, 2014. The film continued to play at festivals, receiving mixed reviews. Rivera's acting, however, received praise. Edgar Chaput, of Sound on Sight, called Rivera "the standout... the most natural performance in the film" and Marsha McCreadie of Film Journal wrote, "At the Devil's Door doesn't pick up steam until late in the story, when Rivera carries the narrative". Jeremy Kibler of Diabolique magazine 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".

In 2015, Rivera portrayed the recurring role of Blanca Alvarez in the third season of Lifetime's drama series Devious Maids. She wrote a memoir titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up in September 2016. In 2018, it was announced that she would be taking the role of school administrator Collette Jones in the YouTube Red series Step Up: High Water. 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.

Public image

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 and Galore. She was selected by People en Español for their 2012 '50 Most Beautiful' list, and in May 2012 she made FHM's 100 Sexiest Women list, coming in at number 39. She made the Maxim Hot 100 list in 2012 for the third year in a row, moving up sixteen spots to number 27. In May 2013, Rivera posed nude in an issue of Allure magazine. Rivera was ranked at number one on AfterEllen.com's "Hot 100" list in 2011 and 2012, and at number three in 2013.

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 of being cast on Glee. In December 2012, Rivera attended the annual Trevor Live! event, where she performed a cover of the song "Silent Night". She starred in an M&Ms commercial that aired during Super Bowl XLVII on February 3, 2013 as the girl to whom "Red" is referring.

Personal life

Relationships and family

Rivera dated actor Tahj Mowry between 2000 and 2004, after meeting 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. She 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. 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. She began dating recording artist Big Sean in April 2013. They announced their engagement in October 2013, but ended their relationship in April 2014.

Soon after her split from Big Sean, Rivera began dating actor Ryan Dorsey. They had previously dated four years earlier and were married in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in July 2014. On February 24, 2015, Rivera announced that she and Dorsey were expecting their first child. Their son, Josey Hollis, was born in September 2015. 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. In November 2016, she filed for divorce after two years of marriage, but called off the separation in October 2017. 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. Her bond was set at $1,000, and she was released and picked up from the courthouse by her father-in-law. She subsequently refiled for divorce in December 2017. Later that month, Rivera and Dorsey agreed to temporarily share joint custody of their son. 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". On June 14, 2018, Rivera and Dorsey finalized their divorce.

In January 2015, during her appearance as a guest host on The View, Rivera alluded to her possible bisexuality. Rosie O'Donnell remarked on a recent study that showed 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."


Rivera dedicated her time to various charitable organizations including GLAAD, Stand Up to Cancer, The Trevor Project, The Elephant Project, and The Sunshine Foundation. In 2011, Rivera hosted the San Francisco GLAAD Media Awards. In November 2011, Rivera and her Glee co-star Amber Riley performed at the 10th Annual Celebration of Dreams Event for the Dream Foundation. In December 2011, she was named the newest celebrity spokesperson for Proactiv. On March 24, 2012, she co-hosted the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York with Glee co-star Cory Monteith. Along with John Stamos, both hosts auctioned off kisses to the crowd, raising $15,000. This tradition had started with Rivera when she hosted the 22nd Annual Media Awards in San Francisco.

Disappearance and death

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. 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. The boat was in the Narrows, an area at the north of the lake that can be quite deep and windy. An adult life jacket was found on board, along with Rivera's identification. Josey told investigators that they were swimming. His mother had helped him climb back into the boat but she was unable to climb back onboard herself, and then she disappeared underwater. 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.

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. 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: 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. On July 10, the sheriff's office released closed-circuit television footage of Rivera and her son arriving in the parking lot and leaving the dock on the boat, and 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. As well as dive teams and sonar, sniffer dogs were taken out on the lake.

On July 11 and 12, Rivera's parents, brother, ex-husband Ryan Dorsey and Glee co-star Heather Morris joined the search team at the lake. The sheriff's office dissuaded more civilians from joining the search because of dangerous terrain. They restated that they were searching on land as well as in the lake. On July 11, the sheriff's office had announced that other counties and a private contractor were assisting with the search.

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.; the body was confirmed to be Rivera's at a press conference held later that day. She was officially declared dead on July 13. The Ventura County sheriff suggested that Rivera and Josey may have got caught in a rip current – these can be common in the area of 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 that Josey described being pushed back onto the boat by his mother. 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.


In an Instagram tribute post on July 12, the day before Rivera's body was found, Tahj Mowry professed his love for his ex-girlfriend. Mowry wrote: "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". 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". 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. Jane Lynch was one of the first to react after her death, tweeting "Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were"; several other members of the cast also described her as "a force". 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.

The media noted that Rivera's body was found on the anniversary of the death of her co-star Cory Monteith seven years earlier; a tribute she had sung for him, the song "If I Die Young", saw a surge of views. Lea Michele posted black-and-white images of Monteith and Rivera on Instagram to remember both the actors, while Max Adler tweeted "Hey July 13th" followed by a middle finger emoji as a reaction to the deaths of his co-stars. 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". 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".

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", and California senator Kamala Harris wrote in a tweet that Rivera inspired "countless young LGBTQ+ people to unapologetically be themselves". 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".


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



Title Year Peak positions Album
(featuring Big Sean)
2013 34 81 73 non-album single
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.

Other music

Rivera released a six-track EP titled My Heart in April 2019, and contributed to the original soundtrack for Step Up: High Water.

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Result Refs.
1992 Young Artist Awards Exceptional Performance by a Young Actress Under Ten Nominated
2010 Screen Actors Guild (16th Screen Actors Guild Awards) Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (with Glee cast) Won
TV Land Awards Future Classics (Glee cast) Won
Imagen Awards Best Supporting Actress – Television Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Music: Group (Glee cast) Nominated
2011 17th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (Glee cast) Nominated
Grammy Awards Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals (Glee cast; "Don't Stop Believin'") Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice Music: Group (Glee cast) Nominated
ALMA Awards Favorite Female Music Artist Won
2012 18th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (Glee cast) Nominated
My TV Awards Ridiculously Good-Looking Female Won
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Won
NewNowNext Awards Cause You're Hot Won
ALMA Awards Best Female Music Artist Won
Favorite TV Actress – Comedy Won
2013 19th Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series (Glee cast) Nominated
Giffoni Film Festival Giffoni Award Won
2014 People's Choice Awards Favorite TV Gal Pals (with Lea Michele) Won
Teen Choice Awards Female Scene Stealer Nominated
The contents of this page are sourced from Wikipedia article on 19 Jul 2020. The contents are available under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.
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