Full Name: Naya Marie Rivera
Born: January 12, 1987 in Valencia, Santa Clarita, California
Died: July 8, 2020 at age 33 in Lake Piru, California
Cause of Death: Accidental drowning
Occupation: Actress, singer, model, author
Years Active: 1991-2020
Spouse: Ryan Dorsey (m. 2014-2018)
Children: 1 son, Josey Hollis Dorsey
Best Known For: Santana Lopez on Glee
Naya Rivera was an award-winning actress, singer and model best known for her iconic portrayal of Santana Lopez on the hit musical TV series Glee. As one of her earliest fans, I followed Naya‘s career from her first roles as a child actor to her tragic passing at just 33 years old. She was a once-in-a-generation talent who impacted so many lives through her work.
Earning Her Stardom on Glee
I‘ll never forget anxiously awaiting the premiere of Glee in 2009. Though the show was an ensemble, I was immediately drawn to Naya‘s character Santana – a fierce cheerleader who hid her vulnerability behind a sharp tongue. During Glee‘s six season run, Naya helped Santana grow into a fan favorite as she came out as a lesbian and fell in love with her best friend Brittany.
Santana was groundbreaking as an openly queer series regular on network TV. Naya portrayed her journey of self-acceptance with such heart and earned praise from LGBTQ organizations like GLAAD. Her work paved the way for more LGBTQ representation on screen. Some of Santana‘s most memorable solo performances that showcased Naya‘s vocal chops included "Valerie", "Girl on Fire", and "Songbird".
Though she first gained fame as an actress, Naya was also a tremendously gifted singer. She charted several solo singles on the Billboard Hot 100 during her Glee days, including "Sorry" (featuring Big Sean) which peaked at #23 in 2013. I still have that catchy, racy earworm memorized!
Naya had signed a solo record deal with Columbia Records back in 2011 and was poised to release her debut album in 2014. Though the album never came out due to creative differences, she continued showing off her vocal versatility by collaborating with artists like 2Cellos on eclectic covers. I was heartbroken when the full pop record many fans awaited never materialized, but grateful for the musical glimpses she did gift us.
Hollywood Walk of Famer
While lighting up the small screen on Glee, Naya also continued booking big film roles in between seasons. Some of her notable movies included the erotic thriller At the Devil‘s Door (2014), where she played the chilling lead role of Leigh, and the David Spade comedy Mad Families (2017).
She had an impressive TV resume as well, with guest appearances on shows like Devious Maids, Step Up: High Water, and popular teen dramedies Grown-ish and Sugar Rush. The busy actress even found time to show off her comedy chops by competing in celebrity reality competitions! Naya was a true Hollywood triple threat.
In addition to acting and singing, Naya could also write! In 2016, she published her candid memoir Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes and Growing Up which quickly became a New York Times best-seller.
I devoured her moving book in days. Naya opened up about her childhood career, family issues, abortion, and eating disorder recovery. She embraced her imperfections and urged other women to do the same by living unapologetically. Naya definitely took her own advice to heart – she was outspoken, confident, and refused to conform. Her memoir is an inspiration.
Gone Too Soon
On July 8, 2020, I was devastated to hear the news that Naya‘s body was recovered from Southern California‘s Lake Piru just 5 days after she tragically drowned during a boating trip with her young son Josey. She was only 33 years old.
The whole world mourned the loss of a woman who had impacted so many lives through her work and advocacy. I‘ll be forever grateful to Naya for the joy she brought me and millions of fans through her music, acting roles, writing and openness about her personal struggles. Her legacy lives on as a Latina LGBTQ icon who inspired people everywhere to embrace their identities. Rest in peace, Naya.