Glee star Naya Rivera found dead at 33

Glee star Naya Rivera went missing on July 8 during a boat trip with her son in California.
Glee star Naya Rivera went missing on July 8 during a boat trip with her son in California.

Naya Rivera, a singer and actress who played a gay cheerleader on the hit TV musical comedy Glee, has been found dead in a southern California lake. She was 33.

Rivera's body was discovered six days after she disappeared on Lake Piru, where her son, Josey, was found July 8 alone on a boat the two had rented, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said on Monday. The Sheriff's Office confirmed that the body was Rivera's.

She and her four-year-old son had climbed off the boat and gone swimming. The boy told investigators his mother helped him get back aboard then he looked back and saw her disappear into the water.

"She must have mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat but not enough to save herself," Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said.

Rivera began acting at a young age but she rose to national attention playing a lesbian teen on Glee, which aired from 2009 until 2015 on Fox. She is survived by her parents, Yolanda and George; a younger brother, Mychal; a sister, Nickayla; and her son.

"Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were," wrote Glee co-star Jane Lynch on Twitter.

A native of Santa Clarita, California, Rivera began acting at four, appearing in such series as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters and The Bernie Mac Show. As a teen, she struggled with an eating disorder and had breast implants put in at 18.

"I had the lowest self-esteem in high school possible. I wasn't popular, I didn't have friends, but I would say it's really important that you know who you are and you're going to win in the end because of that," Rivera said in a 2011 interview with the Associated Press.

She worked odd jobs as a telemarketer, a nanny, a waitress and an Abercrombie & Fitch greeter before landing the role of Santana Lopez on Glee.

Rivera played a secondary character - the mean cheerleader with blistering put-downs - in the show's first season but became a show regular in the second season as she struggled to reveal her character's sexual identity. Many on social media credited her character for making them feel better about their own sexuality.

"Honestly, I never thought I'd actually be playing a teen lesbian," she told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. "I didn't think it was going to go this far. But I'm glad that it did, because there have been a lot of fans who have expressed that they've been going through similar situations in their lives."'

Rivera struggled to get career traction amid the rising young talent on the show that included Cory Monteith, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Amber Riley, Melissa Benoist and Dianna Agron. She was no longer a series regular during the sixth and final season of Glee.

After the show, Rivera sought success in film and music. She made her feature film debut in 2014's At the Devil's Door and released the single Sorry in 2013 featuring rapper Big Sean, a one-time fiance.

She and actor Ryan Dorsey were married in 2014 and their son, Josey, was born in 2015.

Rivera was arrested and charged in West Virginia in 2017 with domestic battery after she allegedly hit Dorsey. The charge was dismissed because Dorsey did not wish to press charges. They divorced soon after.

Most recently, Rivera had a role on Lifetime's Devious Maids, released her memoir in 2016 and played school administrator Collette Jones in the YouTube Red online series Step Up: High Water starring Ne-Yo.

Rivera's death is the latest in a tragic arc of Glee actors. Monteith died in 2013 - exactly seven years to the day after Rivera's body was identified - from a mix of alcohol and heroin, and Rivera's ex-boyfriend Mark Salling took his own life in 2018 after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. Rivera and Salling dated for three years and broke up in 2010.

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