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‘Glee’ Star Naya Rivera Dead at 33

Singer-actress’ body was found five days after she went missing in California

The body of 'Glee' star Naya Rivera was found on Monday, five days after she went missing in California.

David Livingston/Getty Images

The body of actress Naya Rivera, best known for her role as Santana Lopez on the TV show Glee, was found Monday after going missing in a lake near Los Angeles. She was 33. On Monday afternoon, Sheriff Bill Ayub confirmed Rivera’s death at a press conference. Prior to a press conference Monday afternoon, TMZ confirmed the body was Rivera.

Rivera was pronounced missing Wednesday, July 8th after going boating with her four-year-old son on Lake Piru, in Ventura County’s Los Padres National Forest. Rivera had reportedly rented a boat with her son, Josey Hollis Dorsey, at around 1 p.m. that afternoon. About three hours later, another boater discovered Josey sleeping alone on the boat’s pontoon. Officials said Josey was unharmed and wearing a life vest, while an adult life vest was found on the boat.

At the time, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said, “There’s no evidence of foul play at this point,” and, “This may well be a case of drowning.” A search and rescue operation was launched and continued throughout the week.

Rivera was born on January 12th, 1987 in Santa Clarita, California, just outside of Los Angeles, and began acting as a child. She scored her first job at age four on Eddie Murphy’s short-lived sitcom, The Royal Family. She spent the next several years picking up guest roles on shows like Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Baywatch and Smart Guy.

As she got older, Rivera earned recurring roles on The Bernie Mac Show and made her film debut in Dana Carvey’s 2002 comedy, The Master of Disguise. Into her early twenties, Rivera was picking up occasional guest spots on shows like 8 Simple Rules and CSI: Miami while also working odd jobs, but then, in 2009, her big break came when she was cast as Santana Lopez on Glee.

For the first season, Santana was essentially a supporting character, one of a handful of cheerleaders recruited by Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester to infiltrate and bring down the glee club. But the character quickly became a fan-favorite and Rivera was added to the main cast in Season Two.

Santana became a particular focal point for Glee’s devoted online fan base, some of whom began “shipping” her with fellow cheerleader Brittany Pierce (played by Heather Morris) and even coming up with a portmanteau for the couple, “Brittana.” The calls for “Brittana” got so loud on social media that show creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuck decided to bring the characters together in a 2011 episode.

“Honestly, I never thought I’d actually be playing a teen lesbian,” Rivera 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. I’ve heard from girls that are in high school, they’re 16, 17, and they’re like, ‘I came out to my mom,’ or ‘I came out to my friends, and thank you for helping me do that.’”

Rivera remained a main character on Glee until it wrapped after its sixth season in 2015. Though as the show neared its end, she began taking on other projects. In 2013, she released her debut single, “Sorry,” featuring then-boyfriend Big Sean, but neither a follow-up nor an album materialized. In 2014, she starred in the horror film At the Devil’s Door, while in 2015 she picked up a recurring role on the Lifetime series, Devious Maids. More recently, Rivera appeared in the 2017 film Mad Families, and she was also a cast member on the YouTube Premium show Step Up.