The actress Naya Rivera, who starred in six seasons of Ryan Murphy’s hit musical comedy Glee as the sharp-tongued cheerleader Santana Lopez, has died, according to a statement by a spokesman from Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. She was 33. Her body was recovered on Monday (July 13) from a lake outside of Los Angeles after going missing last week.
Rivera was first declared missing on Wednesday (July 8) after going on a boating trip with her four-year-old son, Josey Hollis Dorsey, at Lake Piru. According to multiple reports, the actress had rented a pontoon boat around 1 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Approximately three hours later, the boat was found by another boater with the young child asleep onboard, alone, wearing a life vest. An adult-sized life vest was also found on the boat.
The news of her disappearance sparked a massive search by local authorities, which finally concluded on Monday, when Rivera’s body was found in the lake. No foul play was suspected in her death, which was apparently a tragic accident.
“Today our search teams have recovered a body in the lake… We are confident the body we found is that of Naya Rivera,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said in a press conference on Monday. “As you can imagine, it has been an extremely difficult time for her family throughout this ordeal.”
Rivera was born in Santa Clarita, California, on January 12, 1987. A hugely talented singer and actress from a young age, her first major role was at four years old, as Hillary Winston in the Eddie Murphy-produced series The Royal Family. She also appeared in many national commercials and ad campaigns as a child, and she appeared in frequent guest roles on various programs, including Family Matters, Baywatch, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Rivera made her Glee debut in 2009. Among the accolades her performance received was a 2011 Grammy for the cast’s ensemble performance of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” That same year, she signed with Columbia Records. Her portrayal of Santana’s youthful romance with fellow cheerleader Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris) paved the way for the representation of LGBTQ+ and Latinx characters on TV.
“Honestly, I never thought I’d actually be playing a teen lesbian,” Rivera told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “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.’”
Most recently, Rivera appeared on the web series Step Up: High Water, a spin-off of the Step Up film franchise, in the role of Colette Jones.