Naya Rivera Dead at 33

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(Photo: Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Update: Naya Rivera has been officially declared dead at age 33 by the Ventura County Sheriff's department, after her body was finally found and recovered from Lake Piru in Ventura, California (as reported by THR). Ventura County officials had announced earlier in the day that a body had been found in Lake Piru, but were waiting to concretely identify the remains before making any official announcement. Rivera had been missing since last Wednesday after her four-year-old son Josey Hollis Dorsey was found sleeping in a boat alone on the lake. The boy told authorities that he and his mom were swimming, but he was unaware of what had happened to her, or where she had gone.

Naya Rivera was best known for her role as cheerleader-turned-singer "Santana Lopez" on Fox's Glee, but she had been working in show business much longer than that show's run (2009-2015). Rivera was born in 1987, in Santa Clarita, California as the oldest of three siblings (younger brother Mychal, a former NFL tight end; younger sister Nickayla is a model). Her parents are Yolanda (former model) and George Rivera (former actor).

Naya started appearing in commercials as an infant and landed her first full acting job at age 4. She would get through the 1990s appearing in small roles in series like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Baywatch, Smart Guy, and other popular shows. In the 2000s, she would appear in music videos (B2K's "Why I Love You") and land bigger roles in shows like The Bernie Mac Show, and CSI: Miami, while also working odd jobs. She started venturing into music with a production of the stage play U Don't Know Me: The Musical, which went on a national tour. Rivera also auditioned for American Idol, but was cut in the first round.

When Glee came along in 2009, it changed the trajectory of Naya Rivera's career. Her mean girl cheerleader was promoted to series regular in season 2, and the character was revealed to be struggling with deep LGBTQ+ identity issues. That boosted Naya Rivera's performance in a big way, with favorable reviews and numerous award nominations for both her and the show.

Rivera was signed to Columbia Records in 2011 in order to begin her solo singing career. She began dating rapper Big Sean in 2013, whom she also worked with on the song "Sorry". The single didn't take off as expected, and Rivera was dropped by Columbia, while her engagement to Big Sean also ended before their planned 2014 wedding. Rivera would instead wed her former boyfriend, actor Ryan Dorsey, on the same date she planned to marry Big Sean. Rivera and Dorsey had their son Josey a year later, but the pair ended up having a volatile relationship, which saw multiple separation/divorce attempts, and a domestic battery arrest for Rivera in 2017. Rivera and Dorsey came to terms over custody of their son and finally divorced in 2018.

Since her divorce, Rivera had been focusing on her own ventures (like a kids' clothing line) and being a mom. As she told People:

“First and foremost, everything I do is for Josey. He’s at the best age! He’s talking so much and [he’s] so cool, kind and sweet,” Rivera explained. “Josey inspires me in so many ways that it felt natural to want to create this [clothing line] for him and I. Starting this company from the ground up is something I’m really, really proud of. I know that my son is proud of it too. It’s a sweet bond that we share together.”

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I’ll take things to Josey for his input, especially the capes. He really loves the capes and thought he was a superhero. He kept running around the house saying, ‘I’m a superhero!’” Rivera added. “It’s really, really fun. It’s something that is new and something that is a different creative outlet that I don’t get to do outside of acting, singing, or dancing. And I do get to do it with my son. It’s been a great experience."

Our Condolences go out to Naya Rivera's family, friends, and fans, during this tragic time.