Actress and musician Naya Rivera, who played Santana Lopez on the Fox teen musical hit Glee, has been confirmed dead today after authorities found her body in Lake Piru near Santa Clarita, California. She had been missing and presumed dead for several days, and now Rivera, who was 33 years old, becomes the third major Glee cast member to die at a (relatively) young age.
Last Wednesday, Rivera took her four-year-old son to Lake Piru. She rented a boat, and the two went swimming – but only the young boy, who was wearing a life jacket, managed to return to the boat. The boy says his mother boosted him back up into the boat, but when he turned around, he watched his mom disappear into the water. The child was found sleeping in the boat after the rental wasn’t returned on time, and a massive search started for Rivera. That search ended today, when officials say they found her body in the lake. Authorities said there was no indication of foul play or suicide.
Rivera was best known for her role on Glee, playing the role of Santana Lopez, a popular cheerleader and member of the glee club who eventually realizes she’s a lesbian. Before her breakout role, she appeared in small parts on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Baywatch, Smart Guy, and Even Stevens. She also had larger roles on The Bernie Mac Show, Devious Maids, and Step Up: High Water, and once had a music deal with Columbia Records, releasing the song “Sorry” in 2013.
Today’s announcement about Rivera comes literally seven years to the day after the death of fellow Glee cast member Cory Monteith, who played the male lead, Finn, on the series. He died of a drug overdose. The third major Glee cast member to die early was Mark Salling, who played Puck. Salling pled guilty to possession of child pornography and, rather than serve time in jail, took his own life in 2018.
I’ll end with a quick story. I didn’t know Rivera personally, but Glee was filmed on the Paramount Pictures lot when I was working there as a tour guide. When the show was at the peak of its popularity, we had tons of visitors who were obsessed with the series and wanted nothing more than to catch a glimpse of any of actors during their time on the lot. At least one of the performers – I won’t name which one – would physically turn and run the other way if they ever saw a tour cart coming anywhere near them. But Rivera would often smile and wave to fans if we saw her out and about between scenes. It was such a tiny decision on her part and took minimal effort to achieve, but it had a lasting impact on the visitors, many of whom were giddy and thrilled by their celebrity encounter. Those were my only interactions with her, but I always thought she was a class act because of the way she handled herself in those situations. It’s crushing to think about her young son growing up in a world without her. Rest in peace, Naya.
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