Naya Marie Rivera (1987-2020)

Alma Awards 2012

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Naya Marie Rivera was an actress, singer, and model. Rivera was born on January 12, 1987, to Yolanda Previtire and George Rivera in Valencia, California. Rivera is of African-American, German, and Puerto Rican descent and was the oldest of three siblings, including Mychal Rivera and Nickayla Rivera. Rivera’s parents divorced when she was ten years old. Her mother would remarry Charles Previtire.

Rivera’s acting career began when she appeared in commercials for Kmart as a baby. In 1991, four-year-old Rivera earned her first major acting job as Hillary Winston on the TV sitcom The Royal Family, which also starred Red Foxx and Della Reese. The show was canceled after one season following Redd Foxx’s death. Rivera received a Young Artist Award for her role in the show. As a child actor, Rivera appeared in other TV shows including Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Baywatch, and Smart Guy. As a teenager, Rivera struggled with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder. She attended Valencia High School in Santa Clarita, California, graduating in 2005. She continued to appeared in films and TV shows including The Master of Disguise, My Wife and Kids, Soul Food, and 8 Simple Rules.

In 2009, Rivera was cast as Santana Lopez, a high school cheerleader, and bully, on Fox’s musical comedy series, Glee, about a high school glee club. During the show’s first season, her character’s role was minor but in the second season she became a more significant cast member whose character was lesbian and struggling to deal with her sexuality. Rivera remained on the show until it ended in 2015.

Rivera won several awards including the 2011 American Latino Media Arts Award (ALMA) for Favorite Female Music Artist. In 2012, she won two more ALMA awards for Favorite TV Actress and Leading Role in a Comedy and Female Music Artist. Rivera’s role was praised in the LGBT community as well. Aside from acting, Rivera also had a music career. In 2011, she signed a deal with Columbia Records but her debut solo album was never released. She recorded the singles “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Sorry,” featuring Big Sean, and “Amazing Grace.”

Rivera was also an activist for many causes, including LGBT rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, and speaking against racism in Entertainment. Rivera has been involved in several controversies during her career including a public feud with one-time boyfriend, Sean Micheal “Big Sean” Leonard Anderson. In 2017, Rivera was arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery against Ryan Dorsey over their child after she got into a physical altercation with him. Despite the incident, Rivera gained primary custody of their child in 2020.

Naya Marie Rivera died on July 8, 2020, after accidental drowning at Lake Piru, a reservoir in the Los Pardes National Forest in Ventura County, California. Rivera, who was 33 at the time, was swimming with her four-year-old son, Josey. She was initially declared missing until her body was found on July 13, 2020. Her son was found unharmed.

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