Before she was known for her role as Santana Lopez on Glee, actress Naya Rivera had already nabbed tons of acting roles. The late star kicked off her career in the early 1990s with various TV show roles in The Royal Family, Family Matters and Smart Guy, among other series. Eventually, she showcased her singing abilities on the fan-favorite Fox series as McKinley High’s resident mean girl when Glee premiered in 2009.
Fans watched as Naya portrayed her character, Santana, grappling with her sexuality throughout the series. In the show’s third season, she came out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I will always cherish the chance I got to play Naya’s girlfriend Dani on Glee,” Demi Lovato said of the character during a tribute to Naya during the GLAAD Media Awards in April 2021. “The character Naya played, Santana Lopez, was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls like I was at the time and her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world.”
Following her Glee days, Naya continued to have a successful career in Hollywood. The actress went on to appear on Devious Maids and Step Up: High Water. She wrote a memoir titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, which was released in 2016, and became a mom. Naya and her ex-husband Ryan Dorsey — whom she was married to from 2014 until 2018 — welcomed a son named Josey in September 2015.
“I hope to instill good morals and values in [Josey],” Naya told Mini Magazine in June 2016 of her son. “I want to teach him to be confident but kind, strong but not proud, and to always be in love with life.”
In July 2020, Naya was reported missing after Josey was found alone on a boat in Los Angeles’ Lake Piru. Following a five-day search of the lake, the actress was pronounced dead once her body was recovered.
“When that happened, I was in complete shock. My whole family was in complete shock. It was like someone pulled the rug from under us and we didn’t see it coming,” she said in the January 2022 video. “The dark place that I was in before only progressed when that happened. At that time, I had no thoughts of my future. I had no thoughts of myself, really. I was only just experiencing pain.”
Throughout the video, Nickayla explained how she started to heal after experiencing an immeasurable loss.
“Now I look at life for what it is: an opportunity to show the world who you are, for your authentic self and nothing less,” she shared, in part. “They say we only have one life, so live it. But I feel like we only have one day. We only have one moment. The next moment is not promised, so live this moment like you stole it.”
Scroll through our gallery to see photos of Naya over the years.
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