At the age of four, Naya Rivera got the role of Hillary Winston in the sitcom ‘The Royal Family’ sitcom. Though the show opened on a positive note with high ratings and good reviews, it was cancelled following the sudden death of actor Redd Foxx.
Between 1992 and 2002, Rivera bagged numerous guest roles in popular television series including ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’, ‘Family Matters’, ‘Live Shot’, ‘Baywatch’, ‘Smart Guy’, ‘The Jersey’, ‘House Blend’, ‘Even Stevens’ and ‘The Master of Disguise’.
In 2002, Rivera appeared in the music video for B2K's ‘Why I Love You’. Same year, her single episode guest role in ‘The Bernie Mac Show’ was stretched to ten-episodes that ranged throughout the five seasons. Though the guest appearances kept her busy creatively, she worked part time as a telemarketer, nanny and greeter at Abercrombie & Fitch to sustain herself.
After a bevy of auditions and guest roles, it was in 2009 that Rivera got the big breakthrough of her career. She was cast as Santana Lopez, a high school cheerleader, on Fox’s musical comedy ‘Glee’. The fact that the role gave her an opportunity to sing, dance and act all at the same time was exciting enough for her. Furthermore, she was a big fan of Ryan Murphy’s work.
For her role in ‘Glee’, Rivera took inspiration from her own high school experience. It was during the last nine episodes of the first season of ‘Glee’ that Santana’s character of a mean, headstrong ‘bad’ girl came out explicitly. Her brilliant portrayal of the character earned her a regular spot at the beginning of the second season.
Naya Rivera’s first solo in ‘Glee’ came in the fifth episode of season two, ‘The Rocky Horror Glee Show’. As the second season progressed, Rivera's character underwent a radical change as she was shown as a lesbian. A powerful performer, Rivera portrayed her lesbian character with perfection thus earning favourable reviews from the critics as well as audience. The critical acclamation continued well into the third season as well as Rivera continued to perform excellently.
In May 2011, Rivera signed a deal with Columbia Records to produce a solo album. While working on a debut song, Rivera gave vocals for musical duo 2Cellos second single of their second album, a cover of Muse's ‘Supermassive Black Hole’. Simultaneously, she also starred in its music video.
On September 2013, Rivera came up with her debut single ‘Sorry’, featuring rapper Big Sean. The single underperformed at the charts. The debut album which was under progress was called off. On May 2014, Columbia Records dropped Rivera from their list though her representatives later claimed that the report were falsified but without proof.
A failed musical attempt did not dampen Rivera’s spirit. Instead, she made a strong comeback this time on the big screen with her debut feature film ‘At the Devil’s Door’. The film was premiered by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Released in September 2014, the film was widely appreciated and so was Rivera’s performance,.
Continue Reading Below
In 2015, Rivera portrayed the recurring role of Blanca Alvarez for the third season of Lifetime's drama series ‘Devious Maids’.
Awards & Achievements
In 2010, Rivera was bestowed with the Screen Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by the Ensemble for ‘Glee’.
In 2011, Rivera was nominated for two ALMA Awards, in the categories of Favourite TV Actress – Leading Role in a Comedy and Favourite Female Music Artist which she won eventually. Her character of Santana was so much appreciated that it topped at many ‘Best of’ lists of the year including 25 Breakout Stars of 2011, TV Guide's Best Performances of 2011, MTV's Best TV Characters of 2011, and so on.
In 2012, she repeated her success at ALMA this time for both the categories, Favourite Female Music Artist and Favourite Actress Comedy.
In 2013, she was awarded the Giffoni Award at the Giffoni Film Festival.
In 2014, she shared the Favourite TV Gal Pals with Lea Michele at the People’s Choice Awards.
Family, Personal Life & Death
Naya Rivera dated recording artist Big Sean for a year before dating Ryan Dorsey. Interestingly, Rivera had previously dated Dorsey four years earlier as well. The two hit it off well and got married on July 19, 2014 in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. They welcomed their son Josey Hollis Dorsey on September 2015. However, not all went right between the two and Rivera and Dorsey’s marriage hit the rocks in 2016. They filed for a divorce in November 2016.
Together with her family, Rivera resided in Los Angeles. She was a bisexual. She was an active philanthropist and works with many charitable organizations including GLAAD, The Trevor Project, Stand Up To Cancer, The Elephant Project and The Sunshine Foundation.
On July 8, 2020, her four-year-old son, Josey, was found alone in Rivera's rented boat at Lake Piru, near Santa Clarita, California, and Naya Rivera was declared missing. After a five-day search, her body was recovered from Lake Piru on July 13.