Naya Marie Rivera was a model, singer, and actress. Rivera was born in Valencia, California on January 12, 1987, to Yolanda Previtire and George Rivera. Rivera is the oldest of three siblings, including Mychal Rivera and Nickayla Rivera, and is of African-American, German, and Puerto Rican descent. When Rivera was ten years old, her parents divorced. Her mother remarried Charles Previtire.
Rivera began her acting career as a baby, appearing in Kmart commercials. Rivera, then four years old, landed her first major acting role as Hillary Winston on the TV sitcom The Royal Family, alongside Red Foxx and Della Reese. Following Redd Foxx’s death, the show was canceled after one season. Rivera won a Young Artist Award for her performance in the show. Rivera also appeared as a child actor in Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Baywatch, and Smart Guy. Rivera struggled with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder, as a teen. She graduated from Valencia High School in Santa Clarita, California, in 2005.
She went on to appear in films and television shows such as The Master of Disguise, My Wife and Kids, Soul Food, and 8 Simple Rules.
Rivera was cast as Santana Lopez, a high school cheerleader and bully, in Fox’s musical comedy series Glee, which is about a high school glee club, in 2009. Her character’s role was minor in the first season, but in the second season she became a more significant cast member whose character was lesbian and struggling to come to terms with her sexuality. Rivera stayed on the show until it was cancelled in 2015.
Rivera received several honors, including the American Latino Media Arts Award (ALMA) for Favorite Female Music Artist in 2011. She received two more ALMA awards in 2012 for Favorite TV Actress, Leading Role in a Comedy, and Female Music Artist. Rivera’s performance was also lauded by the LGBT community. Rivera had a music career in addition to acting. She signed a contract with Columbia Records in 2011, but her debut solo album was never released. “Supermassive Black Hole,” “Sorry,” featuring Big Sean, and “Amazing Grace” were among her singles.
Rivera was also an activist for a variety of causes, such as LGBT rights, immigrant rights, women’s rights, and speaking out against racism in the entertainment industry. Rivera has been embroiled in a number of controversies throughout her career, including a public feud with her ex-boyfriend, Sean Micheal “Big Sean” Leonard Anderson. Rivera was arrested in 2017 for misdemeanor domestic battery against Ryan Dorsey over their child after a physical altercation. Rivera was granted primary custody of their child in 2020, despite the incident.
On July 8, 2020, Naya Marie Rivera drowned by accident at Lake Piru, a reservoir in the Los Pardes National Forest in Ventura County, California. Rivera, 33, was swimming with her four-year-old son, Josey, at the time. She was declared missing until her body was discovered on July 13, 2020. Her son was discovered unharmed.