Rivera starred in the musical Fox show from 2009 to 2015. Five years after the show concluded, the California native went missing in July 2020 after going on a boat trip with her son, Josey, who she welcomed in 2017 with her ex-husband, Ryan Dorsey. After a five-day search, Rivera’s body was recovered, and it was confirmed that she accidentally drowned while trying to save her son.
“Naya and I fell into stride with such ease, she was my first friend and ally on our show. In the pilot, our characters came and went with such swiftness. Our enthusiasm brimmed with all of the unknown,” Agron wrote a lengthy post via Instagram at the time. “We tried to grasp what the other cast members must be feeling as we were working in such separate manners. We dared to dream. What if this show worked? Wouldn’t that be something? Something was brimming, it was palpable. And thank god it worked. Naya’s magnetic talent was going to be unleashed, we just didn’t know it yet.”
She added: “To work with her was a gift. There was a great deal to absorb – her work ethic, her fearlessness, her talent – supreme. Naya had a laugh that would envelop you and hold you captive. She was mesmerizing. That twinkle in her eye, her luminous smile. Naya lead [SIC] with truth, humor, wit. I loved her for all of these reasons.”
“She has not left my mind this last week. It’s difficult to find words. There was an undeniable beauty that she radiated inside and out, and I consider myself incredibly lucky that I got to witness that up close even for the short period of time that I did,” Benoist, who played Marley Rose on Glee, wrote via Instagram. “I was so intimidated by her, yet she had a way of disarming that just made you want to be around her, hear what she had to say (because it would undoubtedly be the sharpest and most real thing you would hear all day). She was kind and open to me when she didn’t have to be, when I was a naive, clueless and insecure newcomer. Bravely authentic, genuinely kind, incredibly talented and deeply loved by so many. Thinking of her family and loved ones. Rest In Peace, Naya.”
Nine months after her passing, many Glee cast members came together to honor Rivera and her character, Santana Lopez, at the GLAAD Media Awards. Heather Morris, Amber Riley, Jenna Ushkowitz, Kevin McHale, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin, Jacob Artist, Alex Newell and Vanessa Lengies were some of the cast who gathered for the event.
“I remember when Naya became a regular cast member, she was a dancer. And I always thought she was cute, and she was a great dancer,” Jane Lynch, who played Sue Sylvester, recalled during the April 2021 ceremony segment. “And then Ryan [Murphy] stared giving her lines and I was like, ‘Wow, this girl is really something.'”
Matthew Morrison, who portrayed Mr. Schue on the show, talked about how his friendship with the late star got stronger when they both became parents.
“Naya and I were good friends on the show, but I think we became much better friends when we both had children and to see her put all that energy into her son was just an incredible sight to see and something I’ll always remember,” he said.
Scroll down to see how Rivera was honored by her Glee costars one year after her death: