Naya Rivera drowned at age 33, likely after mustering enough strength to save her 4-year-old son Josey, but not enough to save herself, has a legacy that will live on.
Celebrities and fans greeted her confirmed death in California's Lake Piru Wednesday with an outpouring of love, and joy at the way she redefined queer and Afro-Latin representation on TV through her role in Glee.
Latin urban singer Becky G. tweeted: “Beautiful Naya Rivera, Rest In Peace. My thoughts and prayers are with your loved ones. You will be missed & never forgotten.”
“I'll never be able to articulate the importance of seeing Naya, a Black Puerto Rican, portraying a queer Afro-Latina on prime-time TV,” Steven Canals, the co-creator of FX's Pose, who is also a Black Puerto Rican, tweeted. “I'm heartbroken over all the stories that will remain untold.”
“I’ll forever cherish the opportunity to play your girlfriend on Glee,” Demi Lovato wrote. “The character you played was groundbreaking for tons of closeted queer girls (like me at the time) and open queer girls, and your ambition and accomplishments were inspiring to Latina women all over the world. My heart goes out to your loved ones at this time.”
The creators of Glee, Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, meanwhile, are paying tribute to her by creating a college fund for Josey, whom she shared with her ex Ryan Dorsey.
In an emotional tribute, the creators said they were “heartbroken” they are over the loss of their “friend” Rivera that they “lucked into finding.”
“Naya wasn’t a series regular when we cast her on Glee. She didn’t have more than a few lines in the pilot. But it didn’t take more than an episode or two for us to realize that we had lucked into finding one of the most talented, special stars we would ever have the pleasure of working with,” they wrote. They praised Rivera for being someone who could act, dance, since and “nail a joke as well as she could crush you with an emotional scene.” “She could move between being scary tough and deeply vulnerable with ease. She was a joy to write for, a joy to direct and a joy to be around,” they wrote.
“It was one of the first times an openly lesbian, high school relationship was seen on network television and Naya understood what 'Brittana' meant to the many young women who were seeing themselves represented on television for the first time,” they reflected. “Naya always made sure that Santana’s love for Brittany was expressed with dignity, strength and with pure intentions. Naya was always moved by the girls who reached out to her to tell her how much Santana and Brittany’s love affected them. Naya’s obligation to them- and to all of her fans- was obvious. She had the rare combination of humility and endless confidence in her talent.”
They concluded: “Our hearts go out to her family, especially her mom, Yolanda, who was a big part of the Glee family and her son Josey. The three of us are currently in the process of creating a college fund for the beautiful son Naya loved most of all.”