Naya Rivera truly knew how to put a smile on our faces.

Best known for playing Santana Lopez in the musical TV show Glee, Naya Rivera was and will always continue to be an inspiration for countless girls and young women all across the world. Recently, the 33-year-old American actress and singer tragically passed away while swimming in California’s Lake Piru. Her body was found and recovered on July 13th, five days after the search began as her 4-year-old son was found alone in the boat. The case is still under investigation, but it is believed that she took her last breaths to save her son. Rivera’s friends and fans have taken social media to offer their condolences to her family and to reflect on her short but impactful life.

I’m thankful for all the ways in which she made me a better person. She taught me how to advocate for myself and to speak up for the things and people that were important to me, always. I’m thankful for the times I grew an ab muscle from laughing so hard at something she said.

-Kevin McHale

A groundbreaking role

It is undeniable that Rivera’s role as Santana Lopez broke barriers while helping girls break their own. Glee is characterized for having an inspiring storyline and for portraying diverse characters that have served as a powerful representation for many minorities. This is one of the reasons why Santana Lopez is such an iconic character. Throughout the years, fans have expressed their gratitude towards Rivera for representing a strong queer and Latina woman on screen. Some even say Santana was the very first openly lesbian character they ever saw and could relate to. A fan recently tweeted: “In high school, I desperately grasped for anything that could help me understand who I was and what my feelings meant. Santana Lopez gave me something to hold onto tightly. It is no exaggeration to say Naya Rivera changed my life.” (@whembleysewell)

RIP Naya Rivera. I’ll forever cherish the opportunity to play your girlfriend on Glee. 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..

Demi Lovato

Let’s keep in mind that Glee is from 2009, so proper queer representation was still very uncommon. In the show, Santana had to go through some very rough patches while coming to terms with her sexuality and sharing it with the world. She had to face judgment and rejection even from her own grandmother, who demanded her to leave the house and never be seen again. It was painful to watch, but Santana always kept her head high. She showed the world that things do get better, which gave hope and comfort to many closeted queer girls.

It has been one of the great blessings in my life to receive such love and touching stories as a result of my portrayal of Santana Lopez on Glee. We are all put on this earth to be a service to others and I am grateful that for some, my Cheerios ponytail and sassy sashays may have given a little light to someone somewhere, who may have needed it. To everyone whose heartfelt stories I have heard, or read I thank you for truly enriching my life.

Naya Rivera

Off the screen

Most of us only knew Naya Rivera as a talented actress and a breathtaking singer, but behind that, there were so many more layers. Based on what her close ones have shared, we have no doubt in mind that she was the type of person that would light up a room instantly. She has been described by her castmates as bravely authentic, uplifting, and a powerful force. Above it all, she was a loving mother.

If you were fortunate enough to have known her, you’ll know that her most natural talent of all was being a mother. The way that she loved her boy, it was truly Naya at her most peaceful.

Kevin McHale

We will make sure to keep your legacy and spirit alive, so Josey will grow up to know the incredible woman you were. -Glee Creators

There is no doubt that little Josey will grow up surrounded by love and support. His mother will always be remembered for her life, spirit, and the impact that she made on so many people.

Behind the scenes

As castmates and friends have continued to honor Rivera, they have tried to find the words to express how her powerful presence made them feel. Melissa Benoist, who played Marley on Glee said the following:

“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).”

Melissa Benoist

Similar remarks were made by multiple people who emphasized how confident, strong, and inspiring she was. Matthew Morrison, who played Will said the following:

“While so many of us were trying to find our voice, Naya’s was clear and resolute. When she spoke, you would embrace every last word.”

Matthew Morrison

In addition to her personality, the talent that she possessed often left everyone in the room in complete awe. Multiple people have commented on how incredibly fast she would remember her lines for a scene, and would not mess up a single time. She would also blow everyone away with the power of her voice when she sang, and her castmates also admired her greatly for that.

Naya was a lightning force. Everyone who got to be around her felt the light and joy she exuded when she walked into a room. She shined on stage and screen and radiated with love behind closed doors.

Jenna Ushkowitz

Our hearts truly go out for Naya Rivera’s family and friends, and we wish them strength and light under such a difficult time. We are confident that she will continue to be loved, honored, and remembered for the genuine person and talented artist that she was.

To end on a positive note, let us delight you with some of Naya Rivera’s best performances.

In the words of Darren Criss,

Rest in peace you wild, hilarious, beautiful angel.

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