They announced the news on Tuesday, the day after Rivera, a singer and actor who played Santana Lopez on the hit TV musical comedy Glee, was found dead in a Southern California lake.
Rivera’s body was discovered Monday, five days after she disappeared on Lake Piru, where her son, Josey, was found July 8 alone on a boat the two had rented, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the body was Rivera’s.
In a joint statement, the Glee creators said, “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 said that Rivera was someone who could act, dance, sing 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.
“Naya is responsible for numerous iconic Glee musical performances — The Adele Mash Up, Valerie, Songbird –– but her greatest Glee legacy is probably the humour and humanity that she brought to Santana’s relationship with her best friend and eventual girlfriend/wife Brittany (played by Heather Morris),” they wrote of her Glee character.
“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. 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 added.
The Glee creators called Rivera “a real pro” and she was “always on time, always knew her lines,” despite the “giant mouthfuls of dialogue we often gave her” and she “always kept everyone laughing on set.”
“She was warm and caring and fiercely protective of the rest of the cast. She was tough and demanding. She was fun. She was kind. She was generous,” they wrote.
“There were ups and downs during the wonderful and stressful years we spent making Glee. We disagreed, we fought, we made up, then we fought some more, than we made up again. The kinds of things that happen in a family. Naya was more than just an actor on our show — she was our friend.”
They said that their “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,” they announced before signing the letter as “Ryan, Ian and Brad.”
Rivera rose to national attention playing Santana Lopez on Glee, which aired from 2009 until 2015 on Fox.
Rivera began acting at 4, appearing in such series as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters and The Bernie Mac Show.
She and actor Ryan Dorsey were married in 2014 and their son, Josey, was born in 2015. She called her young son “my greatest success, and I will never do any better than him.”
Rivera was arrested and charged in West Virginia in 2017 with misdemeanour domestic battery after she allegedly hit Dorsey. The charge was dismissed because Dorsey did not wish to press charges. They divorced soon after.
Dorsey has not yet made an official statement about his ex-wife’s death but he was spotted at Lake Piru on Sunday.
Rivera is survived by her parents, Yolanda and George; a younger brother, Mychal; a sister, Nickayla; and her 4-year-old son.
—With files from The Associated Press