Naya Rivera: A Look Back at the Tragic Death of TV's "Glee" Star

Herbie J Pilato


On July 8, 2023, it will be three years since the death of actress Naya Rivera at just 33.

Rivera, an Afro-Latina American actress, model, and singer, found TV fame as Santana Lopez on the hit series Glee (Fox, 2009-2015). She passed away on July 8, 2020. She had gone missing while on a boat ride on Lake Piru in Ventura County, California. She was with her 4-year-old son, Josey.

A Closer Look

Naya Rivera's body had been discovered following an intensive six-day search. One day after locating her body, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed in a press release that after completing an autopsy, the actress’ cause of death was drowning.

“The circumstances and visual characteristics all indicated that the body was that of Naya Rivera and the identity has been confirmed by dental comparison,” a press release read. “The body has been x-rayed and a full autopsy has been performed. The autopsy findings are consistent with a drowning and the condition of the body is consistent with the time that she was submerged. No traumatic injuries or disease processes were identified at autopsy.”

The office concluded, “There is no indication from the investigation or examination that drugs or alcohol played a role in the decedent’s death, but specimens will be submitted for toxicology testing.”

As fate would have it, the day of July 8, 2020, had also marked the seventh anniversary of the death of her “Glee” co-star, Cory Monteith.

In addition to her regular appearances on Glee, Naya Rivera played Hillary Winston on TV's The Royal Family. She had also made appearances on The Master of Disguise, Baywatch, CSI: Miami, American Dad, Batman: The Long Halloween Parts 1 and 2, Even Stevens, and The Bernie Mac Show.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, the demise of Naya Rivera adds to the lengthy list of former child stars who died tragically too young and/or who lived short or painfully-extended lives that were challenged by various traumatic experiences.

[Note: Unless otherwise indicated, certain facts and information in this article were resourced from various entertainment news and media outlets including,,,,,, and]

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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