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The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department said that the actress went missing Wednesday after going boating in Lake Piru, California, with her 4-year-old son, Josey. After her son was found on the boat alone, authorities initiated a search for Rivera led by a team of divers. Investigators believed she drowned in a “tragic accident,” and the sheriff’s department noted Monday morning via Twitter that a body had been found. Later Monday, authorities reiterated to the media they did not suspect foul play nor do they believe she purposely tried to hurt herself. Sheriff William Ayub offered his condolences to the family and fans of Rivera.
On Tuesday afternoon, The Ventura County Medical Examiner confirmed Rivera died as a result of accidental drowning.
After starting her career at age 4 on CBS’ short-lived comedy Royal Family, Rivera broke out in 2009 on Ryan Murphy’s megahit Glee. With the show since its pilot, she started out in a recurring guest role as snarky cheerleader Santana before being promoted to the full-time cast a year later.
Santana became a fan favorite after die-hard Glee fans picked up on the chemistry between Rivera’s character and ditzy fellow cheerleader Brittany, played by dancer Heather Morris. The couple, dubbed “Brittana,” would become icons for lesbian representation on television as Rivera, along with the rest of the central Glee castmembers, rocketed to stardom as part of a worldwide phenomenon.
As Glee-mania broke out across the globe with live concert tours, a slew of TV awards and best-selling soundtracks, castmembers including Rivera also saw their solo musical careers blossom. In 2011, she signed as a solo artist with Columbia Records — the label behind the show’s soundtracks — and released her first single.
Rivera’s debut “Sorry” was released in September 2013 and featured rapper Big Sean. The two began dating and got engaged that year but ended their relationship months later. Despite her deal with Columbia, Rivera never released a solo album.
After Glee, Rivera had a recurring role on the Lifetime drama series Devious Maids. She most recently starred opposite Ne-Yo on the TV update of Step Up, which recently moved from its former home at YouTube to premium cable network Starz for its second season. On Step Up, Rivera played Collette Jones, an administrator at the show’s prestigious High Water Performing Arts School.
Born in Santa Clarita, California, Rivera lived in the Los Angeles area for most of her life. Her father, George, is a retired actor, and her mother, Yolanda, a former model. Her younger brother, Mychal, has played for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, and her younger sister, Nickayla, is a runway model.
Though much of Rivera’s success was in television, she did have a sporadic film career. In 2014, she starred in At the Devil’s Door, her first leading role in a feature. The horror film, directed by Nicholas McCarthy, premiered at South by Southwest and featured the actress as Vera, a woman investigating the death of her sister. She also starred in the 2017 comedy Mad Families.
In 2016, Rivera released a tell-all memoir titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes and Growing Up, in which she recounted her career, particularly her time on Glee.
Rivera had her son with former husband Ryan Dorsey, an actor.
July 14, 2:15 p.m.: Updated with information from the Ventura County Medical Examiner.
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