Naya Rivera has been a fixture on Entertainment Tonight throughout the years. Thursday, July 8, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the Glee actress’ death at age 33, which occurred after she went missing following a boat ride with her then-4-year-old son, Josey, on California’s Lake Piru. Her body was recovered five days later.
Josey was found safe on the boat, and Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub revealed in a press conference at the time that authorities speculate that Rivera drowned after boosting her son onto the boat after a swim.
“The idea perhaps being that the boat started drifting, it was unanchored, and that she mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself,” he shared.
One year after her tragic death, ET is taking a look back at our past interviews with the star, from the time she was four years old, to her casting on Glee, to the birth of her son, and everything in between.
ET first spoke with Rivera on the set of her very first TV show, The Royal Family, in 1991. At the time, Rivera adorably described her character, Hillary, as someone who “eats” and “talks,” before sharing the hardest part of being a working actress.
“It’s hard because you have to do your lines every day,” she said, adding that she was still learning how to read.
Even with the challenge that came with learning her lines, in a 2013 interview with ET, Rivera said that, as a child actress, she was not “afraid of anything.”
After guest-starring on TV shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Baywatch, Even Stevens, and The Bernie Mac Show, but not having a big break, Rivera was nearly ready to throw in the towel on her acting career.
“I reached a point where I was like, ‘I have to go to college and get a real job, because money actually matters, because this doesn’t seem to be working out,'” Rivera told ET in 2016. “I was bummed by it, but I was just trying to be realistic.”
Rivera’s mom encouraged her to give her dream one more shot, though.
“My mom was the one that was like, ‘Just give it six months and go on everything, don’t be picky and just see what happens,'” Rivera recalled.
It was during that six-month period that Rivera landed the role of Santana Lopez on Glee, which she told ET was “just a dream come true.”
When the series began in 2009, Rivera gushed over the cast — which included Lea Michele, Cory Monteith, Matthew Morrison, and Darren Criss — telling ET that working on the show was “like going to work every single day with 12 of your best friends.”
Throughout Glee’s six-season run, Rivera amassed quite a fan base, one that seemed to shock the actress when ET spoke with her in 2013.
“I just slice it back and I’m like, ‘How did that happen?’ I’m not that cool. I swear,” she joked. “They are the best group of fans that I could have ever asked for. They are so passionate and I feel like they’re this extended family that I have to go to.”
Amid her success on Glee, Rivera began working on her own music and released her debut single, “Sorry,” in 2013. Her then-boyfriend, Big Sean, was featured on the track.
“I’m really happy with where the music’s at right now,” she told ET at the time. “I’m singing things that I’ve written and they’re, like, each my little babies. It’s like my love child.”
Rivera also gushed about working with Big Sean, whom she had begun dating earlier that year after meeting on Twitter.
“He’s my biggest cheerleader, my biggest support,” Rivera said. “I couldn’t have asked anybody better to be on the song. I mean, he killed that verse.”
The pair got engaged in October 2013, but called it quits the next April. Despite their split, Rivera told ET in 2016 that she didn’t have any regrets about their relationship, and that it didn’t work out because Big Sean “wasn’t Ryan.”
The Ryan she was referring to was Ryan Dorsey, with whom she tied the knot in 2014, after having dated years prior.
“I have always kept a flame for him,” Rivera told ET in 2016. “If I was single for a minute, I would always answer his emails and go see him and he was just kind of always the one.”
The pair welcomed Josey in 2015 and Rivera immediately loved being a mom.
“It’s very early mornings, but I am so excited every morning, it’s like Christmas,” she told ET of motherhood in 2016. “I get up, like, 10 minutes earlier to go wake him up and he always greets me with a smile. It’s just so amazing to see.”
Rivera a year later and she offered up some advice for other moms out there.
“Don’t be too hard on yourself,” she said. “Babies, as cliché as it sounds, they don’t come with manuals. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but it just falls into place. You always have to keep reminding yourself that they’re half you, so they’re kind of obligated to let it slide.”
While Rivera, who finalized her divorced from Dorsey in 2018, maintained her passion for acting and music after becoming a mom, both took a backseat to being there for Josey.
“I’m a mom now. You know what I love more than acting? Being Josey’s mom,” she told ET in 2016. “I want to be here for him and I don’t want to miss anything.”
Nearly one year after Rivera’s death, George, who reflected on his daughter’s legacy.
“It’s about sort of the strong dynamic personality and never giving up,” he of what he wants his late daughter’s fans to remember about her. “Never giving up on your dream and your focus. It’s what I’m trying to teach all her Twitter followers, the joy that she had in life, right? The joy that she had and living the life that she lived. She knew she was lucky, but she knew she worked hard for that.”