By Rosy Cordero
July 13, 2020 at 05:08 PM EDT
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Naya Rivera, who starred as the quick-witted cheerleader Santana Lopez on all six seasons of Fox’s Glee, was found dead on Monday after going missing during a boat trip on a California lake, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office has confirmed. She was 33.

Rivera was reported missing Wednesday after spending the afternoon in the waters of Lake Piru in Ventura County, Calif., in a rented pontoon boat with her 4-year-old son, Josey Hollis Dorsey. The young boy was found alone on the drifting boat, and told investigators that he and his mom were swimming together but she never got back into the boat.

Dorsey is Rivera’s only child from her four-year marriage to Ryan Dorsey. The couple divorced in 2018.

The California native got her start in Hollywood at the age of 4, playing Hillary Winson in the 1991 sitcom The Royal Family. The years that followed would bring smaller roles on TV hits including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Baywatch, and Even Stevens. She was only meant to appear in a one-off episode of The Bernie Mac Show in 2002, but that ended up leading her to appear in 10 other episodes of the comedy.

Her big break wouldn’t arrive for another seven years, but it was worth the wait. She joined the cast of Ryan Murphy’s musical dramedy Glee as Cheerios co-captain Santana Lopez opposite Lea Michele, Heather Morris, Cory Monteith, and Mark Salling. (Monteith died from a drug overdose in 2013 at the age of 31. Salling — Rivera’s former boyfriend — died by suicide in 2018, three years after he was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography. He was 35.)

Fox shared a smiling photo of Rivera with a caption remembering her "fierce talent" whose life ended way too soon.

“Naya Rivera was a fierce talent with so much more to do this is such a terrible tragedy. We are forever grateful for the indelible contribution she made to GLEE, from the first episode to the last. "Our hearts are broken and our thoughts go out to Naya’s family, friends, and young son.” - 20TH CENTURY FOX TV AND FOX ENTERTAINMENT."

After Glee concluded in 2015, Rivera dipped her toes in music, releasing the single “Sorry” through Columbia Records featuring her ex-fiancé, Big Sean. Her studio album was never released, however, and she was let go by the label. She would go on to direct a short film about immigration alongside Guillermo Diaz before making her film debut in the horror film At the Devil’s Door in 2014. Most recently, Rivera starred in Step Up: High Water, a YouTube Premium series based on the popular Step Up film franchise which was picked up for a third season by Starz after being canceled. 

Starz and Lionsgate released a statement after news of the actress's death: “Our hearts go out to Naya Rivera’s family, especially her young child, in response to the tragic news of her passing.  She was a vibrant and luminous talent who will always remain a very special part of our ‘Step Up’ family.  Her remarkable contributions to our industry created a lasting memory that will be carried forward by everyone who had the privilege of knowing her."

She also became a published author two years later with the release of her memoir Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing.

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