Chris Colfer doubted “anyone on Earth could give Naya Rivera the tribute she deserves.” But the 30-year-old actor, who acted alongside Naya between 2009-2014 on Glee, tried doing so anyways in a powerful essay that our sister publication Variety published on July 21. Chris, who played Kurt Hummel in the Fox series, marveled at Naya’s talent as she embodied the role of Santana Lopez, a fierce singer and cheerleader who was the true queen bee and also represented the LGBTQIA community.
— Variety (@Variety) July 21, 2020
“In fact, the process of losing her has been such a nightmare, I find myself wondering if Naya was even real or if she was just a dream all along. How could a human being be that talented, that hilarious and that beautiful at once? How could one person be responsible for so much joy and be the subject of so many wonderful memories?,” Chris wrote in the beginning of his essay.
One of Naya’s standout features was her voice. “When Naya sang, you could feel her soul resonating through your own. Her voice would break your heart in one chorus, only to rebuild it in the next,” he continued. “Watching her perform was like watching magic unfold before your eyes. Naya didn’t just sing a song. She brought it to life. And with every note, she exposed the old sage living inside her young body.”
Chris was also in awe of the way Naya, who began acting on the early ’90s sitcom The Royal Family, commanded a screen. “As an actress, Naya could tell a whole story with one expression. It didn’t matter how outrageous the plot was, she spoke with so much authenticity, she made you believe every word she said, and often, you’d forget she was acting at all. Her heroic and groundbreaking portrayal of Santana Lopez on ‘Glee’ inspired millions of young people around the world, especially in the LGBTQIA community, and it will be treasured for generations to come,” he added. He also noted how Naya possessed a “superhuman ability to memorize scripts.”
Behind the scenes, Naya coudn’t make Chris stop laughing. Chris noted how Naya was the “funniest and most quotable people” he knew, and that her “comebacks and quips were legendary.” Recalling some of these quips, he wrote, “Whenever the ‘Glee’ cast commiserated about the demanding shooting schedule, Naya would instantly cheer us up with a line like, ‘Gosh, this internship blows!’ or ‘Guys, we know what we signed up for. The first person to guess the mole gets the cash.'”
Naya was much like her character Santana, too. “She was never afraid to stand up to authority, she always called out mistreatment where she saw it and she always told you the truth — even when it was hard to hear,” Chris wrote. However, “the thing she wanted most in life was to be a mother,” Chris revealed.
“She spent hours telling us what she was going to name her kids, how she was going to dress them and all the free babysitting she’d bamboozle out of us. When her son Josey [Hollis Dorsey] was born in 2015, it was like a missing piece of Naya had finally arrived,” Chris recalled. “Their connection was magnetic, their affection was radiant and I’ve never seen a person look happier than when Naya gushed over her little boy.”
Naya spent her last moments on Earth with Josey, her four-year-old son whom she shared with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey. The mother-son duo went for a boat ride in Lake Piru, a large lake north of Los Angeles, on July 8. However, Josey was later found alone on the boat, which started a desperate five-day search for the missing actress. Her body was finally recovered from the lake on July 13, and she was confirmed to have died by drowning by the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office (there was also no indication that drugs or alcohol factored into her death, based on the investigation and medical exam).
Naya had gone swimming with her son, and based on what Josey told authorities, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub believes that the Glee actress could have “mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself,” which he announced in a press conference on July 13. Like Chris, more people who were close to Naya, like her Glee co-star Heather Morris and ex-fiancé Big Sean, have remembered the remarkable performer’s life with moving tributes.