Amber Riley said farewell to her friend and former Glee costar Naya Rivera on the Aug. 28 episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, roughly seven weeks after Naya, 33, drowned in the waters of Lake Piru in Santa Clarita, California. Amber — who portrayed Mercedes Jones alongside Naya’s Santana Lopez on Fox’s Glee – delivered a heartfelt performance. “God knows I’m tired…and it just hits you like a bullet/Now I need a moment alone with my soul/I can’t stop these thoughts,” Amber began singing as photos of Naya throughout her life flashed behind her.
The entire performance was in black-and-white, adding to a timeless feel to the incredible performance. “Everybody thinks I’m okay/But don’t nobody know the way I’m really feeling/Only heaven knows that nothing hurts more than falling…set me free,” she sang in a chilling verse, seemingly expressing how she’s feeling since the loss of her dear friend. “I’m ready to cry…just let it be,” she sang in another part of the performance, channeling the era of soul greats like Aretha Franklin, Gloria Gaynor and Gladys Knight. While there’s no doubt that Amber is extremely talented, the performance was certainly one for the the books — and we can’t wait to see what she does next.
“[Miss] you baby girl and I love you #NayaRivera,” Amber wrote in a lengthy Instagram tribute to her friend on July 23. “I’m so mad the world will never see how high you could have soared. Her brain was brilliant. She was smart and as quick as a whip. Always had me in stitches, we would be in tears laughing so hard at one another. There was never competition, or shade, or intimidation with us. Just pure adoration and mutual respect. You deserved better. You were so much more than just this show. Your talent outshined us all so many times!”
Amber said that her favorite Naya moment took place on a tour bus on its way to London. “Naya [was] greasing her scalp with Doo Gro oil, a plastic cap and a silk bonnet [laughing tears emoji] my sister said ‘oh Naya you blackity black black’ we burst out into laughter! We needed it too because we just wanted to get home to our families. We were alike in that way. We love hard, and protect our own, and we don’t take no sh-t from anyone.. I say your name everyday and hold you in my heart, just like I do Cory[Monteith.]”
“Your presence brought so much excitement, so much passion, so much joy,” continued Amber, “and in your absence, you’re STILL holding us accountable and getting us together. I’ve cried until my tear ducts have dried out, now it’s time to celebrate the fact that us mere humans got to experience walking through life with an earth angel. Rest well. I pray you found the peace we all are searching for.”
Naya went missing on July 8 while she and her four-year-old son Josey Dorsey went boating on Lake Piru. Naya and Ryan Dorsey’s son was discovered alive and unharmed on the craft, but Naya was nowhere to be found. After a five day search, authorities recovered her body from the lake, on the same day as Cory Monteith’s death anniversary. The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office conducted an autopsy and determined that she died from drowning. There were no “traumatic injuries” or any indication that drugs or alcohol played a role in her death.
“We know from speaking with her son [Josey] that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point during their journey. It was during that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub explained in a July 13 press conference.
Naya’s fans, friends, former loves, and family honored her following her death. On July 24, Naya’s body was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. A day after the funeral, Naya’s ex and father of her child, Ryan Dorsey, said that there weren’t “enough words to express the hole left in everyone’s hearts. … We miss you. We will always love you. Love you Meep.”