Tragic Details About Naya Rivera

For a good chunk of the 2010s, Glee was unavoidable. The FOX musical dramedy single-handedly launched that bizarre era in pop culture where a cappella groups had a major moment (see: Pitch Perfect). The series didn't just smash records — overthrowing the Beatles' reign on the Billboard Hot 100. It also thrust a wildly talented cast, who were largely only known on Broadway, into the mainstream spotlight. Unfortunately, fame always comes with a cost.

Now, we're not superstitious, but the Glee cast has been marred with unusually bad luck. Some people consider it the Glee curse. It's taken Cory MonteithMark Salling, and now, Naya Rivera, but the truth is that the type of heart-wrenching inner turmoil found within the show's greatest stars may have been there long before they were cast, and likely informed their powerful performances.

At just seven months old, Rivera launched her acting career, and she certainly wasn't immune to the tragic child star cliches that plague Hollywood. "I've done a lot of living," the actress told People in 2016 while promoting her cathartic, eye-opening memoir Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up. "I'm a 79-year-old trapped in a 29-year-old's body."

In recent years, it looked like things had finally calmed down for Rivera. She was focused on quietly co-parenting her son with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey, but dark times still managed to find her. These are the most tragic details from the Glee star's life.

A traumatic on-set event shaped Naya Rivera's childhood

Naya Rivera was barely old enough to be in kindergarten when she landed her first major role on the CBS sitcom The Royal Family. The Eddie Murphy co-created series, which starred Della Reese, turned out to be as short-lived as it was tragic, lasting only a single season as it struggled to endure the death of Redd Foxx, who played Rivera's on-screen grandfather.

Rivera, who played Foxx's youngest grandchild, formed a tight-knit bond with the late actor. In her memoir Sorry Not Sorry (via Vulture), she revealed that Foxx would tell people they were actually related, and after a while, Naya actually began to believe him. Then, she witnessed his tragic death as "he slumped over and fell to the floor" one day while they were rehearsing. It was shocking enough that the cast thought Foxx was joking, but Reese quickly realized it was serious and called the ambulance. The entire production ended up following Foxx to the hospital, where they learned the news.

"We sat there, his TV family and his real family, all mixed together in the waiting room, praying and trying to comfort one another," Rivera wrote (via Vulture). "When the doctor came out to tell us that Redd had passed, he delivered the news to the entire group."

Naya Rivera overcame her teenage eating disorder

In Sorry Not Sorry (via People), Naya Rivera opened up about the eating disorder she suffered from as a teenager. At the time, she'd already been acting for over a decade, but her career was seemingly "stall[ed]." The fear of becoming a forgotten child star was only punctuated by her parents' divorce. Though they eventually got back together, the actress began to restrict food as a game. By the time she entered her sophomore year of high school, it had spiraled out of control.

Cosmopolitan reports that Rivera weighed just 98 pounds at the height of her illness. She fainted from dehydration during gym class and would find any excuse to get rid of the lunches her mother packed her. She didn't even fully understand how extreme her eating disorder was until she penned her memoir years after the fact.

"I was so young, and it just seemed to be the norm. Everyone was going through similar stuff," she told People, adding, "I had no way of knowing if I was going through it worse. I was juggling my feelings, and it makes me sad that there are girls still going through that 15 years after I went through it."

Rivera did manage to recover. In her memoir (via Cosmopolitan), she revealed that she "gained 15 pounds and never looked back."

Mark Salling kept his relationship with Naya Rivera a secret

Naya Rivera's relationship with Mark Salling was messy. The pair first met in 2009 on the set of Glee and dated on and off for three years, but you'd basically never know it. According to her memoir (via excerpts from Vulture and Us Weekly), Salling kept their relationship a secret because his publicist thought that being single would be "better for his image." Huh?

Apparently, the actor first told Rivera "I love you" when he was "high on Ecstacy," which gives that sentiment a pretty big asterisk. They had only been dating a month, and this came after Rivera stuck it out on their disastrous first date where he picked her up in trash-filled "complete piece-of-s**t car," allegedly got totally stoned, and dragged her Six Flags' Fright Fest. They did stop at In-N-Out, which we'd argue was probably the only good thing about that date.

Throughout the relationship, Rivera believed Salling was cheating on her, and they'd regularly have huge blow outs. This manifested in Rivera's first tabloid scandal, when Us Weekly claimed the actress "keyed" Salling's car in a jealous rage. That never happened. In reality, she enlisted her best friend to help her dump "dog food, Coca-Cola, eggs, and bird seed" all over his car while he was away. Ultimately, her relationship with Salling is one of the only ones she regrets, if only because of the news that came out later.

The 'worst experience' of Naya Rivera's life

Naya Rivera and Ray Donovan actor Ryan Dorsey were on-and-off since the very beginning. It wasn't just a one-time deal when they decided to divorce in 2016 to divorce in 2016, only to call it off a year later before finalizing it in 2018. In her memoir (via People), Rivera admitted that the pair first began dating in 2010, but they split so she could focus on Glee's budding success. In the weeks after their breakup, the actress discovered that she was pregnant. Again, she prioritized her career and made the difficult decision to get an abortion, which she claimed was the "worst experience of [her] life."

According to Us Weekly's retelling, Rivera and her mother went through extreme measures to keep the abortion secret, which happened at a Planned Parenthood in Pasadena, Calif. They "wore wigs, hoodies, and sunglasses," and "paid cash, leaving no paper trail, like a drug deal." Rivera said she was given the "abortion pill," and the physical experience proved to be "incredibly painful." Remarkably, she even showed up for work the very next day even though her body would suffer physical affects for the next few weeks.

Rivera initially hid the pregnancy from Dorsey, and didn't tell him until years later. The truth actually reignited their relationship. Still, the emotional wounds never stopped haunting the actress. "I don't think I ever emotionally healed from the abortion," she wrote (via Vulture). 

Naya Rivera's ex-boyfriend committed suicide

In 2017, Naya Rivera's ex-boyfriend pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography. According to reports from People and The Blast, Mark Salling ended up striking a plea deal after the FBI found "more than 25,000 images and 600 videos depicting child pornography on computers and thumb drives" belonging to the Glee star. Some of the content featured children "as young as three years old being abused." As part of the deal, Salling had to register as a sex offender, enter rehabilitation, pay $50,000 in restitution to each of the victims, and to serve a potential four to seven years in prison.

In Sorry Not Sorry, Rivera admitted she had dodged a bullet despite the pain she felt after his publicist allegedly told him to dump her in 2010. "I can't say I was totally shocked, but still — WTF?" she wrote. "Then I had no doubt that God really did have my back along the way. When Mark dumped me, I thought it was the worst thing ever, but can you imagine if that didn't happen? And I was laying there in bed when the battering ram came through the door?"

Salling never ended up being sentenced. According to TMZ, the star committed suicide in 2018 after a possible attempt some months prior.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Cory Monteith's death rattled Naya Rivera

Since landing her first big break with The Royal Family, Naya Rivera's life has been consistently marred by the tragic death of her castmates. Though the loss of her on-screen grandfather definitely stung, and the loss of her ex-boyfriend Mark Salling was probably complicated for her in ways few people can understand, it was Cory Monteith's death that was, perhaps, the most painful.

It's no secret that Monteith — who shared a brother-sister relationship with Rivera — had been struggling with substance abuse issues. In Rivera's memoir (via E! News), the actress revealed that she and her castmates were shocked when they saw the star have a drink after years of sobriety. Monteith would eventually succumb to his vices. According to CNN, on July 13, 2013, the actor was found dead in his Vancouver hotel room with a fatal cocktail of heroin and alcohol in his system. Rivera was dating rapper Big Sean when she got the news of Monteith's death.

"I shook Sean awake and told him that Cory had just died," she wrote (via Vulture). "He just said, 'Oh man, babe, I'm really sorry about that,' and rolled over and went back to sleep. I was crying and kept coming in and out of the room as I went out into the hallway to make phone calls, and he never got out of bed or even so much as sat up and turned on the light. This still blows my mind to this day."

Did Ariana Grande impact Naya Rivera's engagement?

The brighter the flame, the faster it burns out. Naya Rivera's relationship with Big Sean was speedy, tumultuous, and just about everything tabloids love in a celebrity relationship — for better and for much, much worse. According to People, the couple got engaged just six months after meeting on Twitter in 2013. It seemed like true millennial serendipity, but judging by Rivera's memoir, nothing about this couple was meant to be. In fact, it doesn't seem like they got along at all. According to Vulture, Rivera even called the rapper "an incredibly selfish person."

Per excerpts published in Vulture and E! News, Sean basically started avoiding Rivera as soon as they got engaged. At one point, they had been "fighting for five days straight" while he was traveling. The rapper had just one day in Los Angeles and "didn't want to see" his fianceé. She decided to show up anyway, letting herself in with the key only to find Ariana Grande "sitting cross-legged on the couch listening to music."

"I was starting to see that the realities of a relationship just weren't sexy to a rapper who wanted to have his cake and not just eat it too but spread frosting all over the place. (Too much? Sorry not sorry!)," she wrote, alluding to Sean's alleged infidelity. Needless to say, the couple didn't work out.

Naya Rivera's romance with Big Sean wasn't exactly a fairytale

Naya Rivera already had to deal with the Ariana Grande cheating rumors, but that's not explicitly what did her relationship in. Rather, she was completely blindsided by the end of her engagement to rapper Big Sean. 

In her memoir (via Us Weekly), Rivera admitted that the relationship completely devolved over a Rolex. Big Sean had apparently leant her his watch on their third date, but later allegedly took it back "without warning." Against her better judgement, Rivera blasted him on Twitter, publicly accusing the rapper of stealing the Rolex because she made more money on Glee. "Such a tweet did not go unnoticed — even when I realized what I had done and deleted it as fast as I could," she wrote. "That tweet shall henceforth be known as 'The One Time I Showed My A** on Twitter.'"

Sure, the tweet was ill-advised, but the way Big Sean called off the wedding was immeasurably worse. The star ended things through a statement that was released by his publicist. "So I learned that I was no longer getting married from THE INTERNET, and at the same time as the rest of the world," Rivera wrote, adding, "Not only were we no longer getting married, but apparently we weren't even together anymore."

Naya Rivera's domestic battery arrest

Naya Rivera tied the knot with Ryan Dorsey just three months after Big Sean called off their engagement, according to ABC News. But this blissful, whirlwind reunion only stayed blissful for so long. Though the couple kept the details of their various breakups and makeups rather private (at least until Sorry Not Sorry blew the lid off Rivera's personal life), it's hard to keep things under wraps when the police are involved.

In 2017, Rivera was arrested in West Virginia and "charged with domestic battery after an alleged altercation" with Dorsey, according to People. The fight was reportedly ignited when the actress let go of their 2-year-old son's stroller (with him in it), which then rolled downhill "approximately five feet" before Dorsey grabbed it. Dorsey ended up reportedly calling 911 because Rivera was "out of control" and "getting physical." Though the Ray Donovan actor reported minor injuries, he claimed the Glee star "struck him in the head and face." Dorsey, who claimed Rivera was acting strange because she'd been drinking, filmed the alleged incident, but he didn't want to press charges. 

"This is a difficult time for everyone in the family especially for Naya and I," Dorsey tweeted (via People). "This isn't some reality show, this is our life." According to TMZ, Rivera filed for divorce a week and change after the incident. The charges were dismissed a couple of months later.

Naya Rivera was (briefly) fired from Glee

Glee was Naya Rivera's biggest role to date, but she almost got fired while filming Season 5 after airing her frustrations to a producer. In her memoir (via Vulture), the actress revealed that it all went down when they were filming "Old Dogs, New Tricks," the second to last episode of the season. On that particular day, an unnamed cast member had a full-on meltdown about the animals on set and "locked herself in her trailer, and refused to come out." Yes, that apparently really happens in Hollywood! It's not just a made up cliche. The incident ended up halting production, and Rivera was fed up. She ultimately snapped at a producer, telling him, "If you would kindly get up and handle something — anything — that would be awesome."

The producer — who was clearly frustrated as well — didn't take too kindly to Rivera's suggestions. After all, he's the one who's meant to be calling the shots. "He lost it, and started screaming at me in front of the crew. 'I've been running this show for six years,' he yelled," Rivera wrote, adding, "Without raising my voice, I responded, 'Yes. Poorly.' Oooh, girl, wrong thing to say, cause after that, Nay Nay didn't get asked back to work."

It took a summer for the situation to cool down, and Rivera was eventually welcomed back, but let's be clear: the star was unequivocally fired for a hot minute.

Naya Rivera died while boating with her son on a California lake

Weeks after Naya Rivera graced headlines yet again for her feud with Lea Michele, the Glee star disappeared while out boating on Lake Piru with her 4-year-old son, Josey Hollis Dorsey. Her last tweet, posted the day prior, showed the pair snuggling up, and featured the caption: "Just the two of us."

According to Us Weekly, Rivera rented out the boat for three hours on Wednesday, July 8, 2020 — but she never returned it. When it was 30 minutes overdue, a staff member went out to look for her. They found the boat with Rivera's son sleeping alone inside. This kicked off a "large-scale search and rescue operation" that, according to The Los Angeles Times, included two helicopters, six pontoon boats, and 25 divers. TMZ reports that Josey told authorities his mother "jumped in the water... but didn't come back up." Per The Los Angeles Times, the lake — which can reach depths of 160 feet depending on the season — is notoriously hazardous because of strong currents, "deep columns of chilly water," and gusts of wind that can rock small boats enough to knock unsteady passengers into the water. The water had just five to nine inches of visibility where Rivera went missing.

The expansive search efforts ended when Rivera's body was recovered on the morning of July 13, 2020, according to TMZ, who broke the story ahead of police. She was 33 years old.