Demi Lovato and the cast of Glee honor the late Naya Rivera at 2021 GLAAD Awards

Image of Naya Rivera at a press event.
This star-studded tribute recognized the 10-year anniversary of Santana’s coming out in Glee. Pic credit: © Thompson/AdMedia

The 32nd Annual GLAAD Media Awards honored the late Glee actor Naya Rivera with a tearjerker video featuring the cast of Glee. Rivera played the beloved character Santana Lopez, who was groundbreaking in LGBT representation and diversity on broadcast television. 

Rivera tragically passed away in July 2020 due to a boating incident at Lake Piru in Ventura, California. It was thought that she had died saving her son while the two were out of the boat, swimming. In a press statement, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said, “She mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself.” 

On April 8, GLAAD uploaded a video to their YouTube channel, honoring Rivera’s life and her Glee character. This star-studded tribute recognized the 10th anniversary of Santana coming out as a lesbian on the television show. Glee is a two-time GLAAD Media Award-winning series, and Rivera had previously hosted the award show twice. 

Honoring Naya Rivera

The tribute opens up with an introduction by singer and actor Demi Lovato. Lovato played the character Dani, in the fifth season of Glee. Dani was Santana’s girlfriend and coworker. The two duetted on the song, Here Comes the Sun, originally by the Beatles. 

In Lovato’s introduction, she shares that she was close friends with Rivera. She expresses, “I don’t have to tell you that this year was a tough, tough year. A particular moment of heartbreak stands out for me, losing my friend Naya Rivera.” 

Other featured cast members in the tribute, as listed in the description of the YouTube video, are actors Jacob Artist, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Jessalyn Gilsig, Dot-Marie Jones, Vanessa Lengies, Jane Lynch, Kevin McHale, Heather Morris, Matthew Morrison, Alex Newell, Lauren Potter, Amber Riley, Harry Shum Jr., Becca Tobin, and Jenna Ushkowitz.

Throughout the video, words of reflection on Rivera’s impact were expressed by the cast members in a choppy, edited 5-minute clip. Supporting Glee actor Lauren Potter, who played cheerleader Becky Jackson in Glee, spoke about her dear friend. She said, “I was always in awe of how talented she was.” 

The two shared many moments on screen as they were both a part of the “Cheerios” cheerleading team and oftentimes, worked as minions for Jane Lynch’s Sue Sylvester. 

The Glee cast members took time to honor Rivera’s talent and friendliness on set — Alex Newell (Unique Newton) praised her musical talents, saying that Rivera had made her Season 4 performance of Nutbush City Limit her own. Newell shared, “I was just floored about the power and prowess that she had.”

They also spoke about her character Santana and the enormous impact her representation brought to the small screen. Her character was a standout on broadcast television, presenting as both a strong Latina woman and a proud lesbian. Glee’s Darren Criss (Blaine Anderson) shared, “We are so very proud to be part of that trajectory, and we are very proud to honor our incredible friend, Naya Rivera, tonight.”

Rivera’s life as a mother 

The tribute took a turn when the cast members began reflecting on Rivera’s experience as a mother. Matthew Morrison, who played Glee Club director Will Schuester, told fans that while he and Rivera were close on set, they grew closer after she had a child.

As expressed by co-star Jenna Ushkowitz (Tina Cohen-Chang), “Her [Rivera] best role was her being a mom, that was most fulfilling to see her do that.” Other cast members pitched in and told their own accounts on the pride Rivera took in being a mother and the love she held for her son, Josey

To end the tribute, actor Jessalyn Gilsig (Terri Schuester) read a message from Rivera’s mother, Yolanda Previtire. In her message, Previtire writes, “I am grateful that my eldest daughter helped to change the landscape of how we view and see others. Thank you GLAAD for keeping my daughter’s legacy alive.”

The American television comedy Glee has a total of six seasons, all of which are available to stream on Netflix.

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