On Tuesday, one day after Naya Rivera’s body was recovered from Lake Piru in Ventura County, California, the creators of Glee announced a plan to establish a college fund for the late actress’s 4-year-old son, Josey Hollis Dorsey.
Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan—the trio behind the hit musical comedy-drama—published a joint statement via 20th Century Fox expressing their grief over the 33-year-old former child actor’s death, which was declared an accidental drowning. They also shared news of the college fund for Josey, who they referred to as “the beautiful son Naya loved most of all.”
“We are heartbroken over the loss of our friend Naya Rivera,” the statement begins.
The men described how Rivera’s raw talent and fervor to represent her fictional queer relationship with love and nuance gave way to the late actress’s beloved role of Santana Lopez, which she played for six seasons during the show’s 2009-2015 run.
“Naya wasn’t a series regular when we cast her on Glee,” they wrote. “She didn’t have more than a few lines in the pilot. But it didn’t take more than an episode or two for us to realize that we had lucked into finding one of the most talented, special stars we would ever have the pleasure of working with.”
The creators praised Rivera’s singing, dancing, acting and comedic talents, noting she was “a joy to write for, a joy to direct and a joy to be around.”
For viewers, particularly queer youth, watching Rivera play an openly lesbian cheerleader was affirming, and the actress didn’t take the portrayal lightly. In fact, it was partly due to her own appeals that Lopez became one of the first proud and complex Latina teen queer characters on network TV.
“Naya always made sure that Santana’s love for Brittany was expressed with dignity, strength and with pure intentions. Naya was always moved by the girls who reached out to her to tell her how much Santana and Brittany’s love affected them,” they continued. “Naya’s obligation to them—and to all of her fans—was obvious. She had [a] rare combination of humility and endless confidence in her talent.”
Rivera, who was of Puerto Rican and African American descent, started her acting career at the age of four, appearing in The Royal Family, Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Smart Guy and more, before landing her star-making role on Glee at age 22.
“Naya was more than just an actor on our show—she was our friend,” the three shared. “Our hearts go out to her family, especially her mom, Yolanda, who was a big part of the Glee family and her son Josey.”