"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," Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan said.

By Aurelie Corinthios
Updated July 15, 2020
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Naya Rivera and son Josey
| Credit: CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

The creative forces behind Glee, the hit Fox show that helped launch Naya Rivera's career, paid tribute to the actress in a lengthy statement on Tuesday.

Ryan MurphyBrad Falchuk and Ian Brennan issued the statement via 20th Century Fox TV after Rivera was confirmed dead on Monday. Her body was recovered at Lake Piru, five days after she was reported missing while boating with her 4-year-old son. She was 33.

"We are heartbroken over the loss of our friend Naya Rivera," they began. "Naya wasn't a series regular when we cast her on Glee. 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."

"Naya could act, she could dance, and she could sing (could she ever sing!)," they continued. "She could nail a joke as well as she could crush you with an emotional scene. She could move between being scary tough and deeply vulnerable with ease. She was a joy to write for, a joy to direct and a joy to be around."

Naya Rivera and Kevin McHale in Glee
| Credit: FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

The trio went on to remember Rivera's "iconic Glee musical performances," as well as the "humor and humanity" she brought to her character Santana's relationship with Brittany (Heather Morris).

"It was one of the first times an openly lesbian, high school relationship was seen on network television and Naya understood what 'Brittana' meant to the many young women who were seeing themselves represented on television for the first time," they said. "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. Naya's obligation to them — and to all of her fans — was obvious. She had the rare combination of humility and endless confidence in her talent."

From left: Ian Brennan, Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy
| Credit: David Livingston/Getty

Murphy, Falchuk and Brennan remembered Rivera as a "real pro" who was "always on time" and "always knew her lines," was "tough and demanding" as well as "fun," "kind," and "generous."

"Naya was more than just an actor on our show – she was our friend," they wrote.

The three concluded their note with the announcement that they are creating a college fund for Josey, Rivera's son with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey.

"Our hearts go out to her family, especially her mom, Yolanda, who was a big part of the Glee family and her son Josey," they said. "The three of us are currently in the process of creating a college fund for the beautiful son Naya loved most of all."

Rivera rented a pontoon boat with Josey at the Southern California lake on July 8. When the boat became overdue for return after its three-hour rental, the staff at the lake found it at the north side of the water with the star's sleeping son aboard.

A search-and-rescue operation was immediately undertaken at the lake. On July 9, authorities announced that Rivera was presumed dead as the search shifted from a rescue mission to a recovery one.

Authorities said during Monday's press conference that they believe Rivera died saving Josey.

"We know from speaking with her son, that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point during their journey," said Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub. "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."

"The idea perhaps being that the boat started drifting, it was unanchored, and that she mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself," he continued.

The sheriff added that there was no evidence of foul play or suicide. An autopsy will be performed at the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office.

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