Fans of Naya Rivera will get to see the late star in her final acting role on June 22 when DC Comics unveils Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One, in which Rivera voices the iconic Catwoman. Leading up to the film’s release — almost a year after her tragic death in July 2020 — her family members and famous friends have been speaking out about her talent, legacy, and pure love for her son Josey. The tributes have been pouring in the past 12 months.
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“We can’t say the word happy but we’ll say thank you for being a mother & giving me this sweet amazing boy,” said Ryan Dorsey, her ex-husband and the father of their son Josey, in an Instagram tribute on the first Mother’s Day after Rivera’s death. The caption accompanied a photo of Naya and Josey sharing a milkshake.
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In June 2021, Rivera’s father George spoke out about his daughter’s death for the first time in an interview with Entertainment Tonight and explained how motherhood changed her for the better. “He really became everything for her,” he said. “Her focus was really on him and he was growing up as she was becoming a mother, she really leaned into that. She became very mature as a person and really receptive to other people's feelings.”
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Tahj Mowry — Rivera’s Smart Guy co-star and ex — called Rivera his “first celebrity crush” in a June 17, 2021, interview with Glamour, explaining that he had yet to experience another love like hers. “I think subconsciously it’s why I never really date like that because no one really ever ... I know someday someone might, but it’s hard to measure up to the type of girl and woman she was,” he said.
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“With the exception of our show [Glee], there were almost no LGBTQ teens on television at the time. Especially young, Latina, LGBTQ women, and as an ally, Naya was so honored to represent them,” the cast of Glee said virtually to pay tribute to Rivera and the legacy of her groundbreaking lesbian character, Santana Lopez, at the 2021 GLAAD Awards. The tribute took place in April 2021, which marked the 10th anniversary of Santana coming out.
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“The character Naya played was groundbreaking for closeted queer girls, like I was at the time, and her ambition and accomplishments inspired Latina women all over the world,” said Demi Lovato, who played Santana’s girlfriend Dani on Glee’s Season 5, while introducing the cast’s GLAAD Awards tribute.
“Getting to sing in this trio with her was such a special moment,” said Gwyneth Paltrow, who performed beside Rivera several times as substitute teacher Holly Holliday on Glee, on the day of her death. “I am in utter shock and disbelief that someone so full of life and passion and talent is no longer with us.” Paltrow posted her tribute on Instagram with a video of them performing “Landslide” alongside Rivera’s onscreen girlfriend Heather Morris.
Shortly after Rivera’s death, Kristin Chenoweth, who guest-starred on Glee as April Rhodes several times through the show’s run, paid tribute to Rivera in an emotional Instagram video. “I had the honor of meeting all my babies, those kids who still make me proud,” she said, holding back tears. “I want them to know I still love them and I’m proud of them. And with Naya gone, I know how that hurts them. She was such a sweet, sweet child.”