The Truth About Naya Rivera's First TV Role

Naya Rivera is best known for her role as Santana Lopez on Glee. But long before she strutted around the halls of William McKinley High School for the Performing Arts, the 33-year-old appeared in a show called The Royal Family back in 1991 (via IMDb). A then 5-year-old Rivera played Hillary Winston, the granddaughter of Atlanta-based Al and Victoria Royal, played by Redd Foxx and Della Reese, respectively, whose retirement is cut short when their daughter moves back home with her three kids.

Rivera clearly had been bitten by the acting bug at a young age. A clip on YouTube shows the adorable little girl singing and dancing with aplomb in a scene from the short-lived CBS comedy, which only ran until 1992. The short lifespan of the show could have had something to do with the fact that Foxx died of a heart attack on set just seven episodes in. Without his anchoring role, the series faltered and was ultimately canceled.

A former cast member calls for prayers for Rivera

After Foxx passed away, actress Jackée Harry joined the cast of The Royal Family, playing Ruth, the eldest daughter of the Royals. Best known for her role on Sister, Sister, Harry shared a heartfelt message on Twitter in light of the shocking news that Rivera had disappeared while boating with her 4-year-old son Josey Dorsey. "Prayers up for the lovely Naya Rivera. We starred alongside one another in her first very television series, The Royal Family, and I've watched her career blossom ever since. Please God, don't cut this life short."

Harry also shared a clip of Rivera's sweet and sassy performance as a very young actress on the show. After The Royal Family ended, the star would go on to appear on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, The Sinbad Show, Baywatch, The Bernie Mac Show, and of course, Glee

Unfortunately, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department has since confirmed that the body of Rivera has been recovered, as reported by People on July 13. "We are confident the body we found is that of Naya Rivera," Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said at a news conference. "It has been an extremely difficult time for her family throughout this ordeal ... our hearts are with them and we share in their grief for Naya's loss."