What Did Naya Rivera’s ‘Glee’ Co-Star Amber Riley Perform as a Tribute on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’?

On Thursday, August 27, 2020, Amber Riley (under her stage name, Riley) performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. She sang in honor of her former Glee co-star, Naya Rivera, who passed away in July. Here’s a look at their friendship and what Riley dedicated to her late friend.

Amber Riley and Naya Rivera starred in ‘Glee’

Amber Riley (L) and Naya Rivera appear at the 'Glee' 300th musical performance special taping on October 26, 2011
Amber Riley (L) and Naya Rivera appear at the ‘Glee’ 300th musical performance special taping on October 26, 2011 | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Riley and Rivera were two of the original stars of Glee. They portrayed Mercedes Jones and Santana Lopez, respectively. Both remained on the series in some capacity throughout its six-season run, each credited in nearly every episode of the 121 that make up the show’s six-season run.

After the series came to an end, Riley competed on Dancing with the Stars, winning Season 17. In the years since, she’s continued to act, performing in live TV productions of The Wiz and The Little Mermaid. Rivera, meanwhile, wrote a tell-all book, Sorry Not Sorry. She also starred in the drama series Step Up.

They remained friends after the series ended

Riley and Rivera were friends on screen and off. Though their careers didn’t cross paths again, they stayed in touch after Glee ended in 2013, frequently interacting on social media. So when Rivera was reported missing in July 2020, Riley was among those who kept fans updated on the search.

“Show some respect,” Riley wrote on Twitter. “All our energy is going toward helping find Naya and praying for her safe return and for her family. No one owes anyone online a performance of grief. This is very real and devastating. Focus on Naya and her family. Not us. We don’t matter right now.”

Riley posted a meaningful tribute to Rivera

View this post on Instagram

Best duets on the show! PERIODT! Couldn’t tell us shxt Honorable mention, Troubletones, @heatherrelizabethh and @littlelengies miss you baby girl and I love you #NayaRivera I’m so mad the world will never see how high you could have soared. Her brain was brilliant. She was smart and as quick as a whip. Always had me in stitches, we would be in tears laughing so hard at one another. – There was never competition, or shade, or intimidation with us. Just pure adoration and mutual respect. You deserved better. You were so much more than just this show. Your talent outshined us all so many times! – Favorite Naya Moment: tour bus to London, Naya greasing her scalp with Doo Gro oil, a plastic cap and a silk bonnet my sister said “oh Naya you blackity black black” we burst out into laughter! We needed it too because we just wanted to get home to our families. We were alike in that way. We love hard, and protect our own, and we don’t take no shit from anyone (Kevin is literally the byproduct of US ) We can either slice you with our words, or bring you comfort with that same breath. Dealer’s choice. I say your name everyday and hold you in my heart, just like I do Cory. – We are working as a cast and crew and a family to come together and show love, and it’s all because of you. Your presence brought so much excitement, so much passion, so much joy, and in your absence you’re STILL holding us accountable and getting us together. I’ve cried until my tear ducts have dried out, now it’s time to celebrate the fact that us mere humans got to experience walking through life with an earth angel. Rest well. I pray you found the peace we all are searching for. – Please keep Naya’s family in your prayers. Please be mindful of the things you say to them or messages you send. If it’s anything beyond condolences and words of encouragement, keep it to yourself. All they need is love and good energy and support right now. We clear? Cool. Thank you

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After a few days, Rivera’s body was found. Riley then shared photos and videos on social media. She followed this up with a lengthy Instagram tribute and slideshow. “Miss you baby girl and I love you,” she wrote. “I’m so mad the world will never see how high you could have soared.”

“There was never competition, or shade, or intimidation with us,” Riley continued. “Just pure adoration and mutual respect.” She added, “I’ve cried until my tear ducts have dried out, now it’s time to celebrate the fact that us mere humans got to experience walking through life with an earth angel. “

Riley’s performance

Ahead of Jimmy Kimmel Live airing, Riley announced her upcoming tribute. Fellow Glee cast members like Chord Overstreet (Sam Evans) and Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams) reached out on social media to tell her they would be watching, as did many fans.

Riley performed an original song in her touching tribute on the show, after she was introduced by guest host Lil Rey Howery. While she sang, photos of Rivera throughout her life appeared on a screen behind her. “I’ve faced every kind of pain,” Riley sang, finishing her performance by looking back at her recently deceased friend.