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Famous Shows You Didn't Realize Naya Rivera Was In

Turmoil has visited upon the Glee family once again, as CNN reported on Thursday, July 9, 2020 that the Ventura County Sheriff's believe actress and singer Naya Rivera may have drowned after renting a boat and reportedly taking a swim with her young son in an isolated area of California's Lake Piru. 

Rivera was best known for her long-running role on Fox's smash hit musical dramedy Glee. Over the series award-winning, six-season run on the network, Rivera appeared on all 121 episodes as the quick-witted Santana Lopez, initially one of the mean-girl-centric cheer squad Cheerios who tormented pretty much any and everyone who got in their way. Things got more interesting for Rivera's Santana on later seasons, with the character eventually learning to accept her own sexuality — not to mention her deep-rooted romantic feelings for Cheerio bestie Brittany (Heather Morris). 

Every facet of Rivera's show-stopping talent was on display in her Glee run, proving herself less a star-in-the-making than a fully-formed, incredibly dexterous performer ready to step directly into the spotlight. Her scene-stealing work on Glee served as a big, bold step in that direction for the actress, but her rise to stardom was hardly a surprise for folks who'd already been following Rivera's career long before she belted out her first tune on Glee

In fact, Rivera's career began when she was just five years old. Through the years, she's left her mark on more series than you likely remember. Here are a few famous shows you didn't realize or remember Naya Rivera was in.  

Naya Rivera shared a brief moment with Kaley Cuoco on 8 Simple Rules

Though she frequently stood out amongst the cast of Glee in the best of ways, not all of Naya Rivera's pre-Glee roles gave her a chance to step into the spotlight. That's especially true of the actress' blink-and-you-miss-it appearance on the family-friendly ABC sitcom 8 Simple Rules.

That show hit the airwaves in 2002 (under the original name 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter), and found the late John Ritter portraying a dad struggling with his daughters' emergence into womanhood. Those daughters were played by rising stars Amy Davidson and future The Big Bang Theory breakout Kaley Cuoco. Simple Rules earned decent reviews and built solid viewership over its first two seasons, but struggled mightily to steady itself with season 3, which came after the unexpected passing of Ritter shook up both the scope and tone of the series.

If you did stick around for the third season of 8 Simple Rules, you have spotted Rivera on the season's sixth episode. Titled "Halloween," the episode found Cuoco's character, Bridget, in charge of putting together her school's annual Halloween dance. Rivera played one of Bridget's classmates, tasked with hanging decorations for the event. As mentioned, Rivera doesn't get much in the way of screen time on her 8 Simple Rules episode, but she still makes the most of her moment opposite Kaley Cuoco

On Even Stevens, Naya Rivera exacted revenge on Shia LaBeouf

Speaking of making the most of a moment, that's exactly what Naya Rivera did on another of her brief appearances ahead of her Glee breakthrough. This one happened to come on a beloved Disney Channel series, opposite another soon-to-be major star.

The show in question is Disney Channel's Even Stevens, which aired between 2000 and 2003 on the extended cable channel and followed a high school class clown and his brainier sister in a collection of fully Disney-fied, family-friendly adventures. Of course, the breakout star of Even Stevens was future Transformers franchise lead and general enigma Shia LaBeouf, who's not-so-quietly become one of the more intriguing presences in Hollywood of late. 

Rivera appeared on the third and final season of Even Stevens, on an episode that saw the Stevens kids' school hosting visiting students, one of whom is a prankster and look-alike for LaBeouf's Louis. Rivera turned up as one of the victims of said look-alike's pranks. However, because Louis and the visiting student prankster look so similar, Rivera's character mercilessly and hilariously takes her frustrations out on Louis instead of the real assailant.

Naya Rivera only had eyes for Richie Winslow on Family Matters

As mentioned, Naya Rivera has been in the acting game since the early days of her life. At the dawn of the 1990s, Rivera turned up on some of the most popular shows on television — including the TGIF staple Family Matters, most famous for bringing the nerd-centric character of Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) to the forefront of the pop culture zeitgeist. It's easy to forget that the famously suspender-ed Urkel (with his grating catchphrase "Did I do that?") wasn't actually the focus of Family Matters at the start. He was, at least originally, a supporting player amid the on-going travails of the Winslow family, headed by Reginald VelJohnson's lovingly affable pappa Carl.

By the time Rivera made her way to Family Matters on the show's fourth season, it had already begun putting Urkel front and center. It was also filling the Winslows' orbit with other supporting characters — like little Richie Crawford (Bryton James), son to Rachel Crawford (Telma Hopkins), the sister of Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Payton). 

On Family Matters, Richie filled the role of "precocious kid," which was an essential element of many of the TGIF offerings (see also Full HouseStep by Step, and more). For a three-episode arc on season 4, Richie was frequently tormented by the unbridled affection of his neighbor Gwendolyn — who was played with equally precocious sweetness by, you guessed it, Naya Rivera. 

On The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Naya Rivera was the baby sister Hilary only dreamed of

Naya Rivera's stint on Family Matters was likely a very big deal for the then-kiddo, but she was probably even more excited about the role she'd landed right before her Family Matters break: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, fronted by the one and only Will Smith, who managed to spin his "Parents Just Don't Understand" hip-hop schtick into a burgeoning multi-media empire with the NBC sitcom.

Fresh Prince followed Smith's titular Philly bad-boy wannabe (also named Will Smith) after he's sent to California to start anew in the haughty home of is wealthy aunt and uncle. Over the series' up-and-down six seasons, all manner of cross-cultural hijinks naturally ensued — with Smith's character affecting and being affected by his extended family's lifestyle.

A season 3 arc found Will's Uncle Phil (James Avery) and Aunt Viv (Daphne Reid) unexpectedly bringing a new addition into the Banks household. The episode prior to that momentous occasion saw Will and the rest of the Banks kids fantasizing about what their lives would be like with the new addition around. One of the more memorable fantasies came via the self-centered Hilary (Karyn Parsons), who envisioned her new kid sister as little more than a task-master willing to bring her drinks, feed her ego, and polish her shoes.

She's almost unrecognizable from her grown-up self (and sadly shares no screen time with Smith), but the little one portraying Hilary's attendant sister is indeed Naya Rivera, who's charming work in the one-off appearance certainly alluded to the star's burgeoning screen presence.