Kevin McHale and Jenna Ushkowitz remember their beloved 'Glee' co-star.
The late Naya Rivera's Glee co-stars have found an incredible way to honor her memory by giving back. ET's Keltie Knight spoke to Jenna Ushkowitz and Kevin McHale about the GoFundMe campaign they helped create to carry on Rivera's Christmas tradition of giving back to charity, and they also talked about still dealing with the tragic loss of their beloved co-star.
Rivera died in July at just 33 years old. The Ventura County Sheriff's Office recovered the actress' body from Lake Piru after she went missing after going on a boat ride with her 4-year-old son, Josey. Ushkowitz said she's still completely devastated at Rivera's tragic death five months ago.
"Yeah, I'm not gonna lie, the last five months....you know, on top of the pandemic is losing a friend...it's like, it's tragic and devastating you know," she said. "It definitely took a toll on us all and, you know, shocked us to our cores. And so it's been hard and not a day goes by that I don't think of her and that we don't think of her."
McHale said the Glee cast has been coping by leaning on one another, and that before her death, he had actually been talking more frequently with Rivera. The Glee cast has gone through multiple tragedies, including the deaths of Cory Monteith and Mark Salling.
"Like Jenna said, we have been through this a couple times," he noted. "Shockingly, that doesn’t make it any easier, especially I think with the type of loss or the tragic unexpectedness of it all and again ... all you want to do in these times because we are so close is just be around one another and hug one another and just cry into Jenna's arms sort of thing. And that has been really difficult, but I mean, luckily we did have this sort of... we all, the beginning of quarantine, did start these Zooms and did get close and we were all talking more than we would normally talk anyway, which is still pretty frequent, and even with Naya. Like, she and I were talking more than we had been talking probably for the year leading up to it and so this closeness was there."
"It's a good group to fall back into that even if we can’t physically be in the same room," he added about the Glee family. "A couple weeks ago, I woke up and just had her on my mind and I texted the group just like... 'Thinking about her today, thinking about you guys. Love you.' And if it's not me, it's Jenna or it's Amber [Riley]. It's somebody else. And we have that to go to and knowing that that group is there, that knows exactly how I feel, is -- I mean it's something you can never expect and something I would never take for granted."
This year, the Glee gang -- including Dianna Agron, Heather Morris, Chord Overstreet, Matthew Morrison and more -- started a GoFundMe page to carry on Rivera's tradition of giving back to charity. Rivera would call her annual Christmas party "Snixxmas," after her nickname Snixx, which McHale and Ushkowitz explained was her sassy alter ego. One charity that was special to Rivera was Alexandria House in Los Angeles, which provides safe and supportive housing for women and children in the process of moving from emergency shelter to economic stability and permanent housing.
"Yeah so Naya actually, at Snixxmas, the party that she threw every year, would kind of turn it into a toy drive," Ushkowitz explained. "And she worked with a bunch of different organizations, she was always very giving in how she could give back to the community. But Alexandria House was something that she had found more recently and kind of flew under the radar with it. She would volunteer her time, she also raised funds for them earlier this year with her son Josey."
The SNIXXMAS Charity Drive in Memory of Naya Rivera has already raised over $81,000, a testament to how much fans adored Rivera.
"I think that everyone loved Naya, he's just such a light but she didn't like, bring a ton of people into her circle," Ushkowitz shared. "I think that's important and so the quality of her friendship, the loyalty, when she had your back, you know she had your back. And so to me it was always knowing she would make us laugh and she had our back. You had like a safety net of Naya behind you and underneath you, and she just meant the world to us."
As for McHale, he said he'll always remember Rivera's distinct laugh and great sense of humor.
"Her cackle, her wit was ...it was all so consistent, like overwhelmingly consistent where she was the quickest, wittiest person," he recalled. "Like, you see her, she's beautiful, she's talented, we know that. But her sense of humor was unparalleled. She is by far the funniest person I have ever met and I said that before, and I'll still say it again, because the way she could just turn out a joke or the inside jokes, like, we created our own language."
"We were talking about this yesterday, like Snixxmas, like what is Snixxmas?" he continued. "But it's a way for us to anchor ourselves in these periods of time because she would create and coin these phrases over and over again and that's what I think about, is how much joy she brought all of us, and I think how much joy she got out of that because she knew she was good; she knew she was funny but she would never tell you."
Ushkowitz told ET that the Glee stars got Rivera's family's blessing for the GoFundMe page and that Rivera's family has also been in touch with Alexandria House. Meanwhile, a source recently told ET how Josey's father, Ryan Dorsey, and her family are making his first Christmas without his mom special. The source said that Rivera's sister, Nickayla, is still living in the same house with Dorsey and raising Josey together, adding that the late actress' entire family is very hands-on in helping with Josey.
"Josey loves Christmas, so they're really going to go all out this year to make it special," the source said.
According to the source, Dorsey always spent Christmas with Josey even after he and Rivera split, so the father and son have "a lot of traditions" which will continue this year, including wearing matching pajamas and watching Christmas films together.
"To be honest, it's going to be really hard for everyone in her family this year, so it'll be nice to have Josey to focus on," the source said.