Legendary Broadway Star Of ‘West Side Story’ Chita Rivera Dies At 91

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Rest in peace, Chita RiveraRest in peace, Chita Rivera

  • Chita Rivera died on January 30 at the age of 91 following a brief illness.
  • Rivera was a celebrated Broadway legend known for her performances in ‘West Side Story,’ ‘Chicago’ and ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman.’
  • She was a trailblazer in musical theatre and among the Latino community, winning a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement, as well as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Kennedy Center Honor.

 

On Tuesday, January 30, Chita Rivera died. The actress was 91 years old. News of her passing comes from her daughter, Lisa Mordente, who said that Rivera died peacefully following a brief illness. She is survived by her daughter Lisa, as well as her siblings, Julio, Armando, and Lola del Rivero.

After a 1950 Broadway debut as a dancer in Guys and Dolls, Rivera went on to originate key roles such as Anita in West Side Story, Velma Kelly in Chicago, and the titular lead in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Rivera accumulated ten Tony Award nominations to her name and has two Tony Awards, two Drama Desk Awards, and a Drama League Award.

The passing of Chita Rivera

Chita Rivera as Anita in WEST SIDE STORY on Broadway, 9/26/57 / Everett Collection

Rivera’s publicist Merle Frimark further confirmed news of her death on Tuesday and that she had been comfortable in her final hours “in New York after a brief illness.” She is remembered both by her family and friends who remain to celebrate both her legacy and the shared past they enjoyed together, honoring Rivera both as an accomplished actor and a friend.

“I cherish the time I spent with her both on stage and off,” said Stephanie Pope, a Broadway actress and friend of Rivera. She added that Rivera “is and always will be a legend… She achieved a standard of excellence that we all aspired to but will never match.”

The blazing path of a shining star

ZORBA, touring company, 1970ZORBA, touring company, 1970
ZORBA, touring company, 1970 / Everett Collection

The future Broadway legend was born as Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero Anderson on January 23, 1933, in Washington, D.C. She was one of five children to a government clerk mother and a musician father who performed in the United States Navy Band.

Rivera started ballet at the age of nine and later earned a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from none other than choreographer George Balanchine. Rivera quickly proved herself a worthy triple threat, which is to say she had mastery of dancing, acting, and singing. It was she who originated the role of Anita in the timeless tale of West Side Story. She was also in the original Broadway cast of Guys and Dolls and Mr. Wonderful.

Rivera stayed active in the limelight all her lifeRivera stayed active in the limelight all her life
Rivera stayed active in the limelight all her life / Walter Weissman/starmaxinc.com

In ’57, Rivera married her fellow West Side Story star Tony Mordente. She had daughter Lisa the following year but Rivera’s involvement in the show that London postponed its production of the musical until after Rivera had given birth.

The couple divorced in ’66 and Rivera did not remarry, instead staying busy with her career and very much in the spotlight until the end. In fact, Rivera was very often a guest narrator at Disney’s Candlelight Processional at Walt Disney World, with her most recent appearances being in the 2021 and 2022 seasons. She can be seen in Netflix’s 2021 movie Tick, Tick… Boom!, appearing alongside other Broadway legends.

Rest in peace, legendary Broadway icon Chita Rivera.

She is survived by numerous beloved family membersShe is survived by numerous beloved family members
She is survived by numerous beloved family members / Kristin Callahan/ACE Pictures infocopyrightacepixs.com

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