Chita Rivera, Tony Award-winning actress and singer, dies at 91



CNN

Chita Rivera, an iconic actor on stage and screen whose credits included “Chicago,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Sweet Charity,” has died. She is 91 years old.

Rivera's longtime publicist Merle Frimark confirmed the news to CNN on Tuesday, saying Rivera died “peacefully” on Tuesday “after a brief illness in New York.”

Recipient of a record 10 Tony Award nominations, and winner of two for “The Ring” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Rivera's unparalleled Broadway career spans the decades since “West Side Story” and starring as Anita opposite Dick Van Dyke. “Bye Bye Birdie” to signature Bob Fosse hits like “Chicago” and “All That Jazz.”

Although he maintained a hectic stage schedule, Rivera also appeared in several films and television shows, including “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago” and “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

His most recent screen credit was in Netflix's 2021.Tick, tick… BOOM!” in which he appeared in a line-up among other stage musical celebrities.

AP

Chita Rivera, the original cast member of the Broadway musical “West Side Story,” is shown in this 1957 file photo.

Born in Washington, DC in 1933, Rivera began training as a ballerina at the age of 9 before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from legendary choreographer George Balanchine.

Rivera, whose father was Puerto Rican, soon became one of Broadway's most notable triple threats (actor-singer-dancer), paving the way for Latino artists to follow. She created the timeless Anita's character In the original Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” in 1957.

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“Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Ring” and “Kiss of the Spider-Woman” and “Guys and Dolls” and “Mr. Fantastic.”

Rivera's honors include the Kennedy Center Honorary in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to him by President Barack Obama in 2009. He was also awarded the 2018 Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater.

Rivera also wrote a book, “Chita: A Memoir,” which was published last year.

In a statement, “Tick, tick… boom!” Director Lin-Manuel Miranda called Rivera “Puerto Rico's trailblazer on Broadway.” He recounted how Rivera was initially unavailable for the scene, but he left a chair unoccupied for him. During the reshoots of the film, Rivera was able to sit in the chair that Miranda had reserved for her, her dream. That day, she “held court all day,” he said.

“It's one of the all-time joys of my life. She's amazing,” he added. “She's amazing and not ready for the past.”

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

Chita Rivera at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in New York.

Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Anita in the 1961 film adaptation of “West Side Story,” called Rivera “timeless” and “the essence of Broadway” in a statement to CNN.

Moreno, who is of Puerto Rican descent, added, “When I found out that this miraculous creature was one of my people, I shouted with pride. “Over the years, we sometimes misunderstood each other, and I always saw it as a sign of respect … As I write this, I also remember this remarkable woman. I raise a glass to my friend. Chitta, Amiga, Salut!”

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Catherine Zeta-Jones, who also won an Oscar for playing Rivera on Broadway — in this case, Velma Kelly in the film adaptation of “Chicago” — noted Rivera's “incredible impact.” In his life, and paid tribute to his “Queen”.

“Since dreaming of meeting you and connecting deeply with you playing the one and only Velma Kelly in Chicago,” Zeta-Jones posted. Instagram“There will be no one as chitta like you.”

Ariana DeBose He won an Academy Award Rivera has been called “a powerhouse” — for her role as Anita in Steven Spielberg's 2021 remake of “West Side Story.” Instagram Tribute on Tuesday.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

US President Barack Obama presents the Medal of Freedom to Chita Rivera during a ceremony at the White House on August 12, 2009 in Washington, DC.

“She really made me nervous. To be in her presence was to witness greatness,” DeBose added. “I always felt that she had high expectations, but nothing greater than what she held for herself…I was heartbroken and yet inspired because she showed so many of us what was possible. ”

Stephanie Pope, a Broadway actress and friend of Rivera's, told CNN on Tuesday that the late star “will always be a legend … she achieved a great standard that we all aspire to but never quite match.”

“I cherish the time I spent with her on and off the stage,” Pope added. “The theater community and the world have lost a true star.”

Freemark included a statement from Rivera's daughter Lisa Mordente, who noted that the star's funeral will be private and that she is survived by her daughter and siblings Julio, Armando and Lola del Rivero, “along with her many nieces, nephews and friends.”

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CNN's Brian Lowry and Dan Heching contributed to this report.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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