Beloved Broadway Star Passes Away At 91

Chita Rivera, the legendary Broadway icon, passed away in New York on Tuesday, just one week after celebrating her 91st birthday. Her long and illustrious career spanned over seven decades, leaving an indelible mark on the world of theater and earning her numerous accolades, including a Kennedy Center Honor.

Merle Frimark, a dear friend of Rivera for over 40 years, confirmed her passing and expressed immense personal sorrow at the loss of the beloved star.

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero Anderson, Chita Rivera originated several iconic roles in Broadway musicals that became synonymous with her talent. Notable among these were her portrayal of Anita in “West Side Story,” Velma Kelly in “Chicago,” and the title role in “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” These performances showcased her exceptional singing, dancing, and acting abilities, solidifying her status as one of the best Broadway divas of all time, as recognized by Time Out New York in 2019.

Chita Rivera’s remarkable career earned her an astounding ten Tony Award nominations, with three wins, including one for Lifetime Achievement. Her contributions to the world of theater were further recognized in August 2009 when she became the first Latina and the first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, honoring her outstanding contributions to the arts.

Rivera’s journey in the world of theater began serendipitously in 1951 when she accompanied a friend to an audition for the touring company of “Call Me Madam,” starring Elaine Stritch. To her surprise, Rivera landed the role herself, setting the stage for her illustrious career. She went on to shine in various Broadway productions, including “Guys and Dolls,” “Can-Can,” “Mr. Wonderful” with Sammy Davis Jr., and “Seventh Heaven.” However, it was her casting as Anita in “West Side Story” that elevated her to true Broadway stardom.

In a heartwarming moment at the 74th annual Tony Awards in 2021, Chita Rivera returned to the same stage where “West Side Story” had its opening night. She reminisced, “Tonight, September 26, 1957, on this very stage, I originated the role of Anita in West Side Story,” receiving a standing ovation for her enduring legacy.

Chita Rivera’s influence extended beyond the stage, as she made several appearances on television, including multiple appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and as a guest on “The Judy Garland Show.” She also ventured into film, most notably playing the role of Nickie in the movie version of “Sweet Charity” alongside Shirley MacLaine in 1969.

Her musical talents extended to the recording studio, as legendary music producer Norman Petty approached her to record with him. Rivera released her first single in 1965 on the Dot Records label, followed by another the following year.

In addition to her stage and music career, Chita Rivera was active on social media, boasting 22,000 followers on Facebook. Her final Facebook post on January 9 expressed gratitude to for acknowledging her birthday month.

Remarkably, Chita Rivera continued to grace the stage with her presence, performing as recently as June 23 at Texas’ Eisemann Center, showcasing her enduring passion for the theater.

In 2021, she embarked on a book tour to promote her 320-page autobiography, “Chita: A Memoir,” co-written by Patrick Pacheco and published by HarperOne on April 25. The book offered readers a glimpse into her remarkable life and career, further solidifying her status as a beloved figure in the world of entertainment.

Chita Rivera’s final screen appearance was a cameo in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s critically acclaimed 2021 feature directorial debut, “Tick, Tick… Boom!” where she graced a ‘Sunday’ diner scene.

Chita Rivera is survived by her 65-year-old daughter, Lisa Mordente, from her nine-year marriage to fellow “West Side Story” dancer Tony Mordente, a testament to her enduring legacy both on and off the stage. As the theater world mourns the loss of a true icon, Chita Rivera’s contributions to the performing arts will forever be celebrated and remembered. Her remarkable talent, unforgettable performances, and unwavering dedication to her craft have left an indelible mark on Broadway and the world of entertainment. Chita Rivera’s legacy will continue to inspire generations of theater lovers and performers for years to come.