Broadway legend Chita Rivera, star of West Side Story and Chicago, dies aged 91

Broadway legend Chita Rivera, star of West Side Story and Chicago, dies aged 91

Broadway legend and two-time Tony winner Chita Rivera, best known for originating the role of Anita in the 1957 stage production of West Side Story, has died. She was 91.

Rivera passed away following a brief illness, her publicist announced on Tuesday (30 March) morning.

The triple threat (singer, dancer, actor) was also known for her starring role as Velma Kelly in the first Broadway production of Chicago in 1975. She later appeared as Nickie in the 2002 movie adaptation of the musical, led by Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renée Zellweger.

“A life well lived. An Icon. A friend. Well done Chita Rivera,” Oscar-nominated actor Colman Domingo wrote on X, following the news of Rivera’s death.

“This extraordinary woman, the incomparable. Chita Rivera was one of the greatest spirits and colleagues I’ve ever known,” Seinfeld star Jason Alexander wrote. “She set the bar in every way. I will cherish her always. Dance in heaven, my friend.”

Born in 1933 in Washington DC, Rivera was 15 when she was handpicked by a teacher from the School of American Ballet to audition for a spot and scholarship.

Following early roles in several Broadway productions, including Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, and Seventh Heaven, she landed the role of Anita in the original Broadway production of West Side Story. Her performance would go on to make her a Broadway star.

Rivera went on to earn a total of nine Tony nominations throughout her career, landing her first nomination in 1960 for her portrayal of Rose opposite Dick Van Dyke in Bye Bye Birdie. She later won Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical in 1983 for her role in The Rink and in 1993 for Kiss of the Spider Woman.

In 2002, she became the first Latinx American to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. Former US President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. And in 2018, she was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Tony Award.

While Rivera was primarily a stage actor, she occasionally appeared in film and television, including an episode of Will and Grace.

She is survived by her daughter, singer-dancer-choreographer Lisa Mordente, from her marriage to West Side Story co-star Tony Mordente; her siblings Julio, Armando and Lola del Rivero; along with several nieces and nephews.