One of Broadway theatre’s true legends has passed away: Chita Rivera, a three-time Tony winner who originated roles in classics like West Side Story, Bye Bye Birdie and Chicago, has died at 91.
The news was confirmed by her daughter Lisa Mordente, who said that Rivera “died peacefully,” according to Deadline.
Rivera was born in Washington DC on January 23, 1933, the third of five children. She was trained in ballet dancing from a young age and soon found success as a dancer on the Broadway stage, in the original productions of Guys & Dolls, Can-Can and Mr. Wonderful.
Rivera had her breakthrough role in the original 1957 production of the now-classic musical West Side Story. She originated the role of Anita, the fiery Puerto Rican immigrant who performs the classic song “America.”
West Side Story helped establish Rivera as one of Broadway’s biggest stars, an electrifying dancer and singer and a pioneer in Latina representation on Broadway.
She also starred in the original productions of two other classic musicals, originating the roles of Rose in Bye Bye Birdie in 1960 and Velma Kelly in Chicago in 1975, receiving Tony Award nominations for both performances.
Though a 1986 car accident shattered her left leg requiring two surgeries, Rivera remained determined to dance again and returned to the Broadway stage 7 years later.
“You’ll never see me in ballet slippers again because I don’t have my Achilles’ tendon. I can’t do the full stretch,” she told the New York Times in 1993. “But I don’t have any pain anymore. The only problem is that my leg sets off metal detectors at airports.”
Rivera won two Tony Awards for Best Leading Actress in a Musical, for the 1984 musical The Rink and for her Broadway comeback in 1993’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, both scored by her frequent collaborators Kander & Ebb. She won a third Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.
A staple of the Broadway stage across six decades, Rivera’s later roles included Nine, the autobiographical revue Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and her final musical The Visit, which earned her another Tony Award nomination in 2015.
Though her career was mainly on the stage, Rivera co-starred in the 1969 film version of Sweet Charity, and had cameos in Chicago and Tick, Tick… Boom! On TV, she appeared on programs like The Judy Garland Show, The Carol Burnett Show and Will & Grace.
She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, the US’ highest civilian honor.
Rest in peace to the incredible Chita Rivera, a true Broadway legend ❤️