Chita Rivera, an iconic stage and screen performer best known for films such as “Chicago,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and “Sweet Charity,” has died. She was 91 years old.
Merle Freemark, Rivera's longtime publicist, confirmed the news to CNN on Tuesday, saying that Rivera died “peacefully” on Tuesday “in New York after a brief illness.”
The recipient of 10 Tony Award nominations, and winning two for “The Rink” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Rivera's unparalleled Broadway career spanned decades, from playing Anita in “West Side Story” and opposite Dick Van Dyke in “Bye Bye Birdie” to sign Bob Fosse musicals like “Chicago” and “All That Jazz.”
Although she has maintained an impressive theatrical schedule, she has appeared in a number of films and TV shows as well, including screen adaptations of “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago” as well as “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Her most recent screen credit was in the 2021 Netflix film “Tick, tick…BOOM!” in which she appeared in a sequence among other theatrical musical stars.
In this 1957 archive photo, Chita Rivera, an original cast member in the Broadway musical production of “West Side Story.”
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1933, Rivera began training as a ballet dancer at the age of nine before earning a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from legendary choreographer George Balanchine, Freemark's obituary detailed.
Rivera, whose father was Puerto Rican, quickly became one of Broadway's most prominent triple threats (actor, singer, and dancer), paving the way for Latino artists to follow in his footsteps. I grew up immortal Anita's role In the Broadway premiere of West Side Story in 1957.
Highlights of her theatrical career include starring roles in “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Rink” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” alongside the original Broadway cast of “Guys and Dolls” and “Mr. Wonderful.”
Rivera's honors included being a recipient of the Kennedy Center Award in 2002 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom presented to her by President Barack Obama in 2009. She also received a 2018 Special Tony Award for lifetime achievement in theater.
Rivera also wrote a book called “Chita: A Memoir,” which was published last year.
In a statement, Lin-Manuel Miranda, the director of the play “Tick, Tick… Boom!”, called Rivera “a Puerto Rican pioneer on Broadway.” He recounted how Rivera was initially unavailable for the scene in which he hoped she would appear, but he left a seat open for her, determined to make it happen. His dream came true during reshoots of the film, when Rivera was finally able to sit in the chair Miranda had assigned to her. That day, he said, she “held court all day.”
“It remains one of the absolute joys of my life,” he added. “She’s been wonderful,” he added. “She’s wonderful, and she’s not ready for the past tense yet.”
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 in the 1961 film adaptation of “West Side Story,” said in a statement to CNN that Rivera was “eternal” and “the quintessence of Broadway.”
“When I discovered that this amazing creature was one of my people, I screamed with pride,” added Moreno, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “Over the years, we have sometimes misjudged each other, which I have always considered a badge of honor… As I write this, I raise a glass to this amazing woman and friend. Chita, my friend, Salud!”
Catherine Zeta-Jones, who also won an Oscar for her role in a film Rivera created on Broadway — in this case, for the role of Velma Kelly in the film adaptation of “Chicago” — noted the “incredible impact” Rivera had on her life, and praised her “queen.”
Zeta-Jones posted on her page on the social networking site “Twitter”: “From dreaming of being yourself as a little girl, then meeting you and then connecting with you on a profound level by playing the role of the only Velma Kelly in Chicago.” Instagram“There will never be anyone like you, Chita.”
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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.
“In fact, she made me nervous. To be in her presence was to see greatness,” DeBose added. “I always felt like she had high expectations, but nothing was greater than the expectations she held herself to… I feel so sad and yet she has always inspired me.” Because it showed so many of us what is possible.”
Stephanie Pope, a Broadway actress and Rivera's friend, told CNN on Tuesday that the late star “is and always will be a legend… She achieved a level of excellence that we all aspire to but will never reach.”
“I cherish the time I spent with her on and off stage,” Bob added. “The theater community and the world have lost a true star.”
Freemark included a statement from Lisa Mordente, Rivera's daughter, stating that the star's funeral would be private and that she was survived by her daughter and siblings Julio, Armando and Lola del Rivero “along with her many nieces, nephews and friends.”
CNN's Brian Lowry and Dan Hitching contributed to this report.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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