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


Chita Rivera, an iconic actor on stage and screen with credits including “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.”

Netflix's 2021 movie “Tick, Tick… ​​Boom!” His most recent screen credit was in film. In it he appeared alongside other stage musical celebrities.

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 originated the timeless role of Anita in the original Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” in 1957.

“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.

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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.”

Chita Rivera arrives at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on Sunday, June 10, 2018, in New York.  Rivera, a Tony Award-winning dancer, singer and actress, has died at the age of 91.  Rivera's death was announced by her daughter Lisa Mordente, who said she died in New York after a short illness.

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 learned 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, this I raise a glass to a remarkable woman and friend. Chitta, Amiga, Salut!”

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 can never be a chitta like you.”

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Ariana DeBose – who also won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Anita in Steven Spielberg's 2021 remake of “West Side Story” – called Rivera “a force.” Instagram Tribute on Tuesday.

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.  The Medal of Freedom is America's highest civilian award.

“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.”

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

This story has been updated with additional information.

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