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Chita Rivera, a Broadway icon known for West Side Story, has died at 91. The New York Times reports that the entertainer was confirmed dead in a statement released by her daughter, Lisa Mordente. Chita passed away after a battle with a brief illness.
Rivera was a prolific singer, dancer, and actress who dominated the Broadway stage for almost seven decades. Her signature roles include portraying Anita in 1957’s West Side Story, Rose in Bye Bye Birdie in 1960, Velma Kelly in Chicago in 1975, and as the Spider Woman in 1993’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. The Washington, D.C. native’s last appearance on Broadway arrived with 2015’s The Visit, where she portrayed the character Claire Zachannassian.
Her acclaimed career yielded 10 Tony Award nominations in her lifetime. Riveria’s 10 noms tied her with Julie Harris — another showtime great — for most nominations for an actress at the award ceremony. She won two of the nominations for 1984’s The Rink and 1993’s Kiss of the Spider Woman.
But Rivera is also remembered for her loving spirit. Patrick Pacheco, co-author of Rivera’s 2023 memoir, Chita, A Memoir, talked about Rivera’s down-to-earth personality. Despite being one of the most influential figures on Broadway, Pacheco explained that Chita always saw all people as deserving.
“You were the only person in the world. She wasn’t looking around to see if there was someone more important,” Pacheco told NY1. “She was going to go through any door that was open, and if it wasn’t open, she was going to open it.”
In 2009, President Barack Obama awarded the entertainer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. During an interview with the Associated Press, Chita opened up about leaving a legacy behind that promotes passion over fame and love over notoriety. She hoped that she would leave something behind that would be a great example “for the future of our children.”
“As I was sitting among all these amazing people, I had time to really try to be comfortable because I was in awe of everyone, not believing that I was actually sitting there myself,” Rivera said at the time. “Then I heard the president speak. And before he gave us our medals, he said that we were people who did what we did out of passion. Not for fame. Not for money. And that we have done everything in our power to be examples for the future… I actually said to myself, ‘Yes, that is my intention. Yes, I have worked all of these years.”
VIBE sends our deepest condolences to the Rivera and Mordente families and all those affected by this loss.
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