All the 'West Side Story' Anitas Paid Tribute to Chita Rivera

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The 91-year-old legend originated the role in 1957.

<p>Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images</p>

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Two-time Tony Award-winning actress Chita Rivera passed away today in New York City at the age of 92. In the wake of her death, the Broadway legend earned touching tributes from a select circle of actresses: the Anitas that came after her. Rivera was the very first Anita in the 1957 stage production of West Side Story and after news of her death made headlines today, Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose, and Debbie Allen shared touching messages.

Moreno famously played Anita in the 1961 film version of West Side Story. She shared a statement with People, saying, "Chita Rivera is eternal. I remember seeing her for the first time in Mr. Wonderful and exclaiming, 'Oh my God, who is that?' When I found out that this astonishing creature was one of my people, I crowed with pride."

"Over the years, we were sometimes mistaken for each other, which I always viewed as a badge of honor," Moreno's message continued. "She was the essence of Broadway. As I write this, I am raising a glass to this remarkable woman and friend. Chita, amiga, Salud!"

Debbie Allen played the part of Anita in the 1980 Broadway revival of West Side Story. It also earned her a Tony Award nomination. She shared a message on Instagram, calling Rivera her mentor, friend, and inspiration.

"My Mentor, My Friend, Our Goddess of Inspiration and Joy — Thank You," she wrote. "Every moment of your life has been a treasure of what is possible. I will miss touching you, but I will forever hear your laughter and hold that baton of power you tossed my way."

Ariana DeBose, who won an Oscar for her version of Anita in Steven Spielberg's 2021 film adaptation of West Side Story, also shared a touching message on Instagram.

"In truth, she made me nervous. To be in her presence was to behold greatness. I always got the sense that she had great expectations, but none greater than the ones she held herself to," she wrote. "I am heartbroken and yet ever inspired as she showed so many of us what was possible. Rest well, Queen."

<p>Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images</p>

Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos/Getty Images

During her career, Rivera earned 10 Tony nominations, winning two for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical. In August 2009, Rivera was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by former President Barack Obama. In 2002, she received a Kennedy Center Honor. Her résumé included roles in Bye Bye BirdieChicago (where she was the very first Velma Kelly), and Nine.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won an Academy Award for her version of Velma Kelly in 2002's Chicago, also posted an Instagram tribute, writing that there are "no words to tell you what an incredible impact you have had on my life."

"It is with immense personal sorrow that I announce the death of the beloved Broadway icon Chita Rivera. My dear friend of over 40 years was 91," Rivera's representative, Merle Frimark, shared in a statement today. "She is also survived by her siblings Julio, Armando, and Lola del Rivero, (her older sister Carmen predeceased her), along with her many nieces, nephews, and friends. Her funeral will be private. A memorial service will be announced in due course."

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