Broadway legend Chita Rivera dies aged 91

Rivera was well-known for her work in West Side Story and Chicago. ( John Lamparski/WireImage/Dennis Clark/Getty Images)

Broadway legend Chita Rivera has died at the age of 91, her friend and publicist Merle Frimark has confirmed. 

Frimark made the statement on 30 January, sharing the sad news on behalf of Rivera’s daughter. “It is with great sadness that Lisa Mordente, the daughter of Chita Rivera, announces the death of her beloved mother who died peacefully in New York after a brief illness.”

Rivera was celebrated for her impressive “triple threat” ability to sing, dance, and act in classic musicals, including West Side Story and Chicago, where she played the iconic roles of Anita and Velma Kelly, respectively. 

The performer was the recipient of the Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre in 2018, where she said: “I wouldn’t trade my life in the theatre for anything, because theatre is life.” She also won Tony awards for Best Actress in a Musical for Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink

Rivera was celebrated for her impressive “triple threat” ability. (John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Rivera took to the stage in New York in the 1950s and was still performing some six decades later in the 2015 Broadway production of The Visit

She attended George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet and dedicated herself to musical theatre. In 1957, she landed the role of Anita in West Side Story the musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet which headed to Broadway, and then London’s West End, via Manchester. “I’d never seen so much fog,” Rivera recalled to The Guardian in 2017. 

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“I must have had about five auditions,” she said to the outlet of the casting process for the musical. “I loved playing Anita: she’s a mother image to Maria, protective of her, but also saucy and passionate, very much in love with Bernardo.”

She continued: “We had a whole cast of young, excited dancers and all that energy in a room feeds off itself.”

Fellow actors and artists have remembered Rivera in tribute, with Grey’s Anatomy executive producer Debbie Allen posting on Instagram on 30 January: “CHITA RIVERA. My Mentor, My Friend, Our Goddess of Inspiration and Joy Thank You. 

“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.”

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