Chita Rivera, Tony-Winning Broadway Star, Dead at 91

Chita Rivera, a multi-hyphenate performer with more than seven decades of Broadway credits, has died. She was 91.

“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,” shared her rep Merle Frimark in a statement on Tuesday. According to a statement released by her daughter Lisa Mordente, Rivera died in New York “after a brief illness.”

“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,” continues the statement, asking for any donations in her memory to be made to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Rivera was a recipient of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barak Obama in 2009, and won two Tony Awards as best leading actress in a musical over the course of her illustrious career. Her Broadway credits date back to 1950 and include 30 roles for shows such as West Side Story, Guys and DollsCan-CanMerlin and Kiss of the Spider Woman.  She also starred as the original Velma Kelly in the 1975 production of Chicago on Broadway — and for the 25-year anniversary, she played leading lady Roxie Hart in Toronto, Las Vegas and London.  The Washington D.C.-born Rivera began her onstage training at age 11 when her mother enrolled her in the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet. Soon afterward an audition for George Balanchine’s School of American Ballet took her to New York City.  In a 2009 interview with the Associated Press, Rivera discussed being “very, very close” with her four siblings. Their “very strict” father died when she was seven, she said at the time. “We were never quite sure whether or not I would have been allowed to go to New York at the age of 14 to continue my schooling there, to  accept a scholarship… had he been alive. Who knows?”

Rivera eventually dropped out of the elite School of American Ballet to follow her heart to Broadway. Not long afterward, she landed her first professional role in a touring production of Call Me Madam led by Elaine Stritch.  “Chita is, ‘Hello, how are you? It’s so nice to be here.’ Dolores is, ‘What is it you want?’ It’s a darker side. I believe that Dolores is responsible for me having a career. She’s the guts. She’s the courage,” Rivera said while describing her alter ego.  The actress and singer then shed light on how she became a performer after proving to be an energetic child, often jumping on top of the furniture in her family’s home. “I missed one time, and I went through the coffee table,” Rivera recalled. “And my mother said, ‘That’s it, you’re out of here. You’re going to a ballet school.’ ”  Rivera went on to star alongside other successful talents such as Sammy Davis Jr. in Mr. Wonderful and The Rink with Liza Minnelli.  CBS News recently spoke with Rivera as she reflected on her career, after she’d recently celebrated her 90th birthday.  “I always used to think that we should have two lifetimes: one to try it out, and the second one to know what’s coming,” she told the outlet.

The conversation came after Rivera reprised the role of Anita in West Side Story — the character that launched her career on Broadway. The show, directed by Seth Rudetsky, was held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

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