Chita Rivera during a PBS special in 2015
Chita Rivera during a PBS special in 2015 Photo from Chita Rivera's Twitter account

Chita Rivera, the dancer, singer and actress who helped pave the way for Latino performers in Broadway, has died at the age of 91. Her passing was announced by her daughter, Lisa Mordente, who said she died in New York after a brief illness. During the last year she had been busy promoting Chita, A Memoir, which won Best Autobiography at the 2023 International Latino Book Awards.

Chita, born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero Anderson, was the daughter of Katherine Anderson and Julio Figueroa del Rivero, a Puerto Rican clarinetist and saxophonist for the United States Navy Band. During her stellar career, she always made a point of alluding to her Latino heritage. Back in 2021, she said in an interview: "I think it's vital that we know our heritage, we're proud of our heritage, but that were are a part of the world."

Rivero first gained fame in 1957 as Anita in the original production of West Side Story, a role that would make her a household name in her beloved Broadway. She also found love on this stage, marrying fellow dancer Tony Mordente, with whom she had the aforementioned Lisa. They were divorced in 1966.

The first of her 10 Tony award nominations would come only 4 years later for her role in Bye Bye Birdie. Her first of two wins, however, would arrive in 1983 thanks to her role as Anna, opposite none other than fellow Broadway legend Liza Minelli in The Rink (her other Tony came in 1993 thanks to her performance in Kiss of the Spider Woman).

Thanks to her contributions to the stage and the Latino community, she became the first Latin American person to ever receive a Kennedy Center Honor, something that happened in 2002. She also became recipient of a Medal of Freedom, an honor awarded by the president of the United States "for especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, or cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."

During the Medal of Freedom ceremony, President Barack Obama said of Chita: "sassy, electric -- that rare performer who can sing, dance, and act -- Chita Rivera revealed that still rarer ability to overcome when she recovered from a car accident that shattered her leg. She ended up retaking the stage, won a Tony for Kiss of the Spider Woman. And like her unforgettable Anita, Chita Rivera has shown that life can indeed be bright in America."

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