Chita Rivera, "West Side Story" star and Latina trailblazer, dies at 91


Broadway icon Chita Rivera, best known for her role as Anita in the original 1957 Broadway cast of “West Side Story,” has died at age 91. Rivera died Tuesday in New York after a brief illness, her daughter said in a statement provided to CBS News.

Rivera, a trailblazer for other Latinas aspiring to the Broadway stage, was honored with 10 Tony nominations and won twice. In 2018, she received a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre. 

Chita Rivera
Chita Rivera arrives at the 72nd annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 10, 2018, in New York. 

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP


Born in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23, 1933, Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero Montestuco Florentina Carnemacaral del Fuente was one of five siblings. Her father died when she was 7 years old and her mother was left to raise the children on her own. 

Rivera trained as a dancer from a young age and won a scholarship to the prestigious School of American Ballet at 16. She also began dancing at Manhattan’s Palladium nightclub, where she later told CBS “Sunday Morning,” “I discovered the rhythm. I discovered the beat. I discovered my heartbeat. I was becoming attuned to my sex appeal. And the rhythm was hot.”

In her 2023 book, “Chita: A Memoir,” Rivera described herself as two people: Chita and Dolores. She said Dolores has a darker side, but “I believe that Dolores is responsible for me having a career. She’s the guts. She’s the courage.”

Rivera harnessed that drive to catapult herself onto the Broadway stage at her time when few Latinas won roles, rising to stardom with her performance in “West Side Story” and going on to star in other hit shows including “Bye Bye Birdie,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Chicago” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” 

CHITA RIVERA in
Chita Rivera, an original cast member in the Broadway musical production of “West Side Story,” in November 1957.

AP Photo


Rivera was the first Latina to be awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 2002, which is given to artists for their lifetime contributions in the field of the performing arts. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by then-President Barack Obama for her work as an “agent of change.” 

On the set of “West Side Story,” she met fellow dancer fellow dancer Tony Mordente; they married and had one daughter, Lisa.

Rivera is survived by her daughter Lisa Mordente and three of her siblings Julio, Armando and Lola del Rivero, the statement said.



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