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Tony Award-Winning Singer, Broadway Star & Frequent Disney Parks Guest Dead at Age 91

chita rivera broadway
Credit: Flickr/etccdb/Facebook/Official Chita Rivera/Canva

The crown of Broadway has lost one of its most cherished jewels, as Tony Award-winning singer, dancer, and Broadway star Chita Rivera has died. The dancing pioneer was 91.

chita rivera broadway

Credit: Flickr/etccdb/Facebook/Official Chita Rivera/Canva

Born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero in Washington, D.C., on January 23, 1933, the beloved Broadway icon Chita Rivera, as she would come to be known professionally, began taking ballet classes at the age of 11 at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet. Four years later, an instructor from the George Balanchine School of American Ballet visited the Haywood School, and 15-year-old Rivera was one of only two students chosen to audition in New York City.

Her audition was successful, and she was accepted into the school and awarded a scholarship.

Between 1951 and 1956, Rivera auditioned and landed numerous roles in popular Broadway shows, including Call Me Madam, Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Mr. Wonderful, and Seventh Heaven. But in 1957, Rivera was cast in West Side Story as Anita, and her performance served as the springboard for her career as a Broadway star.

chita rivera in west side story on broadway

Credit: Facebook/Official Chita Rivera

Later, Rivera played the role of Rose in Bye Bye Birdie alongside actor Dick Van Dyke, a performance that would land her a Tony Award nomination. Ms. Rivera also appeared in Bajour on Broadway before landing a television role in The Outer Limits. Following those roles, Rivera was approached by Norman Petty, a legendary music producer in New York who saw Rivera’s performance in Bajour and wanted the actress to sign with Dot Records.

Petty was persuasive, and in 1965, Chita Rivera released her first single with the label. One year later, a second single followed.

chita rivera dick van dyke bye bye birdie

Chita Rivera with Dick Van Dyke in “Bye Bye Birdie”/Credit: Broadway/Playbill

In 1988, Rivera was in a near-fatal car accident that crushed her right leg, but she rebounded quickly and got back to Broadway as though the accident had never happened.

Rivera continued her Broadway and acting career over the years, and her credits, accolades, and awards were many, not the least of which was among her highest achievements: receiving a Kennedy Center Honor in 2002, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed on her by then-President Barack Obama in 2009, and receiving the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018.

Rivera was the first Latina and the first Latino American to receive a Kennedy Center Honor.

In 2015, at the age of 82, Rivera was still dancing on Broadway in The Visit. At the time, she was quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t know what to do if I wasn’t moving or telling a story to you or singing a song. That’s the spirit of my life, and I’m really so lucky to be able to do what I love, even at this time in my life.”

Chita Rivera was a Celebrity Narrator at EPCOT’s Candlelight Processional at the Walt Disney World Resort several times with her most recent appearances being in 2021 and 2022.

chita rivera candlelight processional

Credit: Flickr/ITM

The Broadway star’s death was first announced by her daughter, Lisa Mordente, who said her mother died in New York following a brief illness. She is survived by her daughter and her siblings. Our deepest sympathy goes out to her family and friends at this time.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!