Over decades on the stage, Chita Rivera was responsible for some of the most iconic roles in the history of Broadway. She originated the role of Anita on Broadway in West Side Story, and also had a central role in the original run of Chicago. In late January 2024, news broke that Chita had died at the age of 91.
Following the news of her death, many wanted to better understand exactly what happened to Chita, and the details around how she died. Here's what we know about Chita Rivera's death, and what people have said about the legacy that she left behind.
What was Chita Rivera's cause of death?
Chita reportedly died on Jan. 30, 2024, after a "brief illness." The exact nature of that illness wasn't specified, but she had led a very full life at 91 years old. Although the exact circumstances around her death may still be a mystery, what's far clearer is that her legacy on Broadway is undeniable. She originated many roles that would eventually earn other actors widespread acclaim, but she rarely left the stage to work in TV or film.
Chita was working toward becoming a classical dancer when a friend asked her to audition with them for a role as a dancer in Call Me Madam. Her friend didn't get the role as principal dancer, but Chita did, and she went on to work in several other Broadway shows after that. Chita rose to even higher levels of fame, though, after she earned the role of Anita in the original 1957 production of West Side Story.
During her career, Chita had confined herself to roles as a dancer, and with Anita, she found herself exploring character for the first time.
"All of a sudden we had this kind of freedom, which meant you really had to deal with your own emotions and your own mind," she said.
Anita has become one of the most iconic roles in the history of theater, and screen translations of the character have earned two different actors Oscars.
West Side Story gave Chita a level of stardom that would lead her to a long career on the stage, and while she only occasionally took on roles on the big screen, she was well known to lovers of Broadway for her immense skill as a performer, which lasted for decades.
Following the news of her death, tributes poured in from a wide array of stars, all of whom shared what Chita had meant to them.
“To the woman who showed me I could, and believed in me when I did, I already miss you,” West Side Story star Rachel Zegler wrote. “Rest in peace, Chita.”
“She was a force. In truth she made me nervous,” Zegler's co-star Ariana DeBose added. “To be in her presence was to behold greatness. I always got the sense that she had great expectations, but none greater than the ones she held herself to.”