American comedian, singer and actress Chita Rivera died on Tuesday January 30 at the age of 91, according to her family. She died in New York after a “brief illness,” her daughter Lisa Mordente said in a statement.

A pioneer of Hispanic actresses in the very closed world of Broadway, she became known in particular for her roles in West Side Story in 1957 and Chicago. But she did not land the leading role in the legendary film adaptation of West Side Story – Rita Moreno, another Hispanic, was on the bill.

Chita Rivera, born Dolores Conchita Figueroa del Rivero on January 23, 1933 in Washington, to a Puerto Rican father who was a musician in the Navy, learned singing, piano and ballet from an early age. She said she compared herself, during auditions, to the long-legged blondes who were competing with her at the time. “And there I was, little, dark-skinned, in a black skirt and a leotard, with a nose that looked like nothing,” she wrote in an autobiography published in 2023.

“I wouldn’t trade my life in the theater for anything in the world.”

Arriving on the Broadway stages before she was 20, she did not leave them until she was 80, multiplying collaborations with the biggest names in American theater. “I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t move, if I didn’t tell a story, or if I didn’t sing a song,” she told the Associated Press (AP) in 2015 while she was in the poster for the musical The Visit. “It’s the spirit of my life, and I’m really lucky to be able to do what I love, even at this time in my life,” she said.

“She was a true Broadway legend,” playwright Paul Rudnick said on Social Network X. “She always delivered and audiences loved her. As soon as she took the stage, the world became more exciting and more glorious. »

Chita Rivera was, in the end, one of the most nominated actresses at the Tony Awards, the major awards of American theater, collecting two prizes in the process, for The Rink in 1984 – ahead of Liza Minnelli with whom she shared the bill – and for Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1993. When she accepted a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2018, she said: “I wouldn’t trade my life in theater for anything, because theater is is life. »

“She can only rehearse so hard,” playwright Terrence McNally said in 2005. “She can only play so hard, no matter how big the room. She will be there 101% for this audience. »

Months of rehabilitation after a car accident

Victim of a car accident which crushed her right leg in the 1980s, it took her months of rehabilitation to regain her dancing skills. “It never occurred to me that I would never dance again,” she explained to AP. Never. I can’t explain to you why. It’s hard work, but it’s what I do. »

“I have admired you and I will always admire you as a talent and especially as a person!”, paid tribute to actress and singer Kristin Chenoweth on We all just want to be like you. »

In 2009, Barack Obama decorated her with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States.