‘Dim the lights on Broadway’ to honour Chita Rivera, says Catherine Zeta-Jones

Catherine Zeta-Jones has called for the lights to be dimmed on Broadway in memory of Tony-winning star Chita Rivera, who has died at the age of 91.

The pioneering dancer, singer and actress, died “peacefully” on Tuesday in New York after a brief illness, her daughter Lisa Mordente confirmed in a statement given to the PA news agency.

Rivera’s agent, Merle Frimark, said it was with “immense personal sorrow” that she also announced the death of “beloved Broadway icon” Rivera – who had been a “dear friend of over 40 years”.

Obit Chita Rivera
President Barack Obama presents the 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom to Chita Rivera at the White House in Washington in 2009 (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

During her decades long-career, Rivera garnered 10 Tony nominations for her roles in Broadway shows including Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago and Merlin, winning best leading actress in a musical for her performance in The Rink and Kiss Of The Spider Woman.

She also received the coveted Kennedy Centre Honour in 2002, and was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009 – which is the highest honour the US can give a civilian.

Welsh actress Zeta-Jones, who won best supporting actress at the Academy Awards playing Velma Kelly in the film adaption of Chicago – the role Rivera played in the Broadway original – said on Instagram: “There are no words to tell you what an incredible impact you have had on my life.

“From dreaming of being you as a little girl, then meeting you and then being deeply connected to you by playing the one and only Velma Kelly in Chicago.

“There will never, ever, be anyone like you Chita, ever. Dim the lights on Broadway! Or, may I suggest, we just plug the plug. I love you Chita, sleep tight my Queen.”

Meanwhile Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber said “farewell” to Rivera on Instagram, sharing a picture of the pair as they received lifetime achievement awards at the Tony’s in 2018.

“You redefined the words ‘theatrical legend’,” he said.

“I’ll never forget how we laughed backstage before we got lifetime Tonys. I stifled hiccups through my speech. I am truly honoured to have shared a moment with you.”

Born in Washington DC, Rivera rose to fame in 1957 as Anita in the original production of West Side Story and was still dancing on Broadway in 2015’s The Visit – which won her a Tony Award nomination for best leading actress in a musical.

Tick, Tick…Boom! director Lin-Manuel Miranda described Rivera, who made a cameo in the 2021 film, as a “trailblazer” who has had many “iconic Broadway roles because she was an absolute original”.

“When we filmed the diner scene in ttB (Tick, Tick…Boom!), she wasn’t available for the shoot dates, so I left a chair empty in the diner for those three days,” he said on Instagram.

“The whole shoot, people kept trying to move the chair or clear space and I’d have to say no, we’re GOING to get Chita, I don’t know how but we’re going to do it.

“Eight months later on our reshoots, she joined us and held court all day. It remains one of the all time joys of my life. She was magnificent. She IS magnificent, not ready for the past tense just yet.

“My heart is with everyone in Chita’s galaxy of family and friends.”

Rivera added author to her revered list of accomplishments last year, after publishing autobiography, Chita: A Memoir.

Her funeral will be held in private, while donations in her memory can be made to Broadway Care/Equity Fights Aids, her agent said.

Rivera is survived by her daughter Mordente, siblings Julio, Armando and Lola del Rivero, along with her many nieces, nephews and friends.