The Broadway legend once recalled continuing to dance onstage well into her pregnancy
The Broadway legend died Tuesday, Jan. 30, at age 91, her daughter Lisa Mordente announced in a statement.
While promoting her memoir last year, Rivera recalled on CBS's Sunday Morning how her gynecologist reacted to seeing her dance onstage while six months pregnant.
"Yes. My gynecologist had a heart attack when he finally saw the show. But I had kept in shape," she said with a laugh.
Rivera, who in 1957 originated the role of Anita in the Broadway classic West Side Story, welcomed daughter Lisa with ex-husband Tony Mordente, a fellow dancer.
When asked if her time as a dancer "helped [her] to survive stardom," Rivera said on CBS's Sunday Mornings last year, "I do believe that being a dancer gave me the ability to fight, and to withstand, and to cope. If I come back, I want to come back a dancer. That would be my second life."
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She earned 10 Tony Award nominations over the course of her groundbreaking career, and she won two: for The Rink and Kiss of the Spider Woman. She was also awarded with a Lifetime Achievement honor in 2018. She's also remembered for the iconic Bye, Bye Birdie and Chicago musicals.
Rivera's daughter Lisa said the performer died peacefully in New York after a brief illness. Rivera is also survived by her siblings Julio, Armando and Lola del Rivero, but her older sister Carmen predeceased her.
In an interview with The Guardian in May, Rivera said her childhood and family shaped her future: “You learn how to defend yourself when you’re one of five, you know? You want to survive — and survive joyfully. There’s nothing better than a good laugh."
Her father died when she was 7. The star later was sent to ballet school by her mother after Rivera, as a rambunctious young child, fell while hopping from furniture to furniture at home. Prior to finding a passion for dance, Rivera thought she'd one day become a nun.
"I was brought up in a very Catholic household. I was quite comfortable looking forward to being a nun," she told The Guardian. "Most young Catholic girls have that feeling. But then I went and fell through the coffee table and my mother put me in ballet school."
In a 2023 AARP Magazine profile, Rivera said she's proudest of her dance skills, despite also being a decorated singer and actress.
"I still prefer being called a dancer. I come from the chorus and the family that comes with being a part of the show. In rehearsal, you laid out your heart and soul from 10 to 6 daily," she said at the time. "Dancers are very open people. What you see is what we are. We’re told what to do and we do it. And that’s the way it was with singing and acting too, but I wouldn’t change being a dancer for anything in the world."
Rivera's family asks donations in her memory be made to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
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