Rita Moreno, Ariana DeBose Honor “West Side Story”'s Original Anita, Chita Rivera: 'Remarkable Woman and Friend'

Chita Rivera originated the role of 'West Side Story's Anita on Broadway in 1957

<p>WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy</p> Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno in 2015.

WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy

Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno in 2015.

Rita Moreno is paying tribute to Chita Rivera.

Rivera, the Broadway legend who originated the role of West Side Story's Anita in 1957, died on Tuesday at age 91.

Moreno, who turned 92 in December, played the role of Anita in the 1961 movie version of the musical, for which she won an Academy Award.

She honored Rivera in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, saying, "Chita Rivera is eternal. I remember seeing her for the first time in Mr. Wonderful and exclaiming, 'Oh my God, who is that?' When I found out that this astonishing creature was one of my people, I crowed with pride."

"Over the years, we were sometimes mistaken for each other, which I always viewed as a badge of honor," adds Moreno. "She was the essence of Broadway. As I write this, I am raising a glass to this remarkable woman and friend. Chita, amiga, Salud!"

Ariana DeBose also won an Oscar for playing Anita in the 2021 Steven Spielberg film version. On stage, Debbie Allen played the part in a 1980 Broadway revival, earning a Tony nomination, and Karen Olivo won a Tony for her Anita performance in the 2009 revival.

On Instagram, DeBose, 33, called Rivera "a force." She continued, "In truth she made me nervous. 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… I am heartbroken and yet ever inspired as she showed so many of us what was possible. Rest well Queen."

Related: See the Original 'West Side Story' Cast Side-by-Side with the New Stars

<p>John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty</p> Chita Rivera in Broadway's "West Side Story"

John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty

Chita Rivera in Broadway's "West Side Story"

Allen, 74, wrote on Instagram, "My Mentor, My Friend, Our Goddess of Inspiration and Joy - Thank You. Every moment of your life has been a treasure of what is possible. I will miss touching you, but I will forever hear your laughter and hold that baton of power you tossed my way."d

In her 2023 book Chita: A Memoir, Rivera recalled her reaction to seeing Moreno onscreen in the West Side Story film. "How dare she? That is my dress, that is my earring!" she wrote in the book. The movie came out when Rivera was costarring with Dick Van Dyke in Bye, Bye Birdie on Broadway.

NIKO TAVERNISE/ Twentieth Century Fox Ariana DeBose in "West Side Story" (2021)
NIKO TAVERNISE/ Twentieth Century Fox Ariana DeBose in "West Side Story" (2021)

In a statement Tuesday, Rivera's daughter Lisa Mordente said the Tony winner died peacefully in New York after a brief illness. She will have a private funeral and a memorial service that will be announced later.

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<p>Silver Screen Collection/Getty</p> Rita Moreno in "West Side Story" (1961)

Silver Screen Collection/Getty

Rita Moreno in "West Side Story" (1961)

Rivera won Tony Awards for Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Rink. She's also known for Broadway musical classics like Bye, Bye Birdie and in 1975's Chicago, in which she played Velma Kelly.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, who won an Oscar for playing the same part in the 2002 movie of Chicago, remembered Rivera on Instagram Tuesday.

"There are no words to tell you what an incredible impact you have had on my life," wrote Zeta-Jones, 54. "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 [pull] the plug. I love you Chita, sleep tight my Queen."

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