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Chita Rivera Wrote About How Playing Death Changed Her View of It — 'Warm, Comforting, Merciful' (Exclusive)

In her memoir, Chita wrote that her turn in 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' helped the late Broadway star face "the winter of my life"

<p>Bruce Glikas/Getty; HarperOne</p> Chita Rivera and her book.

Bruce Glikas/Getty; HarperOne

Chita Rivera and her book.

The world is a little dimmer today, Broadway's stages a little quieter. Legendary actress Chita Rivera died on Jan. 30. She was 91 years old.

Throughout her storied career, the star brought to life many iconic roles, including Anita in West Side Story, Velma Kelly in Chicago and the titular character in Kiss of the Spider Woman. She also appeared on screens both big and small, earning three Tony Awards and a Kennedy Center Honor along the way. Along with her collaborator, Patrick Pacheco, Rivera shared her remarkable life story in a 2023 memoir, Chita: A Memoir.

"It has been the honor of my life to have collaborated with Chita on her memoir," Pacheco told PEOPLE. "She was an extraordinary humanitarian, a wonderful, funny and sensitive woman, and a singular and exemplary artist. She had a bawdy sense of humor, a lust for life, a passion for the stage and the saving grace never to take herself too seriously."

Related: Remembering Chita Rivera's Life Through Her Iconic Broadway Roles

Upon her passing, Pacheco shared that the star loved Boris Karloff, sumo wrestling and King Kong. She liked watching crime shows and was devoted to her faith, treasuring loyalty and friendship.

"In the seventies, she was the Queen of the Revels for New York City nightlife, and when the AIDS epidemic hit in the '80s, there wasn’t a benefit or appearance she turned down," Pacheco recalls. "Chita was so fully alive that it’s hard to believe that she is no longer on an earthly plane. I pray that she is resting in the bosom of the Virgin Mary and the angels to whom she was so devoted."

Related: Catherine Zeta-Jones, More Stars Pay Tribute to Chita Rivera After Death: 'Her Legacy Will Live on Forever'

In an excerpt from Chita, Rivera reflected on how playing the titular character in Kiss of the Spider Woman helped her think about death. Rivera won her second best actress in a musical Tony Award for her that appearance.

<p>Jason Mendez/Getty</p> Chita Rivera at the Chita Rivera Awards in 2023.

Jason Mendez/Getty

Chita Rivera at the Chita Rivera Awards in 2023.

I’m often asked how playing Death changed my view of my mortality. At the time of “Kiss,” I said that I now think of the Grim Reaper as someone like the Spider Woman, warm, comforting, merciful. The show had taken the sting out of it in the best way: through a musical.  Now, as I face the autumn—well, make that the winter—of my years, I would have to say that it’s a Big Question Mark.

Perhaps Death will come in the form of my mother, Katherine, and father, Pedro Julio, and all the lost generations of del Riveros and Andersons. Aunt Rita and Uncle Luciano will be there to say, "I told you so." Boy, will I have a lot of questions for them!

Or maybe Death will come as a welcoming committee of all the friends and colleagues I’ve lost through the years. We will have so much to talk about.

I can also see Death coming in the personification of an Angel, with a halo of blond curls, blue eyes, and long slender fingers beckoning me forth. Someone who looks like Brent, who died much too young, at 68, in 2020. He’ll take me in his arms and we’ll do a tango. Him in white and, now, me in white, too. 

Then suddenly, I’ll hear over the PA system from another dimension, a stage manager saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, half hour.”

“Half hour?” I’ll extricate myself from the angel’s embrace and say, “Sorry but I can’t keep the company waiting.” 

 Death will look at me and say with some exasperation, “Actors! Dancers! They always think God will make an exception in their case. It doesn’t work that way!” 

Then with a wink, he’ll say, “Just kidding! Go. You got another show to do.” 

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