‘West Side Story’ Star Tony Mordente Dies at 88

West Side Story Russ Tamblyn, Tucker Smith, Tony Mordente, 1961
Everett Collection

Tony Mordente, who had a long career in Hollywood as a dancer, choreographer, actor, director and producer died at 88 years old following a brief illness. His family confirmed the news. Mordente began dancing as a teen and trained at the prestigious New York City’s High School of Performing Arts and American Ballet Theater School. He soon launched his career on Broadway starring in 1956’s Lil’ Abner.

He was then cast as A-Rab in the Broadway and West End productions of West Side Story. During his time working on the play, he met and wed Chita Rivera. They had a daughter named Lisa but divorced in 1966. Rivera died earlier this year at the age of 91. He once said it was “quite a thing” for a “Jet to marry a Shark,” since Rivera famously played Anita in the play. It even caused problems with his castmates at first. Mordente shared that when he started dating Rivera “the Jet boys didn’t speak to me for about two weeks of rehearsal, I was completely shut out. I mean, they were really angry. Eventually, I sat down with them in the dressing room and I just said, ‘Hey, look guys, I’m part of the Jets. What l’m doing out there is my personal life. We got to keep our gang together. If I’m separate from you, then we’re not a family. So we have got to try to get back together again.’ And they sort of bought that. As long as they didn’t see me with her, it was OK.”

West Side Story left row: David Winters (front), Tucker Smith (second from top), right row: Tony Mordente (front), Eliot Feld (center), 1961

Everett Collection

Mordente was then cast in the 1961 film version of West Side Story as Action, a member of the Jets gang. In the ’60s and beyond, he began working as a choreographer and later a TV director, working on shows such as Family Ties, The A-Team, Matlock, Walker, Texas Ranger, 7th Heaven and more. He also worked as a producer on 7th Heaven.

Tony Mordente and Lisa Mordente during Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life Broadway Opening Night - Arrivals at The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York City, New York, United States

Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic/Getty Images

He is survived by his daughter, Lisa as well as his daughter Adriana from his marriage to Jean G. Fraser.

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