Tony Mordente, Actor and Choreographer from ‘West Side Story,’ Passes Away at 88

Mordente, ‘West Side Story’ actor and choreographer, dies at 88. His legacy lives on


Tony Mordente, renowned choreographer, dancer, and actor known for his role in the iconic musical “West Side Story,” has died at the age of 88.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Lisa Mordente, who spoke to PEOPLE about her father’s passing.

Mordente passed away on Tuesday, June 11, as stated in his obituary. He leaves behind a rich legacy in the performing arts, particularly in dance and choreography, which he had dedicated his life to from a young age.

Born in 1935, Mordente’s passion for dance began early. He refined his craft at the prestigious High School of Performing Arts and later at the American Ballet Theater School.

Reflecting on his early years in a 2007 interview with PBS, Mordente recalled his single-minded devotion to ballet. “I was a real ballet fan. I was only a ballet fan and I knew nothing else about anything else but ballet, and that’s all I ever wanted to know,” he said.

His dedication led him to frequent performances at the Metropolitan Opera, where he experienced a transformative moment.

“I went to see, I think it was part of the ‘Black Swan,’ and they also had ‘Fancy Free’ on the program. I said, you know, I don’t know if I want to stay for this. It’s not really ballet, you know.

Tony Mordente and Lisa Mordente. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, BRUCE GLIKAS/FILMMAGIC)
Tony Mordente and Lisa Mordente. (PHOTO: VIA PEOPLE, BRUCE GLIKAS/FILMMAGIC)

And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything that changed my life and my career as quickly as I did,” Mordente shared. The performance left a profound impact on him.

“It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I just said that’s what I want to do. And I really wasn’t into choreographers then.”

Mordente’s big break came with the role of A-Rab in the original 1957 Broadway production of “West Side Story,” which he reprised in the 1958 West End production.

This role not only showcased his dancing and acting prowess but also brought him into the orbit of Chita Rivera, his future wife.

Rivera, who passed away in January, and Mordente married during the Broadway production’s run and welcomed their daughter Lisa in 1958. The couple divorced in 1966.

Mordente’s career continued to flourish with his role as Action in the 1961 film adaptation of “West Side Story.” However, his talents extended beyond acting.

He carved out a significant career as a choreographer, working on notable shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” during the 1960s.

His ability to create compelling dance routines made him a sought-after figure in the entertainment industry.


In the 1970s, Mordente transitioned into directing, showcasing his versatility. He directed episodes for popular television shows such as “M*A*S*H,” “Family Ties,” “The A-Team,” and “7th Heaven.”

His work behind the camera further cemented his reputation as a multifaceted talent in the entertainment world.

In 1978, Mordente married Jean Fraser, with whom he had his second daughter, Adriana Mordente. This chapter of his life brought him personal happiness and professional stability, as he balanced his career in choreography and directing with his family life.

Tony Mordente’s contributions to dance, theater, and television have left an indelible mark on the performing arts.

His journey from a ballet-obsessed student to a prominent figure in American entertainment is a testament to his passion, talent, and dedication.

His work in “West Side Story” alone has influenced countless performers and continues to be celebrated as a milestone in musical theater.

As the news of his passing spreads, tributes from colleagues, students, and fans alike highlight his impact on the arts. Lisa Mordente, reflecting on her father’s life and legacy, spoke of his passion and dedication.

“He lived and breathed dance and performance. It was who he was, and he gave everything to it,” she said.

Tony Mordente’s life story is one of transformation and dedication. From his early days at the ballet school to his groundbreaking performances and his later work as a choreographer and director, Mordente exemplified the spirit of the performing arts.

His legacy will endure through the many lives he touched and the indelible mark he left on the world of dance and entertainment.

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