As one of only four actresses in history to achieve the EGOT by winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony award, it is clear that Rita Moreno is an exceptional talent. But throughout her 70-year career, challenges and self-doubt have threatened to dim Rita’s shine. Here’s how she learned to keep dancing through it all.
Rita Moreno reflects on her challenging career.
At 90 years old, actress, dancer and singer Rita Moreno is as vibrant and sassy as we remember her in her Oscar-winning portrayal of Anita in the West Side Story film more than 60 years ago.
Today, the endlessly energetic star is excited to be doing it over again in Steven Spielberg’s latest adaptation of the beloved movie-musical, as Valentina — a role created just for her.
“It is the most glorious thing,” Rita says to Woman’s World. “It’s like live theater, but a movie, and I’m in it — what could be bad?”
In her 70-plus years in entertainment, the Puerto Rican–American triple threat admits that the good in her life outweighs the bad. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t faced hardship. “When I was young, I was very unhappy,” Rita shares.
“I had this feeling that I had no value, which is something that you grow up with when you are from another country and are treated badly. But I found this wonderful doctor who helped me. When you go to a therapist or a priest or pastor, somebody who can help you see things as they really are, that’s when everything changes.”
Through therapy, Rita was able to make changes that transformed her life. “It made me stronger,” she says. “I learned that I not only have value but that I am special, like everyone is. It’s sink or swim in life — and I decided to swim.”
Indeed, Rita is swimming beautifully, making her home today in California and filling her days with family, work, and fun. Read on to learn her wisdom on loving yourself no matter what and living a purpose-filled life.
1: Change comes with courage.
“It takes courage to say to yourself, ‘I’m unhappy and it’s because of this,’” Rita says. “I was married to my husband for 46 years, and though he was a truly, truly wonderful man, I was deeply unhappy in my marriage. I was afraid I’d fall apart without him. When I decided I wanted to grow up, that’s when our marriage got into trouble — I was changing and he wasn’t. And though I stayed with him until he died, the courage it took to make a change and seek support transformed my life.”
2: Take a walk, and look for beauty.
“In terms of exercise, I just walk these days,” Rita shares. “I have 90-year-old knees, and to strengthen the muscles above them, the best thing to do is to walk. It’s a great thing because it gives me a chance to appreciate the beauty all around me. Life can be so beautiful, and I say that with care because I know that isn’t the case for many. But if you’re lucky enough to see the good in life, then you have to be grateful — and I am!”
3: Find joy with pets.
“I have a little doggie name Sarita, which is Spanish for ‘Little Sarah,’ who brings me so much happiness,” Rita beams. “She is a six-pound Morkie, a mix between a Maltese and a Yorkshire terrier. She looks like a stuffed doggy, so little and cute! She’s about 10 years old now, but she doesn’t look it. She’s lively, and she doesn’t like other dogs — I say it’s menopaws! But she always sleeps at the bottom of the bed until I’m asleep and then she comes up and leans on me…it brings me so much comfort.”
4: Face your fears.
“I love my daughter, Fernanda,” Rita says with a smile. “We have a fabulous relationship based on honesty. The most fearsome thing that can happen to me is that I will die with unresolved conflicts. The thought of dying thinking, If only, scares me. So I am truthful with others and myself because any other way is too painful, too tragic. You have to be brave.”
5: Relax with a hobby.
“I have many hobbies that help me unwind,” Rita divulges. “I take enormous joy in feeding the little birds in my area. I have a big, beautiful patio with bird feeders everywhere. I love, love hearing music, so I play music in my house all day long, and I’m also a news junkie. Nowadays, I get great satisfaction out of hollering at the television when the news is on. They’re small things that help me relax and fill each day with fun.”
6: Listen to your body.
“It doesn’t have to be a bad day for me to eat comfort food,” Rita says. “I listen to my body and I love to eat — I don’t deprive myself of things I adore. Of course, now that I’m seriously older, I try to be aware. I have lactose problems, so I use a plant-based milk called Ripple, which has 50 percent less sugar in it. But I’ll never give up my cheeseburgers as long as I live!”
Don’t miss Rita’s documentary!
Honesty is one of Rita’s most admirable qualities, and it is on full display in the new Netflix documentary about her life, Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It. “I made a promise to myself that if I was going to do a documentary, I was going to be as truthful as I could,” Rita shares. “There were times when I was caught without makeup, but I just thought, ‘Don’t go running to the makeup room, just be like you are’ — and so I did.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.