Tony Mordente: Stellar ‘West Side Story’ Actor And Influential TV Director, Passes At 88

 June 15, 2024

Tony Mordente, an iconic figure in the American performing arts landscape, has died.

According to Deadline, Tony Mordente, renowned for his spirited portrayal of Action in the film "West Side Story" and his extensive directing career in television, passed away on June 12, 2024, in Henderson, Nevada, succumbing to a short illness at the age of 88.

A Career Sparked from the Streets of New York

Born on December 3, 1935, in Brooklyn, New York, Tony Mordente's passion for performing arts was ignited early. He pursued dance rigorously, beginning his training at age 13 and soon attending the prestigious High School of Performing Arts followed by the American Ballet Theater School in New York City.

Mordente's professional career started blooming with his Broadway debut in 1956 in "Lil' Abner." His talent further blossomed as he joined the original Broadway and West End productions of "West Side Story" playing A-Rab, which paved the way for his memorable role in the 1961 cinematic adaptation.

Transitioning from stage to screen, Tony Mordente's portrayal in "West Side Story" was particularly noted for his character's energy and vigor. His line "Easy, Action!" became iconic, influencing pop culture deeply, and even inspiring the title of Alice Cooper’s second album.

From Dancing Shoes to Director's Chair

Following his success on the silver screen and stage, Mordente shifted his focus from performing to choreography and directing in the 1960s and 1970s. He emerged as a prominent TV director, contributing to popular television series such as "Family Ties," "Walker, Texas Ranger," and "7th Heaven."

Mordente’s direction extended beyond episodes; he took on the role of a producer for "7th Heaven," demonstrating his adeptness at guiding extensive television projects.

His directorial style was marked by a clear understanding of narrative and character, qualities that endeared him to colleagues and audiences alike.

Personal life was equally dynamic for Mordene, marked by his marriage to fellow performer Chita Rivera in 1957, and the birth of their daughter, Lisa Mordente, in 1958. The couple later divorced in 1966.


Tony Mordente's influence on the entertainment industry was profound and lasting. His work spanned over decades, demonstrating an adaptability and creative spirit that inspired many who followed in his footsteps.

Following his passing, his life’s impact is evident in the accolades he received and the memories shared by those who knew him. Tony Mordente is survived by his daughters Lisa and Adriana, an extended family in New York, and his lifelong friend Tony Bolletino.

In a scene in "West Side Story," Mordente's character is advised, "Boy, boy, crazy boy/Get cool, boy!/Got a rocket, in your pocket/Keep cooly cool, boy." This moment encapsulates the controlled chaos he was celebrated for on-screen - a parallel to his disciplined yet vibrant career.

Tony Mordente leaves behind a rich legacy marked by his multifaceted career as an actor, choreographer, and director. His contributions to both the world of film and television continue to resonate, reflecting his passion for the arts and his enduring influence in shaping popular culture. Tony's story is one of remarkable transformation and enduring impact, capturing the heart of American entertainment.

About Victor Winston

Victor is a freelance writer and researcher who focuses on national politics, geopolitics, and economics.

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