Broadway actor Rita McKenzie, known for portrayal of Ethel Merman, dead at 76

 February 19, 2024

Rita McKenzie, known for her lifelong dedication to Broadway icon Ethel Merman, whom she portrayed in the longest-running one-woman show in history, has died. She was 76. 

Her family said she died of a long-term illness in Los Angeles.

With her powerful, ringing voice, McKenzie gave faithful renditions of Merman standards such as "There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “I Got Rhythm” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses" in Ethel Merman's Broadway.

Broadway actor Rita McKenzie dies

McKenzie debuted her performance as Merman in 1988, four years after Merman's death at the age of 76.

McKenzie died just days ahead of her 77th birthday in Los Angeles. Her death was confirmed by her husband, talent agent Scott Stander.

Barbara Eden, who co-starred with McKenzie in Neil Simon's The Female Odd Couple, shared a lengthy tribute to McKenzie on X.

"I have such warm and delightful memories of our years touring together. Rita was larger than life, a magnanimous woman whose warmth of heart, kindness and compassion flowed with abundance," she wrote.

Prolific actor

While known mostly for playing Merman, McKenzie was a prolific actor with a number of stage and television roles.

She portrayed Lita Encore in the premiere of Ruthless! The Musical, also performing in some of Merman's most famous musicals, like Anything Goes, Annie Get Your Gun, and Gypsy.

She brought down the house during the finale of PBS' Capitol Fourth Celebration on the Washington Mall in 1995, with a medley of patriotic tunes including "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Grand Old Flag."

Her TV credits include The Brady Bunch -The Final Days, Caroline In the City, Frasier, Daddy Dearest, and Big Brother Jake.

She was an opening act for the likes of Milton Berle, Don Knotts, Norm Crosby, Donald O’Connor and Steve Allen.

Her survivors include her husband Scott, her children Jennifer and Derek, son-in-law Tom and daughter-in-law Vanessa, sister Nancy, brother-in-law Joe, and grandchildren Mason, Jackson and Thomas.

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