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Ann Reinking, Tony-Winning Choreographer and Actress, Dies at 71

The acclaimed performer, whose professional and personal life was intertwined with Bob Fosse, died Saturday in Seattle.

Ann Reinking, a Broadway legend known for her long association with fellow stage icon Bob Fosse and her innovative and award-winning choreography—as well as her roles on film—died Saturday in Seattle at the age of 71.

“The world and our family have lost a vibrant, amazing talent and beautiful soul. Ann was the heart of our family and the life of the party,” her family said in a statement released to Variety on Monday. “She was visiting our brother in Washington state when she went to sleep and never woke up. We will miss her more than we can say. Heaven has the best choreographer available now. I’m sure they are dancing up a storm up there! Annie, we will love and miss you always!!!”

Born in Seattle in 1949, Reinking began dancing as a child and, by the time she was 12, made her professional debut with the Royal English Ballet. As a teenager, she moved to New York, where Reinking realized her Broadway dreams, appearing as a dancer in such shows as Cabaret, Coco, The Wild and Wonderful, and Pippin. It was during the production of Pippin that Reinking met Fosse. The two began a personal and professional relationship that lasted for years and led to Reinking’s most notable role, that of Roxie Hart in 1977’s Chicago (she replaced Fosse’s former wife, Gwen Verdon, in the part).

While her romantic relationship with Fosse ended by 1978, the pair parted on good terms and collaborated again for the 1979 film All That Jazz, which Fosse directed and based heavily on his own life. In the film, Reinking played a variation of herself. “It was me, and it wasn’t me,” she told the New York Times in 1980. “Basically I was very flattered. I think I came off as a good person and as someone who meant something to him.”

While Fosse, by most accounts, took some broad dramatic license with the details of his real-life demons, Reinking’s character did factor into the one part of the film that rang most true: a choreographed scene with the young daughter of Joe Gideon (Roy Schneider), the Fosse stand-in.

Renking and Fosse’s daughter “used to dance together all the time, and were very good friends,” Verdon said years later. “And Annie and I are friends, but I’m like the mother of both of them.”

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Despite the potential awkwardness around their personal entanglements, Reinking and Verdon were close and remained so long after Fosse’s death in 1987. When Reinking helped choreograph a revival of Chicago in 1996, where she again played Roxie Hart, Verdon was a vocal supporter. “It's perfect that she's doing Roxie,” Verdon told the Times. “'She's been through the mill and that's what that character is about.”

The revival won Reinking a Tony Award for best choreography and spurred her next Fosse-related project: a musical revue of his greatest work called Fosse that Reinking co-conceived and co-directed. She was nominated for another Tony for that production. The show also marked her final Broadway role, in 2001.

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