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Rita Moreno considers her late husband, Lenny Gordon, of 45 years the love of her life, while former boyfriend Marlon Brando gets a different description.
“Oh,” she told Hoda Kotb. “He was the lust of my life.”
The 90-year-old “West Side Story” legend spoke with Hoda about her on-and-off relationship with the Hollywood legend as part of a wide-ranging interview for a bonus episode of Hoda’s “Making Space” podcast released on Monday.
Moreno and Brando, who died in 2004, had a tempestuous relationship in the 1950s and 1960s that also included acting in multiple films together. The Puerto Rican actor was struggling with the stereotypical roles and predatory executives permeating Hollywood when she and Brando started dating.
“The only thing that saved my life — I know it — was psychotherapy,” she told Hoda. “And the interesting thing, it was Marlon Brando with whom I had an eight-year, on-off relationship, who said to me one day, ‘You really need help. You need to see someone.’
“Which of course is so amusing, because one loony telling the other, ‘You’re sick, you know, get help.'”
The two had a magnetic attraction to one another that led to dramatic highs and lows.
“My husband was the love of my life,” she said. “Marlon was the lust of my life. And that part of it was exceptional. Aye-yay, you know, oh wow, that was incredible.
“And (Marlon) was really also a very interesting man. He was very funny. Humor to me is sexy. Why is it sexy? Because I always think that a man who can be fast on his feet with humor can protect me.”
However, there was a dark side to her relationship with Brando that nearly ended in her death. She said she overdosed on pills to take her life after a “deception” by Brando.
“He kept disappointing me,” she said. “But let’s put things in proper perspective. You let things happen, all right? People aren’t just mean to you. If you keep letting them disappoint you and hurt you, then there’s something wrong with this relationship, including yourself.
“So having said that, I just got disappointed for the last time. We came back together after separating. It was a very obsessive relationship.”
Moreno said the deception was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“He was doing ‘Mutiny on the Bounty,’ and he went to work,” she said. “I was in his bed, and I thought, “I can’t do this to myself anymore. I just can’t do this.’ I felt so humiliated.”
She said she stared at a bottle of sleeping pills in Brando’s bathroom medicine cabinet for almost a half hour before deciding to take them.
“It took a long time because I thought, ‘If you’re going to do this, this is forever. This is going to be your last breathing moment,'” she said. “And I finally opened the bottle and put I think about 10 pills in my hand and swallowed them.
“And I’m looking in the cabinet mirror all the time and saying, ‘See? That wasn’t so difficult.’ It was just horrific.”
Brando’s assistant found Moreno in time to get help after Brando had asked the woman to check on her.
“I was close,” Moreno said, “God, I’m glad that’s in the past. I look at my daughter, and I think, ‘Look what might not have happened.'”
Moreno also spoke with Hoda about her journey from a “fearful” little girl living in Harlem, New York, to the “ebullient” woman she describes herself as today.
“Once I came to America, I perceived that it wasn’t a good thing to be Hispanic,” she said. “And for years and years and years, I battled that.”
She shared how she took the name Rita Moreno after being born Rosita Alverio by taking Rita from famous actress Rita Hayworth and Moreno from her stepfather’s last name. It definitely beat the name suggested to her by an MGM executive: Orchid Montenegro.
Moreno also expanded on how she landed her legendary role in the film adaptation of “West Side Story” in 1961, and what it meant to the Puerto Rican community for her to win an Oscar for the part in 1962.
“People yelling out the windows, ‘She did it, she did it,'” Moreno said. “And as a friend of mine said, ‘What they were really saying was, ‘We did it.'”
Moreno is one of just 16 performers to complete a career EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Awards) as well as an activist who has long fought for women’s rights.
For more of Moreno’s story, tune into the NBC special “Inspiring America: The 2022 Inspiration List,” which celebrates extraordinary people make an impact and can be streamed on demand on Peacock.