January 20, 2014 12:00 PM

Rita Moreno was born to perform. As a kid in Puerto Rico, “I started dancing almost before I could walk,” says the 82-year-old phenomenon. “I’d be shaking my booty all over the living room! I loved the attention, and that hasn’t changed too much!” In over six decades of performing, she’s had plenty of it – from West Side Story to The Electric Company. Moreno paved the way for Latinas in Hollywood, and her offscreen life (including a tumultuous affair with Marlon Brando) has been equally glam. As she gets ready to receive a Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award on Jan. 18, Moreno sat down with PEOPLE’s Champ Clark to look back on her life in the spotlight.

LIFE IN PUERTO RICO, 1936

“I love this little girl!” Moreno says of her 5-year-old self. “I was happy as a clam. My mother made that dress. And that huge bow – it’s bigger than my head!”

HOLLYWOOD STARLET, 1955

Though her career was taking off, “this was not the happiest time of my life,” Moreno recalls. “All I was playing was stereotypical dusky maiden roles. It was a loss of dignity. I had such aspirations.”

WEST SIDE STORY, 1961

“This role got me the two biggest awards, the Golden Globe and the Oscar,” says Moreno. “What’s hilarious is I didn’t do another movie for seven years. Oh, show business!”

MARCH ON WASHINGTON, 1963

Moreno, Harry Belafonte, James Garner, Brando, Charlton Heston and other stars marched for civil rights. “It was thrilling. We were no more than 20 feet away from Dr. King,” she says.

FAMILY VALUES, 1996

Moreno calls her late husband, cardiologist Leonard Gordon, “a devoted family man.” Their daughter Fernanda (with her parents) “was the most wanted child in the whole world.”

MARLON BRANDO, 1968

Moreno’s relationship with the star nearly ended in tragedy when she attempted suicide in 1961. “It was an obsessive love affair on both our parts,” says Moreno, who still reunited with him to costar in 1968’s The Night of the Following Day. “I was addicted to him. He was my cocaine.”

PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL OF FREEDOM, 2004

Receiving the highest civilian award “was incredible,” says Moreno. “And it was the first time I wore a designer outfit! This was Valentino.”

THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, 1971

Costar Morgan Freeman (far right) “was not thrilled to be on this show,” Moreno (center, with Bill Cosby at rear) says of the groundbreaking PBS children’s series. “I lectured him once because he was late all the time. From then on he was terrific.”

GRANDSONS, 2004

Abuelita Rita! “That’s Justin in the athletic T-shirt, and Cameron is the little one,” Moreno says. “My grandkids are everything to me. For me, family is all!”

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