FAME Star Irene Cara Dead At 63

Oscar and Grammy Award winner Irene Cara has died at the age of 63
Irene Cara (image via official podcast)

Waking up to the sad news that Oscar and Grammy Award winner Irene Cara, who brought to life the hopes and dreams of millions of young performers in the iconic film FAME, has passed away at the age of 63.

“It is with profound sadness that on behalf of her family I announce the passing of Irene Cara…”

According to an announcement by her publicist, Cara died at her home in Florida. No cause of death has been released at this time.

The text of the announcement read:

“It is with profound sadness that on behalf of her family I announce the passing of Irene Cara. The Academy Award winning actress, singer, songwriter, and producer passed away in her Florida home. Her cause of death is currently unknown and will be released when information is available.”

“Irene’s family has requested privacy as they process their grief. She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films. Funeral services are pending a memorial for her fans will be planned at a future date.”

I want to share some of Cara’s incredible history, but first, on a personal note, I have to express how her music and performances left an indelible imprint on my DNA.

In the early 1980s, I was just beginning to emerge as the person I would become: as an artist in the theatre, as a gay man who didn’t quite know who he was yet, as a human being. The film FAME, which I’ll get to in a moment, introduced me to Cara, her talent, AND opened the door to discover the deep passions we can hold for that which lights a spark within us.

Countless are the times I danced in a studio “on my own” to the movie’s title song. And watching video clips of Cara singing “Out Here On My Own,” my pre-gay brain connected to something – even if it couldn’t parse it out completely.

Sometimes I wonder where I’ve been,
Who I am, do I fit in
Make believing is hard alone, out here on my own
We’re always proving who we are,
Always reaching for that rising star
To guide me far and shine me home
Out here on my own

This morning, as Michael and I remembered Cara and her powerful legacy, I mentioned how “Fame” and “Flashdance” resonated with audiences. Michael put it best, saying, “Because they were anthems. Anthems of empowerment that made us feel strong. She made us feel strong.”

To this day, if we are flipping around on the TV and come across FAME, we stop. And watch. And feel strong.

In memoriam, Irene Cara…

Irene Cara as 'Coco Hernandez' in FAME
Irene Cara as ‘Coco Hernandez’ in FAME (screen capture)

Cara began her career performing onstage and TV including a regular stint on PBS’s educational program The Electric Company, as a member of the show’s band, The Short Circus.

At the same time, she was appearing on NYC stages as part of the off-Broadway production of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and the Broadway casts of Maggie Flynn, The Me Nobody Knows, Via Galactica, and Got Tu Go Disco.

But she shot to stardom as “Coco Hernandez” in the 1980 film FAME, earning a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

I’m gonna live forever / I’m gonna learn how to fly
I feel it coming together / People will see me and cry
I’m gonna make it to heaven / Light up the sky like a flame
I’m gonna live forever / Baby, remember my name

As the driven, ambitious “Coco,” Cara sang not only the title song “Fame,” but also the infectious “Hot Lunch Jam” as well as the film’s emotional piano ballad, “Out Here on My Own.”

Cara reached the peak of her music success with the iconic pop anthem, “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” which she co-wrote with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey for the film Flashdance.

In addition to hitting #1 on the Billboard charts, the song led to a constellation of honors including the 1983 Academy Award for Best Song (Oscar), 1984 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, 1984 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, and American Music Awards for Best R&B Female Artist and Best Pop Single of the Year.

According to her official website, Cara was the first African American female to win an Oscar since Hattie McDaniel (“Gone With The Wind – 1939”), the first Hispanic female since Rita Moreno (“West Side Story” – 1961) and the first bi-racial female ever to win in any category.

Cara went on to appear in other movies, including “City Heat” in 1984 co-starring Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. In 1985, she played opposite Tatum O’Neal in “Certain Fury.”

Rest in peace Irene Cara.

And I’ll look back on Venus / I’ll look back on Mars
And I’ll burn with the fire of ten million stars
And in time and in time, we will all be Stars