Irene Cara, Oscar-Winning Star of 'Fame,' 'Sparkle,' Dies at 63
Irene Cara, who won an Oscar for Best Original Song and starred in the 1980 box-office phenomenon "Fame," has died at 63.
In a somber announcement made from her official Twitter, the late singer's publicist Judith A. Moose wrote, "It is with profound sadness that on behalf of her family I announce the passing of Irene Cara... [who] passed away in her Florida home. Her cause of death is currently unknown and will be released when information is available."
Moose also indicated a memorial for fans would be "planned at a future date."
Cara was born in the Bronx on March 18, 1959, to a Puerto Rican father and Cuban-American mother. After competing in the Little Miss America Pageant as a child, she studied piano and dance, appearing on Spanish-language TV.
Her early start in performing led to talk show appearances, and she also launched a recording career aimed at the Latin children's market.
She was busy on Broadway and off, including in "Maggie Flynn" (1968) with Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, "The Me Nobody Knows" (1970), "Via Galactica" (1972) with Raul Julia, and the original 1978 cabaret show of "Ain't Misbehavin'" with Nell Carter and André DeShields.
Cara made her TV debut as the original Daisy on the soap "Love of Life" (1970-1971), and was a regular on "Electric Company" (1971-1972).
Irene Cara.Gloriously powerful award winning singer/songwriter. Her gifts empowered. Her songs fueled coming of age years. My fave memory is a childhood one: seeing people of color in a love story for the 1st time:Aaron Loves Angela.Her NY light will shine in this NYer #irenecarapic.twitter.com/2I6f9cIkT2
In 1975, Cara was seen as a dancer in the film "Apple Pie," but had her proper debut in "Aaron Loves Angela" (1975), an inner-city version of "Romeo and Juliet."
Next up, she anchored the 1976 feature "Sparkle," a musical drama that took its inspiration from the story of the Supremes. Cara played the title role with aplomb. Though a box-office bomb at the time, the film has become a favorite, and was remade in 2012 with Jordin Sparks and Whitney Houston.
A rising teen star, she made appearances on "Kojak" (1976) and the frothy "What's Happening!!" (1977), then turned in serious dramatic performances in the TV movies "Roots: The Next Generations" (1979) and "Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones" (1980).
But Cara's career went supernova with her dazzling turn as Coco Hernandez in director Alan Parker's "Fame" (1980). Set in New York's High School for the Performing Arts, the musical drama was a box-office hit and showcased Cara's triple-threat status. The film's title song and "Out Here on My Own" were both Oscar-nominated, the first time two songs from one film competed in the category. Cara performed them both live on the Oscars. "Fame," a #4 Billboard Hot 100 hit, took home the statuette.
New York Mayor Eric Adams tweeted of Cara and "Fame," "Irene Cara sang New York City’s song. Born in the Bronx, she reached for the stars and delivered a soundtrack for the ages. She will be truly missed. Rest in peace."
Cara turned down a shot to star in the TV version of "Fame," preferring to head up her own series, "Irene." The show was not picked up. She instead starred in the Mr. T comic film "D.C. Cab" (1983).
That same year, Cara did the unthinkable — she topped her "Fame" success with the song "Flashdance... What a Feeling" from the Jennifer Beals dance drama "Flashdance." Having co-written the #1 smash with Giorgio Moroder, she took home an Oscar for her work, becoming the first Black Hispanic woman to win an Oscar in a non-acting category.
The song went on to win two Grammys.
Beals remembered Cara on Twitter, writing, "Thank you brilliant Irene for your open heart and your fearless triple threat talent. It took a beautiful dreamer to write and perform the soundtracks for those who dare to dream."
She scored lesser Top 40 hits with "Why Me?" and "The Dream (Hold on to Your Dream)" in 1983, and hit the Top 10 with "Breakdance" (1984) from her album "What a Feelin'." Her final Hot 100 entry, "You Were Made for Me," came that same year.
Cara continued her acting career in "City Heat" (1984) with Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, "Certain Fury" (1985) with Oscar winner Tatum O'Neal, the boxing film "Busted Up" (1986), and the women-in-prison exploitation drama "Caged in Paradiso" (1989).
Alongside greats like Carol Channing and Ed Asner, she was the voice of Snow White in the 1989 animated film "Happily Ever After" and provided other voice work for videos. She also continued performing in musical theater and toured the world with her music.
She later released recordings with the group Hot Caramel.
Cara is survived by various family members, who have "requested privacy as they process their grief."
Debbie Allen, who starred on the TV version of "Fame," spoke for many with her tweet: "My Heart Is Broken. #IreneCara was such a gifted and beautiful genius. Her talent and her music will LIVE FOREVER! FOREVER REMEMBER HER NAME!"