Irene Cara, star of the Academy Award-winning film Fame and vocalist on the 1983 hit “Flashdance…What a Feeling” has died. Cara’s publicist, Judith A. Moore, announce her death on Twitter, noting that Cara died at her home in Florida, but declined to provide a cause of death. She was 63 years old.
“She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films,” the statement said. “Funeral services are pending and a memorial for her fans will be planned at a future date.”
Irene Cara Escalera was born on March 18, 1959 in the Bronx, New York. She was the youngest of five children born to Gaspar and Louise Escalera. She was encouraged to pursue a career in the entertainment industry from a young age, performing in beauty pageants, learning the piano by ear, and taking dance lessons before making her way onto shows including the PBS series, The Electric Company, and eventually to Broadway, where she starred in musicals like Via Galactica, Maggie Flynn, and Sparkle. The latter production was adapted into a movie.
Cara followed this early success with Fame, the 1980 film that would make her a household name. Though initially cast as a dancer, the part of Coco Hernandez was rewritten to showcase Cara’s singing voice. Her presence on two songs in particular—“Fame” and “Out Here on My Own”—catapulted the film’s soundtrack onto the Billboard charts, with “Fame” peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the full soundtrack peaking at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Both “Fame” and “Out Here on My Own” were later nominated for Best Original Song at the 1980 Academy Awards, with the former single finally taking home the award.
Fame helped cement Cara’s place in the music industry, earning Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1980, ultimately winning the latter award. In 1982, she released her debut album, Anyone Can See, which was quickly followed by the single “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” Co-written by Cara alongside Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey, the song was originally recorded for the film Flashdance and peaked No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, where it sat for six weeks. The song led Cara to win the Academy Award for Best Original Song and Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance that year.
“How bright our spirits go shooting out into space, depends on how much we contributed to the earthly brilliance of this world,” she once said in Fame, per the Associated Press. “And I mean to be a major contributor!”