Irene Cara, Oscar-Winning ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ Singer, Dies at 63

Irene Cara, the Oscar-winning singer and actor who rocketed to pop stardom singing the title tracks to “Fame” and “Flashdance,” had died at age 63. Her publicist, Judith A. Moose, announced the news on social media, writing that a cause of death is “currently unknown.”

“Irene’s family has requested privacy as they process their grief,” Moose wrote. “She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films.”

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Cara first came to prominence playing Coco Hernandez, a student at the High School of Performing Arts, which is now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, with ambitions of becoming a star. Not only did Cara act in the film, she also recorded the film’s title song “Fame.” That track would go on to be nominated for an Academy Award for best original song, as would “Out Here on My Own,” another number from “Fame” that was sung by Cara. “Fame” would win the Oscar for composer Michael Gore and lyricist Dean Pitchford. The songs’ success came despite the fact that director Alan Parker initially doubted that Cara had the musical chops to pull off the number — Gore quickly phoned him after working with Cara in the studio to let him know they had a vocal powerhouse on their hands. Cara, who had appeared on TV and stage since she was a child, shared many similarities with her character, which helped inform her performance.

“It’s fair to say that the character Coco’s unbridled ambition in our story, closely mirrored Irene’s in real life,” Parker would recall.

But Cara would go on to score an even bigger hit with “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” an infectious anthem of empowerment that she sang and co-wrote. The 1983 romantic drama about a dancer who dreams of being a ballerina was a box office smash. Its title song was equally popular, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She would re-record the song with DJ BoBo for 1997’s “The Full Monty,” which would give it another burst of ubiquity.

Cara’s credits include “City Heat” opposite Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood, “Certain Fury” alongside Tatum O’Neal, and a national touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the 1990s. She was married to Conrad Palmisano, a stunt man and director, from 1986 until their divorce in 1991.

Correction: An earlier version of this obituary incorrectly named Alan Rudolph as the director of “Fame.”

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