Irene Cara, ‘Fame’ Star Who Won an Oscar for ‘Flashdance’ Title Song, Dies at 63

Irene Cara, the actress and singer who starred in the 1980 movie “Fame” and then won an Oscar for co-writing the title track to the 1983 hit “Flashdance,” has died in her Florida home at age 63.

“It is with profound sadness that on behalf of her family I announce the passing of Irene Cara,” publicist Judith A. Moose wrote. “Her cause of death is currently unknown and will be released when information is available.

Born Irene Cara Escalar in the Bronx borough of New York City to a Puerto Rican father and a Cuban-American mother, she learned to play piano by ear at an early age and soon was taking lessons in music and dance. She went on to make appearances on Johnny Carson’s “The Tonight Show” and became a regular on PBS’ “The Electric Company” in the early 1970s.

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By 1976, she landed the lead role in Warner Bros.’ musical drama “Sparkle,” a fictionalized version of the Supremes story in which she played a Diana Ross-like diva who breaks off from her girl group for a solo career. She followed that with prominent roles in the 1979 miniseries “Roots: The Next Generations” and 1980’s “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.”

But she shot to major fame in Alan Parker’s aptly titled 1980 movie musical “Fame,” playing the aspiring actress singer Coco Fernandez and singing both the title song as well as “Out Here on My Own,” which both became chart hits. She earned Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy.

Three years later, she sang and co-wrote the lyrics to “Flashdance… What a Feeling,” the title song to the 1983 hit movie starring Jennifer Beals as a steelworker turned dancer. The song became a breakout hit, earning Cara two Grammys — for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female as well as Album of the Year for the movie’s soundtrack.

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More notably, Cara won the Academy Award for Best Original Song, becoming the first Black-Hispanic woman to win an Oscar in a non-acting category. (She shared the prize with composer Giorgio Moroder and co-lyricist Keith Forsey.)

Cara continued in acting and music, starring with Clint Eastwood in the 1984 thriller “City Heat” and releasing Top 40 hits like 1984’s “Breakdance.” She released a few more albums and continued touring, but her career slowed down considerably in the late ’80s. By the ’90s, her acting work consisted mainly of occasional cameos on TV and voice roles in animated projects like 1990’s “Happily Ever After.”

In 1999, she formed an all-female band called Hot Caramel that released one album in 2011. In 2008, she appeared in the second season of CMT’s “Gone Country” as one of seven celebs vying to become a country music star.