ACTRESS and singer Irene Cara, who helped define the ’80s era of legwarmers and leotards, has died aged 63.
The Oscar-winning former child star, who sang the title tracks of the films Fame and Flashdance, has been found dead at home in Florida.
Fittingly, it was the 1980 film Fame that made her a star at 21, playing the talented performing arts student Coco Hernandez.
Three years later, she had another big hit when she co-wrote and performed the film’s title song, Flash-dance. . . What a feeling.
It earned her an Oscar for Best Song in 1983 and a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984.
Her death was announced last night by her publicist, Judith Moose, who said: “It is with profound sadness that I announce the death of Irene Cara on behalf of her family.
“The cause of her death is currently unknown and will be released as soon as the information becomes available.”
She was born Irene Cara Escalera in 1959 in the Bronx, New York City.
The youngest of three children, Irene showed artistic potential from an early age and was soon enrolled in music and acting classes.
She inherited her musical talent from her Puerto Rican father, Gaspar Escalera, who she says brought merengue music to the United States.
To fund her music lessons, her mother Louise worked as a cashier and film instructor – but it paid off when Irene released her first record, a Spanish-language album, at the age of eight.
She worked in television and film throughout her childhood, then in 1976, when she was 17, she was cast in the title role in Sparkle, a musical drama about three African-American sisters who formed a singing group in the late 1950s.
After Fame brought her worldwide fame in 1980, she said, “I left home. I got an apartment near the shooting location. I wanted to be my own wife and all that.
“I started hanging out at nightclubs, and I sowed my oats.”
The fame grossed £13million at the box office before becoming a TV show.
Even Irene was shocked by its effect.
She admitted: “I didn’t realize it was going to be what it was. I’ve heard about schools in Liverpool opening up to the performing arts.
“So many of my fans from across the country and around the world tell me that because of the inspiration of this film, they have become dancers, choreographers or professionals in the entertainment industry.”
Three years later, the talented Irene co-wrote Flashdance…What a Feeling for the 1983 film, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Original Song and two Grammys.
Friends suggested she should have played the lead role of professional ballerina Alex Owens, but Irene insisted, “I’m glad I didn’t get it because it would have been too similar to Fame.
“I thought Jennifer Beals did a great job and I was glad to see another mulatto actress out there working.”
Jennifer presented her with the Oscar at the 56th Academy Awards, which Irene described as “the most valuable honor”.