Obituary of Irène Cara | Movies

Although her catalog of recordings was not large, there were two songs that guaranteed Irene Cara a permanent place in the pantheon of pop music. In 1980, Cara, who died suddenly aged 63, announced herself to top the UK singles chart with Fame, which also rose to No. 4 in the US.

It was the title song of the eponymous film by Alan Parker, documenting the struggles of students at New York’s High School of Performing Arts. Cara’s character, Coco Hernandez, was originally a dancer, but was rewritten to showcase her singing voice.

Irene Cara performing in New York in 1984. Photography: Shutterstock

The song’s rhythmic, ecstatic tune made it the perfect embodiment of every budding star’s ambitions – “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna learn to fly…I’m gonna go to heaven, light up the sky like a flame Her ambitious influence has spread over the years through a series of talent shows such as American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor.Cara has also become an inspiration to other Latin artists. Actor John Leguizamo tweeted, “She made me believe if you were Latino you could do it! She fueled my community.”

Fame and another single from the film’s soundtrack, here all alone (an American Top 20 hit), were nominated for an Oscar, and since both were sung by Cara, she achieved the rare feat of singing more than one song at an Oscar ceremony. Fame won Best Original Song Statuette of the Night. But his best was yet to come. The night of the Oscars, 1984, found Cara back in the spotlight, basking in the glow of her huge success with Flashdance… what a feeling.

It was the title track from Adrian Lyne’s movie Flashdance, and it held the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Hot 100 for six weeks while topping many other charts around the world. This time Cara was one of the songwriters, along with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey, and shared the triumph by winning the Oscar for Best Original Song.

He also won a Golden Globe and two Grammys. The film was the story of an ambitious dancer trying to earn a place at an elite dance conservatory, and Cara wanted the lyrics to show how the character is”in control of his body when she dances and how she can control her life”. She added, “I felt I had something special with that song.”

Born in Bronx, New York, Irene was the youngest of five children born to her Cuban-American mother, Louise, a movie theater usher, and her Puerto Rican father, Gaspar Escalera, a factory worker and former musician. She studied piano, dance and acting from an early age, and made her Broadway debut at age nine in the musical Maggie Flynn.

She attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, a fitting training ground for her future role in Fame, and as a teenager became a television regular, appearing on PBS’s The Electric Company and the classic detective show Kojak. . In 1975 came her first film appearance, as Angela in Aaron Loves Angela. She also performed the title role of Sparkle Williams in sparkled (1976), a musical drama loosely based on the Supremes’ career.

Irene Cara, right, and Tatum O'Neal in Certain Fury, 1985.
Irene Cara, right, and Tatum O’Neal in Certain Fury, 1985. Photography: Entertainment Events / Allstar

In 1979, she was cast in the powerful television miniseries Roots: The Next Generations, based on the final chapters of Alex HaleyThe Novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. The following year, she joined a stellar cast in the miniseries Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, about the cult of Jones’s Peoples Temple and the mass suicide in Jonestown in 1978.

As a recording artist, she released her debut album, everyone can see, in 1982, and it reached 76 on the US Albums Chart. Surprisingly, the follow-up, What feeling (1983), also only had moderate success despite including the song Flashdance, although it did produce the Top 20 single Why me? and a Top 10 hit with break dance.

Cara’s recording career was marred by a long legal dispute with her record label, Network. “It took eight years and it cost me my future as a recording artist because no other label wanted to sign me,” she said. She released a third album, Carasmatic, on the Elektra label in 1987, but despite a terrific cast of backing musicians, it failed to chart. Cara protested that the label failed to promote the album. In 1993, she won a court ruling awarding her unpaid royalties.

Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas in the 1976 film Sparkle.
Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas in the 1976 film Sparkle. Photography: Warner Bros/Allstar

In Joel SchumacherDC’s motion picture comedy Cab (1983), about a group of Washington cabbies she played herself, and her contribution to the soundtrack The dream (Hold on to Your Dream) reached the US Top 40. She co-starred in For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (also 1983), depicting the life of the murdered civil rights activist.

In City Heat (1984), she appeared opposite Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, and sang Embraceable You and Get Happy, and the following year she teamed up with Tatum O’Neal in Certain Fury. Other film credits include Busted Up (1986) and Caged in Paradiso (1989), although his later film endeavors mostly involved voice-only work, for example voicing Snow White in Happily Ever After (1989) and Beauty in Beauty and the Beast (1992). ).

In the 2000s, Cara, who had homes in Largo, Florida and Santa Fe, New Mexico, opted for semi-retirement, although she mentored the all-female band Hot Caramel and released the album Irene Cara Presents Hot Caramel in 2011.

“I have a nice house by the beach and life is good,” she said. “I earn more money without working than by working.”

In 1986, she married stuntman and director Conrad Palmisano; they divorced in 1991.

Irene Cara Escalera, actress, singer and composer, born March 18, 1959; died on November 25, 2022

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