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

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Irene Cara, the Academy Award-winning singer who performed the electric title tracks in two aspirational self-expression movies of the 1980s, “Flashdance” and “Fame,” has died. She was 63.

Her death, at her Florida home, was confirmed by her publicist, Judith A. Moose, on Twitter on Saturday. Ms. Moose, who did not specify where in Florida or when Ms. Cara died, said the cause was “unknown and will be released when information is available.”

Ms. Cara, a former child actor, dancer and singer, was the voice behind two of the biggest movie theme songs of the 1980s. She performed the title track from the movie “Fame” (1980), which followed a group of artsy high school students as they move through their first auditions to graduation.

In 1984, she won the Oscar for best original song as one of the writers of “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” the title song from “Flashdance,” which she also sang. The buoyant song also earned Ms. Cara a Grammy Award in 1984 for best pop vocal performance, female, and a Golden Globe for best original song. The movie, like “Fame,” chronicled the aspirations of a young person seeking to express themselves through art, in this case, dance.

Ms. Cara was born Irene Escalera on March 18, 1959, in the Bronx. She repeatedly disputed reports about her birth year, at times describing it as 1964. Her official Twitter account says she was born in 1962. Her mother told The New York Times in 1970 that a young Ms. Cara, already a busy performer by then, was 11 years old.

Her mother, Louise Escalera, was a cashier, and her father, Gaspar Escalera, was a musician who worked at a steel factory. Information on Ms. Cara’s survivors was not immediately available.

Ms. Cara grew up in New York City and attended music, acting and dance classes as a child; she was said to be able to play the piano by ear at age 5. She attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, a school for child performers and children studying the arts.

As a child, she sang and danced on Spanish-language television. At 13, she was a regular on “The Electric Company,” a children’s show broadcast mostly on public television in the 1970s. She was also a member of its band, the Short Circus.

Ms. Cara stayed busy, taking roles in theater, television and film, including the title role in “Sparkle,” a 1976 film about a family of female singers in the 1960s; it was remade in 2012.

Her breakout role was in the movie musical “Fame,” in which she played Coco Hernandez, a student at a school modeled after what is now Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Manhattan. On the film’s soundtrack, Ms. Cara sang the title number, “Fame,” and another single, the ballad “Out Here on My Own.”

Both songs were nominated for an Oscar in 1981. The film was nominated for several awards, and “Fame” won for both best original song and score.

She continued to act and make music into the 1990s, when she was embroiled in a legal battle with her record company over her earnings. She was awarded $1.5 million by a California jury in 1993, but Ms. Cara said she had been “virtually blacklisted” by the music industry because of the dispute, People magazine reported in 2001.

In recent years she shared songs from her catalog, including some that had not been released, on her podcast, “The Back Story.”

In a podcast episode in July 2019, she spoke about her ballad “As Long as It Lasts,” saying its qualities were similar to those of “Out Here on My Own.” She explained why she connected to both songs: “Very naked, just vocal and piano and a great lyric and a great story within the lyric, those are the kinds of songs I relate to as a songwriter.”