Irene Cara, star of ‘Flashdance’ and ‘Fame,’ dies at 63; had ties to Tampa Bay

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Actor and singer Irene Cara, best known for her starring roles in the films “Flashdance” and “Fame,” has died at age 63, her publicist Judith A. Moose announced on Friday.

Cara won both an Oscar and a Grammy for her song “What a Feeling” from “Flashdance.”

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

Moose also said that Cara’s family is asking for privacy so that they can grieve. “She was a beautiful and gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and her films,” Moose wrote. She said funeral services are pending and a memorial will be planned for her fans at a future date.

Cara, whose real name was Irene Escalera, owned a home in Largo that she bought in 2014. The property has been homesteaded since the purchase, an indication it was her legal, permanent address. Cara also kept a New Port Richey address, and her music company, Caramel Productions, is based there as well, according to records.

She did not have a high profile in the area, having appeared just a couple of times in local news clips. One article mentions she attended a performance at Pasco-Hernando Community College in 2003 and it included a picture taken with some of the students.

Cara kept to herself in her Largo neighborhood, according to neighbor John Nolan. “She was recluse. She never talked to anyone,” he said. “In the years I’ve lived here, I only saw her a few times.”

Nolan said he had heard who she was from a neighbor some time ago but would not have known her identity otherwise.

Cara was interested in music from a young age, according to a biography provided to the Tampa Bay Times by her publicist. She was able to play the piano by ear at the age of 5 and her parents, recognizing her talent, enrolled her in music, dancing and acting classes.

She began her professional career on Spanish-speaking television and later made the rounds on a number of popular variety shows. By age 8 she had released her first Spanish album, followed shortly after by an English album of holiday songs. She starred on the daytime drama “Love of Life” andplayed on “The Electric Company.”

In 1980, Cara portrayed the character Coco Hernandez in “Fame” and her solo of the title song as well as “Out Here on My Own” made Academy Awards history. It marked the first time two songs from the same film were nominated in the same category. The title track won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Cara earned several other nominations.

In 1982, she was awarded the NAACP Image Award for Best Actress for her role in the NBC movie-of-the-week “Maya Angelou’s Sister.” She won another NAACP Image Award nomination for the title role in the PBS film “For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story.”

The following year, she starred in and co-wrote the lyrics for “Flashdance,” earning the Oscar for Best Original Song. She also received a Golden Globe for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture in addition to two Grammys, a People’s Choice Award, and an American Music Award.

Cara continued to produce albums, act in other movies and go on tour. In 1999, she formed the group Hot Carmel. She won several lifetime achievement awards and most recently broadcast the YouTube podcast “The Irene Cara Music Show.”

According to her biography, “The two most memorable lines from the title song ‘Fame’ are ‘I’m gonna live forever,’ and ‘Baby, remember my name.’ From the five-year-old piano player to ‘The Electric Company’ to ‘Flashdance’ and beyond, Irene Cara’s legacy is guaranteed. Everyone will remember her name.”