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Singer-actress Irene Cara (1959-2022)


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Irene Cara, a onetime child star who went on to win an Academy Award for songwriting, has died at the age of 63. Her publicist announced Saturday on Cara's Twitter account that the singer and actress died yesterday at her home in Florida, but the cause of death was not known.

“I can’t believe I’ve had to write this, let alone release the news," wrote publicist Judith A. Moose. "She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films."

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Born Irene Cara Escalera in New York City, she was the daughter of a Black Puerto Rican father and a Cuban-American mother. She began performing at an early age and appeared as a contestant on a 1967 episode of CBS'  "Ted Mack and the Original Amateur Hour" when she was 8.

She appeared on Broadway as an orphan in the 1968 Broadway musical "Maggie Flynn." The production starred Shirley Jones and her husband Jack Cassidy. It also featured early appearances by Giancarlo Esposito and  Stephanie Mills. Jones played the title character, an Irish woman who tried to provide a safe haven in 1863 New York City for the orphaned children of refugee slaves. Cassidy, who played Flynn's scoundrel of a husband, received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical.

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 In the early 1970s, Cara (pictured top right in the photo below) was a regular on the PBS series "The Electric Company."  The syndicated show also starred Bill Cosby, Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman.

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Kevin Hooks ("Sounder") and Cara headlined the 1975 drama "Aaron Loves Angela" -- a contemporary version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Set in Harlem, the picture focused on the difficult relationship between a Black teen (Hooks) and a young Puerto Rican girl (Cara). The drama was directed by Gordon Parks Jr., whose 1972 film "Super Fly" was the highest-grossing blaxploitation release of all time. The movie's soundtrack was co-written by the Grammy Award-winning singer José Feliciano and his wife at the time, Janna Marlyn Feliciano.

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Cara played the title character in the 1976 film "Sparkle," a musical drama reportedly inspired by the rise of Motown's The Supremes. Directed by the Oscar-winning film editor Sam O'Steen ("In the Heat of the Night"), the picture starred Cara, Lonette McKee, and Dwan Smith as 1960s Harlem siblings hoping for a big break in the music industry. The movie's songs were written by Curtis Mayfield. The film, which provided the first screenwriting credit for the future director Joel Schumacher, was remade in 2012.

Cara, who played Coco Hernandez in the 1980 film musical "Fame," also performed the title song. Directed by Alan Parker ("Midnight Express," "Mississippi Burning"), the tale of creative students at the New York High School of Performing Arts earned Academy Awards for Best Original Score (Michael Gore) and Best Original Song: "Fame" (Gore and Dean Pitchford).

She also sang the Oscar-nominated song "Out Here On My Own." It was co-written by Gore and his older sister, pop music legend Lesley Gore, who died February 16, 2015 at the age of 68.

In 1983, Cara co-starred with Howard E. Rollins, Jr. in the PBS TV-movie "For Us, the Living: The Medgar Evers Story." The production, set during the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in the early 1960s, was based on the book by Myrlie Evers-Williams -- widow of the slain NAACP field secretary. Directed by Michael Schultz ("Cooley High"), the film also starred Margaret Avery, Roscoe Lee Browne, Laurence Fishburne, Paul Winfield and Janet MacLachlan.

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Cara won a 1983 Oscar herself for co-writing the song "Flashdance...What a Feeling" from the movie "Flashdance." Her recorded version of the song, which reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, also earned her the 1983-1984 Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

At the 56th Academy Awards ceremony held on April 9, 1984, Cara shared the Academy Award for "Flashdance" with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey. She became the first Black woman to receive an Oscar of any kind since Hattie McDaniel's Best Supporting Actress win 44 years earlier.

Cara played a Black singer named Ginny Lee in the 1984 drama "City Heat," which teamed Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood as onetime friends turned investigative rivals. Set in 1930s Kansas City, the film was directed by Richard Benjamin from a screenplay by Blake Edwards.

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My Heart Is Broken. 💔 #IreneCara was such a gifted and beautiful genius. Her talent and her music will LIVE FOREVER! FOREVER REMEMBER HER NAME! 😢❤️ #FAME
 
 
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My heart breaks to learn of the passing of @Irene_Cara   She was one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known. Her dedication to her craft was unrivaled, and her talent knew no bounds. She will be missed, but her legacy will indeed ‘live forever’. Rest in peace my dear friend💔
 

 
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