Singer Actress Irene Cara passed away on Friday, but her cause of death has not been yet been revealed. A representative for Cara told reporters from TMZ that she died at her home in Florida, but could not disclose any other details. Cara was 63 years old.
Cara was an icon of the 1980s, but she gradually stopped performing through the 1990s and early 2000s. She was best known for co-writing and singing "Flashdance... What a Feeling" for the movie Flashdance. She won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance when the song came out in 1984. She also performed the title song "Fame" for the movie Fame, where she played the character Coco Hernandez.
Cara was born in New York City in 1959, the youngest of five children. Her father was a retired saxophonist while her mother was a movie theater usher, so she would have been close to the entertainment industry from an early age. Cara was first on stage at the age of 3 when she was a finalist in the "Little Miss America" pageant.
From there, Cara never strayed far from the limelight. She found work singing and dancing on Spanish-language television as a child and became a regular on The Electric Company on PBS in 1971. She performed on stage alongside Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr. and Roberta Flack, and her talents brought her all the way to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, where she sang and danced.
As a young adult, Cara found work in New York City's thriving theater scene both on and off Broadway. She had a couple of roles in daytime serials filmed in NYC, including the series Love of Life where she was the first actress to portray the role of Daisy Allen. She also appeared in Aaron Loves Angela and starred in Sparkle, but her big breakout performance was in Roots: The Next Generations and Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones, both of which got more international attention.
Finally, Cara became a national sensation starting with the 1980 film adaptation of Fame. Her heartfelt vocal performances made her one of the movie's breakout sensations, including the title track and her song "Out Here on My Own." Cara turned down an opportunity to reprise her role as Coco on the subsequent Fame TV series, wanting to focus primarily on her career as a recording artist as well as an actress. However, she accepted a chance to work on her own sitcom called Irene in 1981, though it never got past a pilot order.
Cara saw a whirlwind of success through the 1980s and in the 90s, often favoring music over acting and working with some legendary talents. In 1999 she formed a band called Hot Caramel, which stuck together for decades. In the last decade, she split her time between homes in Florida and New Mexico, working with her band and occasionally venturing out for on-screen work. Cara married film director Conrad Palmisano in 1986 and divorced in 1991. Her representative asked for privacy for her family during this difficult time.
"It is with profound sadness that on behalf of her family I announce the passing of Irene Cara," they said. "Irene's family has requested privacy as they process their grief. She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films."