Irene Cara was an American singer and actress who rose to prominence for her role as Coco Hernandez in the 1980 musical film Fame, and for recording the film’s title song “Fame”, which reached No. 1 in several countries.
She also co-wrote and sang the song “Flashdance… What a Feeling” from the film Flashdance, for which she won an Academy Award and a Grammy Award. Irene Cara had an estimated net worth of $4 million as of 2023.
She died on November 25, 2022, at the age of 63, in her Florida home. The cause of death was unknown.
Irene Cara’s Early Life and Career
Early Life and Upbringing
Irene Cara Escalera, the youngest of five children, was born in New York City on March 18, 1959. Her parents were Cuban movie theater ushers Louise Escalera and Gaspar Cara, a retired Puerto Rican steel mill worker and musician. Her father’s mambo band launched her singing and dancing career on Spanish-language television.
She studied music, theater, and dancing and played piano by ear. She appeared on The Original Amateur Hour and The Tonight Show early on. She was a frequent member of PBS’s educational show The Electric Company’s Short Circus Band.
She recorded a Latin-market Spanish record and an English-language Christmas CD as a youngster. A huge Duke Ellington tribute performance with Stevie Wonder, Sammy Davis Jr., and Roberta Flack included her. She attended Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School.
Rise to Fame with the Movie Fame
Starting with Maggie Flynn alongside Shirley Jones and Jack Cassidy, Cara performed on Broadway and off. She played Sparkle Williams in the 1976 musical drama Sparkle. In 1980, she played Coco Hernandez, a gifted singer and dancer who attends a prominent New York City performing arts high school, in Fame, her breakout role.
Six Academy Award nominations and two wins, including Best Original Song for Cara co-wrote and sung “Fame,” made the picture a financial and critical triumph.
The song topped the charts in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and other nations. It won Golden Globes and Grammys.
The film inspired a 1982–1987 TV series of the same name. Cara reprised Coco in the first season but quit owing to creative issues with the producers. She contributed songs to the show’s soundtracks.
Irene Cara’s Achievements and Awards
Musical and Acting Accolades
In 1983, Cara co-wrote and sang another iconic song for a movie soundtrack: “Flashdance… What a Feeling” from the film Flashdance. The song was inspired by Giorgio Moroder’s instrumental track “Love Theme from Flashdance” and featured lyrics by Cara and Keith Forsey.
The song was a huge success, topping the charts in many countries and winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song and a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1984. It also earned Cara another Golden Globe nomination.
Cara continued to record music throughout the 1980s, releasing three solo albums: Anyone Can See (1982), What a Feelin’ (1983), and Carasmatic (1987). She also collaborated with other artists such as Hot Caramel (her female backup group), Freddie Jackson, John Tropea, George Duke, Bill Champlin, James Ingram, Michael Bolton, and others. Some of her notable singles include “Why Me?”, “Breakdance”, “The Dream (Hold On to Your Dream)”, “You Were Made for Me”, and “Girlfriends”.
Cara also pursued her acting career, appearing in films such as Aaron Loves Angela (1975), Certain Fury (1985), City Heat (1984), Busted Up (1986), Happily Ever After (1990), Caged In Paradiso (1990), Beyond Desire (1994), Killing ’em Softly (2002), and others. She also starred in TV movies such as Sister Sister (1982), For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story (1983), Roots: The Next Generations (1979), Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones (1980), The Magic Show (1983), What About Me? I’m Only 3! (1992), etc.
Contributions to Soundtracks and Albums
Besides Fame and Flashdance, Cara also contributed songs to other movie soundtracks such as D.C. Cab (1983), City Heat (1984), The Peanut Butter Solution (1985), Busted Up (1986), The Jungle Book (1994), and others. She also sang the theme songs for TV shows such as The Electric Company, Fame, The Magic Show, and others.
Cara also participated in several charity and tribute albums, such as We Are the World (1985), Hands Across America (1986), A Very Special Christmas (1987), The Songs of West Side Story (1996), and others. She also recorded a duet with Plácido Domingo for his album Perhaps Love (1981).
Irene Cara’s Personal Life and Legacy
Personal Relationships and Family
Cara was married to stuntman Conrad Palmisano from 1986 to 1991. They had no children. She later dated her manager John Wilcox for several years until his death in 2019. She had no other known romantic partners or children.
Cara was very close to her family, especially her mother, who died in 2018. She also had two sisters and two brothers, who survived her.
Irene Cara’s impact on the entertainment industry
Cara was one of the most influential and successful female artists of the 1980s, with her songs becoming anthems for a generation of aspiring performers and dancers. She was also one of the first Latina stars to cross over to mainstream pop culture, paving the way for other artists of diverse backgrounds. She was admired for her talent, charisma, and versatility, as well as her courage and resilience in overcoming personal and professional challenges.
Cara inspired many artists who followed in her footsteps, such as Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, Leona Lewis, and others. She also received numerous honors and recognitions for her work, such as a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and others.
Irene Cara’s Net Worth and Current Status
Estimated Net Worth
Irene Cara had an estimated net worth of $4 million as of 2023. She earned most of her wealth from her music and acting career, as well as royalties from her songs and performances. She also invested in real estate and other ventures.
Recent Projects and Activities
Before her death, Cara was working on several projects and activities. She had recorded a new album titled Irene Cara Presents Hot Caramel, which featured songs written and produced by her and her backup group Hot Caramel. The album was released posthumously in December 2022. She also launched a website called Irene Cara Productions, which showcased her music, videos, photos, and merchandise. She has also been involved in various charitable causes, such as supporting children’s education, animal welfare, environmental protection, and human rights.
Cara died on November 25, 2022, at the age of 63, in her Florida home. The cause of death was unknown. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered in the ocean. She was mourned by her family, friends, fans, and colleagues around the world.