Skip to content

Remember her name: Irene Cara brought the soundtrack of the 80s

“I don’t mean to sound immodest, but I’d never had any doubt that I’d be successful, nor any fear of success. I was raised as a little goddess who was told she would be a star.”

—Irene Cara to Cosmo Magazine in 1985

Irene Cara, the multi-talented Actress, dancer, and songstress, expired this past Nov. 25.

“This is the absolute worst part of being a publicist,” Judith A. Moose, president of JM Media reported. “I can’t believe I’ve had to write this, let alone release the news. Please share your thoughts and memories of Irene.”

Cara reportedly died at her home in a suburb of Tampa, Fla. An exact cause of death has not yet been revealed.

Born Irene Cara Escalera on March 18, 1959, she was immediately dubbed “carrot” due the reddish hue of hair she was born with. Bi-lingual before the term entered into the lexicon, she remembered a household dominated by conversation infused with a “Spanglish” hybrid.

The youngest of five children, her Caribbean born parents (her mother Puerto Rican, her father a Cuban immigrant and retired saxophonist) lavished their talented toddler with acting, dancing, and music lessons as a foundation for appearances on local television along with “The Electric Company.”

Archival footage shows the a precocious eight year-old on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour” (circa 1967):

In short order, she proved herself in television and on and off Broadway before acceding to the big screen and her career-defining role as “Coco Hernandez” in “Fame” (1980), a musical drama whose plot contained a heady mixture of class, emotional abuse, abortion and drug use. “Fame” resonated with a demographic born on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation, particularly with youth of color whose aspirations transcended their station in life.

Its success was aided in no small part by Cara’s compelling mezzo-soprano, as the lyrics to its title song “I’m gonna live forever,” and “Baby, remember my name” were etched into the psyche of youthful movie goers. These included future TV and music notables.

“I related to her multicultural look (Puerto Rican and Cuban), her multi-textured hair and, most importantly, her ambition and accomplishments,” singer Mariah Carey said in her memoir.

Her accolades included the 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Flashdance…What A Feeling” which also won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal, a Golden Globe Award, and a People’s Choice Award in the same year.

Cara married film director and stuntman Conrad E. Palmisano in April 1986, before divorcing him in 1991.