Decades before High School Musical and Glee, there was the groundbreaking and Oscar-winning Fame, which opened in theaters 31 years ago today. The Alan Parker-directed film followed the lives of talented students at the New York City High School for the Performing Arts, based on Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York. The cast included Debbie Allen, the "it-girl" of the time, Irene Cara and Gene Anthony Ray as Leroy.
Fame was a massive hit in 1980, capturing every teen's dream to be a star. The title track, performed by Irene Cara, spoke volumes: "Fame! I'm gonna live forever ... Light up the sky like a flame/I'm gonna live forever/Baby remember my name." The song charted at number four on the Billboard Hot 100, hit number one in the UK for three weeks and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The movie garnered over $21 million at the box office, which made it a huge success at the time, especially for a cast that included many people of color. In addition, Fame racked up two Golden Globe nods, six Oscars nominations and two Oscar wins. The film also birthed a successful TV series, which ran for six seasons from 1982 to 1986 and included Janet Jackson.
Irene Cara went on to have have success after Fame, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song for co-writing "Flashdance... What a Feeling" in 1983. She also won a Grammy, Golden Globe and an American Music Award for the tune. However, after winning a vicious legal battle with her record label in the early '90s, Cara insisted she was blacklisted from the industry. In 2008, she explained, “They stopped all of my other music from being released. They pretty much blackballed me in the record business. It was horrifying to go through this as a young woman.”
Gene Anthony Ray garnered a cult following for playing Leroy and was part of all six seasons of the TV series. Ray passed away in 2003 at the age of 41.
The legacy of Fame lives on and proves that dreams of teen stardom transcend any decade or generation.