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Home > Current Buzz > Where are they now: The cast of 80s hit Fame
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Dec 27 2008
By Brian McIver

It was the television and movie phenomenon that influenced fashion for a generation and had us all rushing out to buy leggings and leg warmers.

Now, more than a quarter of a century after Fame first hit our cinemas and TV screens, it's about to become cool all over again thanks to a new documentary on television.

Justin Lee Collins hosts Bring Back Fame on Channel 4 tonight, where he celebrates the classic story of talented teens learning their steps at the New York High School of Performing Arts and tries to reunite the cast.

The Fame phenomenon started off life as a musical movie in 1980, directed by British mogul Alan Parker - who also made Bugsy Malone and The Commitments - and starred singer Irene Cara, who also sang the title track, which won an Oscar.

The movie was such a hit that a TV series was commissioned, with many of the movie cast taking part.

It went on to enjoy six successful seasons and spawned several singles and albums.

The leg warmer and leggings craze of Eighties fashion can be traced to the show, with the dancing and performing kids all strutting their TV stuff in the scratchy garments.

And even when the show finally passed its sell-by date in 1987, the legend of the programme and movie continued in repeats and, recently, a sell-out musical stage show.

The continuing popularity of the Fame brand has led to a big-budget remake of the movie. It is one of the most eagerly-awaited summer releases of 2009, with Kelsey Grammer starring as a teacher and Debbie Allen returning as the headmistress.

But what has happened to the rest of the cast since the Eighties?

The most successful graduate of Fame was Janet Jackson, who appeared briefly in the series from 1984-1985, but she was already famous as part of her musical family.

Most of the lead kids remained in show business at some level, though none of them ever reached the heights of Fame again.

Here are their stories...

LEROY JOHNSON
(GENE ANTHONY RAY)

The best remembered member of the cast was the streetwise young black kid from Harlem, who was desperate to be a dancer.

He became a household name and the money and fame soon flooded in,and he received 17,000 fan letters a day.

Not bad for a poor kid, who himself was actually kicked out of the real New York Performing Arts School after just one year.

But the scandals soon started to rack up.

Gene's mother, three aunts and three uncles were all jailed for drug dealing in 1983 when the show was at its peak.

He developed a problem with drugs and drank heavily as he tried to cope with the pressures of Fame. At that time he missed 100 rehearsals and the money dried up as his addictions grew worse.

In the years following the show, Gene attempted to clean up his act, and starred in a musical version of the Stephen King book Carrie, but that went on to become one of the biggest Broadway flops of all time and he could never match his early success.

And after years of irregular work and bit parts or cameos, Ray was diagnosed HIV positive, and died of a stroke, aged 41, in 2003.

COCO HERNANDEZ
(IRENE CARA)

In the early Eighties, Irene Cara was the voice of movie musicals, and it all started with Fame. The Latin star was the lead lady in Alan Parker's movie version, and also sang the title track, which she went on to perform at the Oscars.

Playing rising star Coco Hernandez in the movie, she became a star overnight.

But primarily a singer rather than an actress, Cara declined the chance to star in the television version, and instead pursued her career in music. She scored an even bigger hit than Fame by singing and writing What A Feeling for the movie Flashdance, which won her another Oscar.

Throughout the Eighties and Nineties, she kept working, acting in movies like Clint Eastwood's City Heat, and recording, but her popularity gradually wained as she failed to live up to her two early hits.

The singer has been continually working all her life, recording and producing albums of various low levels of success, and touring the world to perform for a still strong fanbase.

She was on the US version of comeback show Hit Me Baby One More Time in 2005, and is said, at 46, to be working on a new album.

BRUNO MARTELLI
(LEE CURRERRI)

Best known as the tall and troubled pianist with the huge hairdo, Bruno was one of the real hunks of the television series, and was a star in the movie and a regular during the first three years of the programme. At the height of his fame in the early Eighties, Lee also appeared on the Muppets and had a curly haired piano duel with Rowlf the dog.

When he left the show,he relocated from his native New York to Los Angeles, where he put his musical skills to good use, and began a career as a score musician and composer for TV and movies.

He also worked as a producer for artists such as Natalie Cole and Kid Creole and the Coconuts.

DANNY AMATULLO
(CARLO IMPERATO)

The wise-cracking cool dude of the TV series, Danny laughed and joked his way through all six series of the show, a feat matched only by pal Gene Anthony Ray's Leroy, but failed to live up to his success and popularity post 1987.

He went on do theatre work and had the occasional acting role, including a small role in Friends in 1995. He was also in the indie movie Crazylove in 2005, although he has not been seen much other than in those roles.

JULIE MILLER
(LORI SINGER)

The real-life cellist played beautiful cellist Julie Miller in the first two series of Fame but, after leaving the show, enjoyed a huge movie role as Kevin Bacon's girlfriend in Footloose.

The Texan-born musician has appeared in other movies such as Robert Altman's cult hit Short Cuts, but has spent most of her life dedicated to her music career.

She has performed around the world with her cello, and is one of the most respected musicians in her field.

TEACHER LYDIA GRANT
(DEBBIE ALLEN)

Debbie Allen entered pop culture legend when she spoke the famous opening line of the TV show during the opening credits: "You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying... in sweat."

She starred as the school's teacher Lydia Grant, and was often the matriarch for the creative kids in her charge.

Since the programme finished, she has forged an incredibly successful career behind the camera as a movie and TV producer.

She was behind the Cosby Show spin off A Different World, and has also choreographed the dance numbers at the Oscars.

She also runs a dance school, and is set to appear in the new Fame remake movie as the Performing Arts school's headteacher.

 

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