Remembering Irene Cara: Who was the Oscar winning singer and how did she die?

Irene Cara leaves behind an incredibly important and poignant legacy

Irene Cara
(Image credit: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis/Getty Images/Future)

Irene Cara, an Oscar- and Grammy- award winning musician known for her contributions to the 1980's films Fame and Flashdance, died on November the 26th at her home in Largo, Florida. She was 63. 

Cara was born in the bustling city of New York in 1959, and worked in both television and theatre as a child before landing the leading role in the 1976 musical drama Sparkle. 

Just four years later, she garnered international fame for her performance in Fame, for which she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. While she did not win the award, she would later go on to win an an Academy Award as well as two Grammy Awards for singing and co-writing the track 'Flashdance… What A Feeling'.

Unfortunately, Cara's career soon took a downturn after she filed legal action against a record company executive, Al Coury, claiming he took advantage of her trust with “unjust and oppressive” contracts for movie and recording deals that cut her out of significant royalty income. A Los Angeles jury later awarded her $1.5 million in her suit against Coury.

Speaking about the lawsuit in a 2018 interview with Songwriter Universe, Cara said, “I sued one man and it just kind of spiralled into the entire industry turning against me because of it. So it turned me off to the music business entirely." Her obituary in Forbes Magazine points out, "Cara had ups and downs, like many brown-skinned stars of her time. She was not alone in accusing her old record labels of unfair contracts."

After years of playing only the supporting role in various films, Cara struggled to reach her previous heights and returned to music in 2011 with an all-female band, Hot Caramel. 

Cara's publicist, Judith Moose, announced the news of her death in a statement released on Cara’s official Twitter account on Saturday morning (26th November).

Irene Cara

(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

How did Irene Cara die?

A statement from Irene Cara's publicist, Judith A. Moose, said the cause of her death is not yet known. The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office confirmed they responded to a call to an address in Largo, which has since been confirmed as Ms. Cara’s residence. 

In the statement announcing her death, Moose wrote, "She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films. Funeral services are pending and a memorial for her fans will be planned at a future date.

“I’ll be reading each and every one of them and know she’ll be smiling from Heaven. She adored her fans.”

Irene Cara

(Image credit: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

Who is Irene Cara's husband?

Irene Cara was briefly to married Conrad Palmisano, a stuntman, between 1986 and 1991. The couple first met in 1984 on the set of 'A Certain Fury' where Palmisano was the stunt coordinator and Cara was playing Tracy Freeman in a supporting role. 

During their marriage, the couple co-starred in the 1987 film 'Busted Up', which follows a skilled fighter as he attempts to save his inner-city gym from real-estate developers. 

The couple never had any children and divorced in 1991. Following their seperation, it is reported that Irene Cara did not date anyone.

Irene Cara

(Image credit: New World Pictures/Getty Images)

What ethnicity was Irene Cara?

Irene Cara was of Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage. Irene's father, Gaspar Cara, a factory worker and retired saxophonist, was Puerto Rican, and her mother, Louise Escalera, a movie theater usher, was Cuban. Irene celebrated her heritage and began showcasing her talents on Spanish-language television before performing in numerous stage and TV productions in America. 

News writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is a news writer for Goodtoknow, specialising in family content. She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.