Gene Anthony Ray

All-singing, all-dancing Leroy Johnson in 'Fame'
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The Independent Online

Gene Anthony Ray, actor and dancer: born New York 24 May 1962; died New York 14 November 2003.

Gene Anthony Ray was best known for his all-singing, all-dancing part as Leroy Johnson in the Alan Parker picture Fame (1980). The film, which won an Oscar for Best Original Score and managed to convince a whole generation of the sartorial merits of legwarmers, led to the highly successful spin-off series on NBC which topped the ratings in the mid-Eighties.

Playing Leroy, Ray was one of the few actors to star in both the film and the TV series and it was largely due to his presence that both were an instant hit. His chiselled looks and athletic physique combined with his formidable dancing talents made him a heartthrob among the programme's largely teen audience. In 1982 hysterical British fans turned up in their thousands as he and fellow cast members toured the UK, performing the show's greatest hits.

Born in 1962, Gene Anthony Ray was brought up in Harlem, New York. Like his character in Fame, he was plucked from obscurity and was among the many who skipped school to attend the auditions for the film. Despite having had no formal training, he dazzled the choreographer Louis Falco with his smooth moves and beat 2,800 other hopefuls to the part of Leroy. The television series The Kids From Fame was the early-Eighties answer to Pop Idol, a tears-and-tantrums drama where students lived out their dreams, ruthlessly competed against one another and grappled with their fears of failure.

The series was aired for five years, between 1982 and 1987, during which time Ray's character, an illiterate but streetwise black kid from the wrong side of the tracks, faced his demons and honed his performing talents. Underneath the frothy veneer, The Kids From Fame was a series ahead of its time, bringing together a cast from a range of ethnic groups and dealing with hard-hitting subjects such as drug addiction, eating disorders and sexual abuse.

With the success of the show, the cast became celebrities, a situation to which many of them found it hard to adjust. On a BBC documentary Fame: Remember My Name earlier this year, in which the former stars of the series were reunited, Ray was among those recalling the copious drinking and drug-taking that took place in between shoots. After the show ended, Ray's mental state went into decline and his drinking spiralled out of control.

Over the years he made several attempts to re-start his career - in the late Eighties he moved to Milan to found a Fame-type dancing school - but each of them failed. In 1992 he was arrested for stealing a bottle of wine in a Milan supermarket, though the case was eventually dropped. Reports also abounded in the early Nineties that Ray was sleeping rough on park benches and in 1995 there were rumours, backed by Fame's writer David De Silva no less, that he had died from an HIV-related illness. In later interviews, Ray admitted to having an alcohol addiction but staunchly denied that he was suffering from Aids.

Ray's post-Fame credits include the role of Man Friday in the TV mini-series Shipwreck alongside Michael York, a brief appearance in Out of Sync (a 1995 film co- produced by the former Fame star Debbie Allen) and a cameo in the 1996 Whoopi Goldberg vehicle Eddie. He also appeared in a series of soft-drinks commercials which helped recover his finances in the late Nineties.

Fiona Sturges

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