Irene Cara, best known for singing the title songs to the films Fame and Flashdance, has died aged 63.

Cara appeared as the main character Coco Hernandez in Fame, which was released in 1980. It told the story of students at the High School of Performing Arts in New York, taking them from their first auditions to their senior year.

In the film she was shown singing Fame as she walked through New York’s streets, and sat on top of one of its famous yellow taxis. She had originally been cast as a dancer, before the role of Hernandez was written for her.

Three years later, she co-wrote Flashdance … What a Feeling for Flashdance, for which she won an Oscar for best original song and two Grammy awards for original score for a motion picture and best female pop vocal performance.

Both songs were top 10 hits in the UK and US. Flashdance … What a Feeling, which was reused in TV, film and advertising, was later re-recorded for its appearance in 1997 film The Full Monty.

Cara was nominated for an Oscar for best actress for Fame, and won gongs from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), including for her part in 1982 film Sister Sister. She had started her career as a child actor and singer, appearing on the Johnny Carson show in the 1970s, and in a tribute concert to Jazz icon Duke Ellington.

Her publicist Judith Moose announced the news in a statement released on Cara’s official Twitter account on Saturday morning, saying she had died at her home in Florida.

She said: “This is the absolute worst part of being a publicist. I can’t believe I’ve had to write this, let alone release the news.

“She was a beautifully gifted soul whose legacy will live forever through her music and films.”

Her cause of death is currently unknown, and will be released when it has been confirmed, Moose said. Her family have asked for privacy, and funeral and memorial services will be planned at a later date.

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