Remember His Name: Gene Anthony Ray

Gene-Anthony-Ray-as-Leroy-fame-16822239-1200-793Actor and dancer Gene Anthony Ray passed away ten years ago today.

Ray shot to fame when he was cast in the 1980 movie ‘Fame’ as one of the central characters Leroy Johnson. Ray went on to feature in the TV series based on the film.

Born in Harlem in 1962 Ray first began performing on the streets in New York City and at neighbourhood block parties. He skipped High School for the day to go the audition for Alan Parker’s film based on New York’s High School for the Performing Arts.

Ray had actually attended the school a few years earlier, but had been expelled for being too rowdy.

Aside from his most famous role in ‘Fame’, Ray also appeared in the Weather Girls’ video for their mega-hit ‘It’s Raining Men’ and appeared as Man Friday in a Robinson Crusoe film opposite Michael York.

The TV show ‘Fame’ was not a success in the USA but had a huge audience in Australia and Great Britain and television stations from these countries contributed to it’s production costs in later years to keep the series on air. In 1982 Ray and many of the show’s cast members toured the UK as ‘The Kinds from Fame’ releasing a studio album and a live recording as well.

Ray was fired from his role in the TV series in 1984 after he had missed work more than a hundred times, and his mother was arrested for being part of a drug ring. Previously Ray’s mother has allegedly caught selling drugs on the set of the film back in 1980.

Ray spent months at home eating junk food, until he realised that he’d put on so much weight he could no longer wear his clothes, he later recalled in a interview.

“For five months I sat at home in front of the TV and stuffed my face with junk food,” he recalled. “Then one day I looked in the mirror and thought ‘Man, you are the fattest pig on Earth’. I couldn’t believe it was my reflection. So I bought a new pair of pants in my usual size – 28in waist – and couldn’t even get them over my thighs. Man, I was shocked! I ate like a bird on salad and worked out for two months until those pants fitted like a glove.”

Following his return to form, Ray went on to appear in the films ‘Eddie’ with Whoopi Goldberg and ‘Out of Sync’ which was directed by close friend and ‘Fame’ cast mate Debbie Allen. He also appeared in TV commercials for Diet Coke and Dr Pepper.

Later in life there were time that Ray was reported as living on the streets. He was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1995 and in 2003 suffered a stroke, passing away a few months later. Ray never discussed his sexuality and in his obituary it was described that ‘he always flamboyantly brushed aside any questions’.

Throughout his life he was a well documented party lover, and undoubtedly inspired many boys to realise that dancing could be cool. In an interview with the official ‘Fame’ magazine Ray was asked what he liked to do most, his answer was simple, “dance”.

To celebrate Gene Anthony Ray’s brilliance, here’s a clip of him dancing with a snowman and some highlights of him dancing in the film and TV series ‘Fame’.

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