Pre-teen dreams (Part Two)


Before I went to Aro Street Video Store and rented disc one of the TV series Fame, Leroy was the only person I could really remember from the show that I had watched back in 1982.  He was a dancer, and in my head he was the cool one on the show.  The internet tells me he died in 2003 of a stroke at the age of 41.  When someone who was very fit for most of his life dies of a stroke at 41 you have to think that things went wrong for Gene Anthony Ray.  His career on paper doesn’t appear to have been glittering after Fame which wound down in 1987.  A couple of one-off episodes as a dancer in a few shows, and the lead role in a play that ran for five shows.

Fame is one of those songs most people can sing the chorus to even if they have never seen the show,


I’m gonna live forever

I’m gonna learn how to fly


And then, my favourite lines:

I’m gonna make it to heaven

People will see me and cry

People cried when they saw the Elephant Man too… of course, he was pretty famous.

When I played the record and listened to the song Fame again I realised that I had forgotten the verses more or less, and that I had also forgotten the instantly recognisable guitar hook which sounds very similar in style to the biggest selling single of 1982, Eye of the Tiger (let’s call that style “easy listening raunchy”).  Naturally each episode of the TV show began with the theme tune, but the theme tune had brief excerpts of speeches from characters in the show cut into it.  One of these speeches is delivered by Lydia, Leroy’s fiesty dance instructor, who says:

I always loved that speech and thought it sounded tough and inspiring.

It turned out that other than that speech and the vague notion of Leroy I remembered very little about Fame, and absolutely nil about the plot.

Episode one.  NYC is gritty and all the walls of the buildings look like they’ve been soaked in tea.  Young people wear bright clothes and have lots of hair and attitude.  A small town girl plays the cello movingly at an audition.  Outside tough kids (of colour) sass each other (but you suspect they have hearts of gold).  No nonsense English teacher does vocab lesson.  “Can you use the word deleterious in a sentence?” “Seeing so many men in tights is deleterious?” I-am-not-amused facial expression from teacher.  Leroy refuses to wear tights in dance class.  Small town girl does impression of a giraffe slipping on a banana peel for dance teacher.  Dance teacher looks perplexed.  Small town girl can’t fit in with the city kids because her clothes are lame.  Leroy won’t wear tights.  Dreamy piano boy plays music with lots of notes.  Sassy black girl does big ensemble dance number in the school canteen to impress dreamy piano boy.  Small town girl fits in by changing her lame clothes for cool ones.  English teacher explains the meaning of the word metamorphosis.  Show’s audience goes: “oh, that’s clever.”

Actually, it wasn’t too bad.  Often a bit obvious, and people are prone to speechifying, but not too bad.  Of course there are really bad bits.  In the third episode we are treated to Come What May, a song where Gene Anthony Ray proves he can’t sing in key to save himself.  Honestly, it’s terrible.

Also some of Leroy’s little short shorts defy belief (where does he keep his bits?), and when you see him flanked by proper dancers he’s obviously not a proper dancer.   Whatever, it’s just TV, and Leroy has fabulous sass and athleticism, and some of the lines are good.  The sweaty, desperate urge to get ahead is believable enough, and the idea that you might just fail pushes through occasionally.


Gene Anthony Ray’s obituary in The Sun tells us about his post-Fame drug addiction, and drinking.  About getting arrested for stealing a bottle of wine in Italy and getting in a fight with drunks.  At the time he died he was HIV positive.  It must have been a hard decade after the TV show was axed for Ray.  I feel for him, and prefer to remember him as he was in 1982, when the kids on the show Fame could make speeches like this and sound tough because they didn’t really know how bad the reviews could get:

Nobody gives you anything baby.  You make your own chances.  Everybody gets bad reviews.  You’re not out-of-town anymore.  You’re in the hot burning centre of the galaxy.

See you round Leroy.

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

10 thoughts on “Pre-teen dreams (Part Two)”

  1. This makes me sad to learn about Leroy’s demise. I must have seen the movie Fame a gazillion times, and I liked when he learned to read.

    It’s sad the most of the people in Fame never really got famous beyond Fame.

  2. I’m sad about Leroy’s life after Fame, too. It seems that the life of a celebrity is much harder than our own, less visible lives.

  3. This hurt my heart. Leroy is dead? First I learn Physical is not about aerobics and now this? You are quickly becoming one of my prime sources for news.

  4. JP, first of all, thank you for writing this. I think there’s a very important lesson to be learnt here – that, of course, there’s a very dark flip side to fame. Unfortunately, those who crave it sometimes can’t see it. Nobody cares about you when you’re not in the spotlight. Warhole wasn’t joking when he said that “everyone is famous for fifteen minutes.”

    I’m glad you took the time to honour Leroy’s memory in this way.

    On the more flippant side, I hope I don’t ruin the mood by saying my brother had a massive crush on Doris.

    And did you have the song Hi-Fidelity in NZ? I liked that more than the “Fame” song itself 🙂

  5. I missed the movie. In fact for a long time I thought Fame was just a TV show. I always LOVED Leroy and Lydia (although I had forgotten her character’s name).

  6. Really hard when the blaze of the spotlight moves away. For some of them I think this is the real torment.

  7. Doris? Really?

    Lydia for me.

    I have the Fame soundtrack somewhere. I better go and dig it out.

  8. I never occurred to me that the line “People will see me and cry” could mean “People will see me and weep”. I always figured it was “People will see me and cry, ‘Fame!'” But then at the same time, I thought “Don’t cry for me Argentina” meant “Don’t weep for me Argentina”.

    Also, you actually have to watch the Fame movie. It’s directed by Alan Parker, it’s a lot darker than the TV series and it features an audience participation screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, back when it was still weird and edgy and not something suburban housewives did for lolz. And Ben Stiller’s mom is in it as a teacher. She has a good scene with Leeroy.

  9. My eternal list of things to do. Maybe this holiday. I have the soundtrack… seems silly not to see the movie.

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