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.