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Fame Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Alan Parker's 1980 musical "Fame" followed the lives of a group of students attending New York's High School of Performing Arts. These dancers and singers perform and study, all while dealing with sexuality, religion, and racism. The cast was mostly comprised of unknown actors, but "Fame" became a huge hit and spawned a long-running television series in the bargain.

NBC debuted the TV spinoff, also called "Fame," in 1982, and it ran for six seasons. While it included a few original cast members from the film, it was mostly made up of new faces and storylines. While relatively few "Fame" stars went on to high-profile careers after the show, it never could have been what it was without its extra talented cast. Unfortunately, some of them have died since their days of wanting to live forever and learn how to fly. With that in mind, here's a look at the "Fame" actors you may not know passed away.

Albert Hague

A big part of the tension in "Fame" is the clash between students and teachers, which is a tale as old as time. In the film as well as the series, Albert Hague played Benjamin Shorofsky, a conservative music teacher who is horrified by Bruno Martelli's electronic keyboard music. This supporting role became more developed in the TV series, with Shorofsky fighting with and guiding a number of students.

Hague was born in Germany before World War II, fleeing just before being inducted into the Hitler youth. He got a musical scholarship to the University of Cincinnati and his musical background landed him the role on "Fame." He acted in a few projects after "Fame," such as "Space Jam" and "The Story of Us," and his music career continued as well — he wrote Broadway shows and even performed in Carnegie Hall with his wife, Renee. Hague died from cancer in 2001, just a year after his wife passed.

Ann Nelson

At the heart of every school is its administrative office, and the High School of the Performing Arts was fortunate to call Ann Nelson's Mrs. Berg its own. Her role was originally meant to be a guest appearance, but the producers loved Nelson's portrayal so much that they made her a series regular by Season 4. All told, she was in 92 episodes and appeared in every season of the show, offering constant laughs and guidance to the students.

"Fame" writer and director Michael Hoey noted that Nelson started her acting career at the age of 61, and the show was just one of many projects during her late-blooming career. After the show ended, Nelson went on to guest star on shows like "Golden Girls," "Growing Pains," and "Married... with Children." Her biggest role during her post-"Fame" years was a six-episode arc on "Knots Landing" as Mrs. Richfield. She also had a few parts in films such as "My Girl" and "Airplane." Nelson died in 1992 at the age of 76 due to undisclosed causes.

Michael Thoma

"Fame" being set at the High School of Performing Arts gave viewers the chance to see a variety of teachers — and although he only appeared in seven episodes, Michael Thoma's Mr. Crandall was a fan favorite. Mr. Crandall is the school's drama teacher, a former English major and Broadway actor who turned to teaching. His humor, kindness, and support of his students help them become better actors; his clear sense of morality helps guide them as well.

Prior to "Fame," Thoma was probably best known for his work in the role of Dr. Greg Maxwell in the comedy drama series "Eight is Enough." He also worked in theater as a director and stage manager before being cast as Mr. Crandall in 1981. Unfortunately, his character died when Thoma did in 1982 after a two-year struggle with cancer. The Season 2 "Fame" episode "A Tough Act to Follow" was dedicated to him.

Carmine Caridi

The character of Bruno Martelli (played in the film and series by Lee Curreri) is an electronic keyboardist who clashes with figures of authority like Mr. Sarofsky and his father, Angelo. Carmine Caridi played Angelo Martelli in the "Fame" TV show, a father who struggles to understand his son and his "crazy" electronic music.

Before joining the cast of "Fame," Caridi was best known for his role in "The Godfather Part II." According to Robert Evans in "The Kid Stays in the Picture," Caridi was the top choice for the role of Sonny Corleone (eventually played by James Caan) but was passed on because he was too tall to play opposite Al Pacino. After "Fame," Caridi was embroiled in a film pirating scandal, accused of sending his Academy screeners to a man who put them on the internet. The first member to be expelled from the Academy, Caridi died in 2019 at the age of 85.

Ken Swofford

Every story needs its villain, and in the world of "Fame," the original villain is Ken Swofford's Quentin Morloch, who first appears in Season 3. The school's vice principal, Quentin butts heads with students and teachers alike. A former sports star, he believes in rigid rules and ideas of manliness, which makes the performing arts school he presides over sometimes seem like an alien world to him. He tries to get his charges in line, and often creates drama and conflict in the process.

After the show changed executive producers in 1984, Swofford was let go. He sued MGM as a result for unlawful firing, but despite that messy professional setback, his career didn't suffer too much in the end — he went on to land further prime-time television roles on series such as "Dallas," "Dynasty," and "Murder, She Wrote" before dying in 2018 at the age of 85.

Carrie Hamilton

Carrie Hamilton's Reggie Higgins first appears in Season 5 as a new student who wants to be a comedian. She makes a name for herself with her comedy bits and later her music as she joins the school's all-girl band, the Cuties. She's the rebel of the class and an activist who's driven to protest and save frogs from dissection.

"Fame" was Hamilton's first big break, but wasn't her first taste of fame — she was the eldest daughter of comedy legend Carol Burnett. Hamilton forged her own career path, which led to her role on "Fame" and was followed by parts in "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Murder, She Wrote," and the film "Tokyo Pop." Sadly, Hamilton's adolescence was marked by a period of heavy drug, alcohol, and cigarette use, and she was diagnosed with lung cancer at a young age. In 2002, she died at 38 from complications related to pneumonia and cancer, but her legacy lives on — the Carrie Hamilton Theatre in Pasadena, CA bears her name.

Graham Jarvis

Season 5 of "Fame" introduced a new principal to the School of Performing Arts: Bob Dyrenforth, played by Graham Jarvis. Jarvis replaced Ken Swofford as the rigid authority figure who clashes with the kids. It's not so hip to be square, after all, especially when you're surrounded by students of the arts.

Jarvis' career took off before "Fame" with a starring role as Charlie Haggers in the soap opera parody "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman." Charlie was the older husband of country music star Loretta Haggers (played by Mary Kay Place), and Jarvis reprised his role in the "Mary Hartman" sequel "Forever Fernwood." After "Fame," he continued to guest on shows such as "Married... with Children," "Get a Life," and "Six Feet Under." Jarvis' final role was the character of Charles Jackson, the father of Annie Jackson Camden, in "7th Heaven," which he played until his death in 2003 from multiple myeloma.

Darryl Tribble

"Fame" the movie wouldn't have been what it was without its dance scenes — and while some of the incredible performers from the film went on to star in the television show, the series also showcased a new group of dancers. Some of them appeared in several seasons, such as Darryl Tribble, who danced his way through more than 50 episodes of "Fame."

Tribble's first foray into film was a role in the 1975 release "Apple Pie." "Fame" followed, connecting him with Debbie Allen, who plays Lydia Grant in the film, series, and 2009 remake (fun fact: she's the only cast member to appear in all three iterations of the franchise). Allen became one of the producers of the series "A Different World," and brought Tribble on for a guest role in a 1989 episode about a student with HIV, played by Tisha Campbell. According to Lonnell Williams, who worked as a production assistant on "A Different World," Allen insisted that the episode be dedicated to the HIV-positive Tribble, who died from AIDS two years later.

Dick Miller

The world of "Fame" wasn't just about gifted students and their teachers. Season 4 saw the addition of Dick Miller's Lou Mackie, a generous bartender who would appear regularly throughout the rest of the series.

Miller's career began with the 1955 film "Apache Woman" and continued on into the 2010s. Prior to "Fame," he could be spotted in films like "The Terminator" and "Twilight Zone: The Movie." His most recognizable role may have come in "Gremlins" as Murray Futterman, a World War II veteran who's paranoid of foreign objects and cars and is the first to predict the danger of the creatures. After his 30-episode stint on "Fame," Miller stayed busy, going on to roles in projects such as "The Flash," "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," and his final screen appearance, the horror feature "Hanukkah." In 2019, just a month after his 90th birthday, Miller died from a heart attack.

Dave Shelley

Like many series about the lives of teenagers, "Fame" needed a place for the kids to hang out when they weren't at home or in school. Enter Dave Shelley, who joined the cast in Season 3 as Don Caruso, the owner of Caruso's Coffee House, a popular gathering place for the students of the High School of Performing Arts. Shelley appeared in nine episodes of the show before leaving in 1984.

Born in 1931, Shelley began working on television in 1969 with a guest starring role on "My World and Welcome To It." He went on to take parts in "The Waltons," "One Day at a Time," and a multi-episode arc on "Starsky and Hutch" before landing his role on "Fame." After leaving Caruso's Coffee House behind, he went on to appear in "The A-Team," "Dallas," and "The Jeffersons." Shelley passed away in 1989 from complications following coronary bypass surgery.

Derrick Brice

One of the dancers who was with "Fame" from the beginning of the show, Derrick Brice appeared in 69 episodes total. Michael Hoey, one of the writers and directors of "Fame," remembers Derrick Brice and Darryl Tribble as "two of the most wonderful dancers and happy individuals you'd ever want to know" — which goes a long way toward explaining why they were in nearly all of the dance numbers during the first four seasons.

Brice first appeared onscreen in "Doctor Detroit," a 1983 film starring Dan Aykroyd. His biggest role was on "Fame," although it wasn't his last; after his stint on the show ended, he was seen in "The Return of the Living Dead" and "Hill Street Blues," showcasing his versatility as a dancer and an actor. His talent and charisma seemed likely to lead to a long career, but health problems would prevent Brice from filling that potential — he died from AIDS in 1987 at the age of 25.

Gene Anthony Ray

Gene Anthony Ray's Leroy Johnson is one of the few characters who appears in both the movie and TV show versions of "Fame." In the film, Leroy is discovered when he dances with a friend who's auditioning to get into the High School of Performing Arts. Leroy initially doesn't have the training or drive that the other students have, but his raw talent lands him a spot in the school. A supporting player in the film, Ray became a lead in the TV series, but ultimately, his fame would stop there.

Like his character, Ray was discovered accidentally. He was a street performer in Harlem who also enrolled in the School of Performing Arts (now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School), but was expelled after a year. At 17, he was picked out of a pool of 2,800 people to be in the movie version of "Fame," and although he was a star of the TV series, he was at one point fired for missing work. Diagnosed with HIV in 1996, Ray died in 2003 at 41 due to complications from a stroke he'd had earlier that year.

Madlyn Rhue

Madlyn Rhue made her "Fame" debut in Season 1 as Angela Schwartz, mother of Doris (played by Valerie Landsburgh). Doris takes her studies very seriously — she wants to be a professional actor — which sometimes leads her to butt heads with Angela and her more lighthearted, fun-loving nature. 

Rhue's prolific acting career lasted nearly four decades, beginning with her 1958 guest-starring role in "The Court of Last Resort." Her work spanned multiple genres, from drama to sci-fi to action, and even after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, she didn't slow down. Following her diagnosis, she landed series regular roles on "Bracken's World," "Executive Suite," and "Days of Our Lives" before working on "Fame." After leaving "Fame" in 1985, Rhue went on to play Annie Hartung in "Houston Knights"; her final screen role came in a multi-episode arc on "Murder, She Wrote." Rhue passed away from pneumonia and multiple sclerosis in 2003.

Morgan Stevens

In Season 2 of "Fame," a new teacher named David Reardon joins the High School for the Performing Arts' faculty and he sticks around for three seasons. Mr. Reardon is an amiable guy from a big Southern family who, after a divorce and an estrangement from his father, moves to New York to make it as an actor. Until his career can take off, he pays the bills by teaching acting classes.

After his time on "Fame" ended, actor Morgan Stevens made a lot of television. In 1987, he played Jack Gardner in the regular cast of the acclaimed, limited-run NBC family saga "A Year in the Life." In 1995, he took on the role of dangerous and cutthroat attorney Nick Diamond on "Melrose Place." According to Deadline, police conducting a wellness check discovered Stevens deceased in his Los Angeles home on January 26, 2022. He died of heart disease at the age of 70.

Irene Cara

Coco Hernandez is the lead character in the 1980 "Fame" movie because she's the obvious star of the High School of Performing Arts, naturally gifted and motivated for a big entertainment career. She gets accepted into all three programs — drama, dance, and music — because she's just that good. Coco is central to the film's most memorable and electrifying scenes: the "Hot Lunch Jam" musical segment, the movie's title song as it fuels dancing in the streets, and she intimately belts, "Out Here on My Own."

The multitalented performer who played the multitalented Coco found stardom in real life. By the time she starred in "Fame" in 1980, Irene Cara had appeared on "The Electric Company" as a kid actor, and co-starred in the 1976 movie musical "Sparkle," according to the Washington Post. Other film roles followed, such as one in Clint Eastwood's "City Heat," but Cara had a nice run on the pop chart in the '80s. Her recording of the "Fame" song hit #4, "Breakdance" reached #8, and "Flashdance... What a Feeling" (the theme from "Flashdance") both topped the chart and won Cara an Oscar for best original song. Cara, according to People, died in November 2022 at her Florida home. Per TMZ, the cause of death was hypertension and high cholesterol. Cara was 63.

Tresa Hughes

The relationship in the "Fame" film between retreating acting student Doris Finsecker and her mother, Naomi Finsecker, is complicated. Naomi is extremely encouraging of her daughter's pursuits. She even whips out a camera and snaps a picture during auditions. She's also overprotective and doesn't want Doris' dreams to get out of hand or change her into a terrible person.

In the "Fame" film from 1980, Tresa Hughes portrayed Naomi Finsecker, a character who is wary of her daughter's entry into the acting world. Off screen, theater had been very good to Hughes, a Broadway fixture from the early 1960s until the late 1980s. She co-starred in big productions like "The Miracle Worker," "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," "Lolita," and "A View From the Bridge," and received a Tony Award nomination for "The Devil's Advocate." According to her New York Times death notice (via TheaterMania), Hughes died in July of 2011. The actor was 81.

Eddie Barth

In the original "Fame" movie, Bruno Martelli is a genius of future-forward music, a keyboard master and electronic composer attending the High School of Performing Arts. His biggest supporter as well as biggest critic is his father, Angelo Martelli, a lifelong New Yorker and hardworking cab driver who can't relate to his son's artistic inclinations but is still curious and extremely proud of his boy — enough to spend $7,000 to build him a basement recording studio.

Eddie Barth racked up more than 80 credits across four decades in show business as a character actor specializing in playing tough guys, working men, and sleazes. His role in "Fame" in 1980 began a prolific period for Barth, which included a semi-regular role on detective show "Simon & Simon" as shady P.I. Myron Fowler, recurring parts on "Night Court" and "Murder, She Wrote," and the main role in a series of Miller Lite commercials. The Hollywood Reporter published news of Barth's death on May 28, 2010, at his home in Los Angeles. The cause of death was heart failure; Barth was 78.

Anne Meara

The High School of Performing Arts in "Fame" may be a magnet school for talented teen musicians, dancers, and actors, but it's still required to teach the traditional academic subjects. Instructors like Mrs. Sherwood have their work cut out for them attempting to teach literature and language arts to kids with their entertainment careers already mapped out. In the 1980 film version of "Fame," Mrs. Sherwood becomes a foil for stubborn dance prodigy Leroy, who outright refuses to participate in the class or do his homework. She pushes him to try, and he still fails, but then he becomes a needed friend for her when her husband dies.

Mrs. Sherwood was a rare dramatic role for Anne Meara, an icon of comedy. According to the New York Times, she was a member of the Compass Players, a pioneering improvisational comedy group that became Second City. With her husband Jerry Stiller (of "Seinfeld" and "The King of Queens"), she was half of the comedy duo Stiller and Meara, a nightclub and TV variety show mainstay in the 1960s. She earned some Emmy nominations for the sitcom "Archie Bunker's Place" and in her later years, often appeared opposite Stiller or in projects written and directed by their son, Ben Stiller. Meara's husband and son, Jerry Stiller and Ben Stiller, confirmed to the Associated Press (via Variety) that Meara died on May 23, 2015. She was 85.