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The 'Fame' gang: Gene Anthony Ray
Updated 9/22/2009 4:02 PM ET
Character: Leroy Johnson, a natural-born dancer from the streets whose illiteracy and anti-social attitude stand in the way of his achieving his dreams.

• Memorable line: "I's young and single, and I loves to mingle!"

Before Fame: Ray grew up in a rough area of Harlem where he honed his skills by performing at block parties. Like Leroy, he was accepted at the High School of Performing Arts but was expelled for disruptive behavior. As he once said, "Because I danced, I couldn't afford to be a wimp. Whenever I went to school, I had to come back to that area and survive in the streets."

DuringFame: His audition caused choreographer Louis Falco to compare the experience to seeing Fred Astaire for the first time. "We were really close. He respected me and I respected him," says Franceschi, who shared a similar inner-city upbringing. "He was wild. Alan (Parker, the director) had to approach him very carefully. His mom was dealing drugs during the filming. It was not pretty."

AfterFame: He joined the cast of the Fame TV series, which aired on NBC and in syndication for six seasons (1982-87). The show also was a hit overseas, especially in the U.K. At one point, Ray had two assistants to handle the 17,000 fan letters that arrived daily. Recalls Debbie Allen (dance instructor Lydia Grant in the movie and on TV): "He was like my baby, my child. He was, in a way, a man-child. Part of him was always a boy. Some people are beyond normal technique. When they leap, they fly. He was so strong, I can feel him right now throwing me around."

What you don't know: When his career was at its peak, Ray's personal life was a shambles. His $400,000 house in upstate New York was destroyed by arson in 1983 and, the next year, his mother and other relatives were arrested in a drug raid. Ray struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and worked sporadically once the TV show ended. In 1987, he won a role in the stage version of Carrie, a notorious bomb. He appeared in two movies, Allen's Out-of-Sync (1995) and Eddie (1996). In 1996, he was diagnosed as HIV-positive and died seven years later after a stroke. "I was there at the end," says Allen, who last saw Ray while doing a Fame reunion special for the BBC. "I was there at the funeral. It was difficult for me."

Posted 9/22/2009 3:53 PM ET
Updated 9/22/2009 4:02 PM ET
Gene Anthony Ray, seen here in the 1980 cast photo, died in 2003 at age 41 following a stroke.
MGM/The Kobal Collection
Gene Anthony Ray, seen here in the 1980 cast photo, died in 2003 at age 41 following a stroke.

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