Actor, Dancer, And Choreographer, Harlem’s Gene Anthony Ray, 1962-2003

November 3, 2022

Gene Anthony Ray, May 24, 1962 – November 14, 2003, was a Harlem actor, dancer, and choreographer.

He was known for his portrayal of dancer Leroy Johnson in both the 1980 film Fame and the 1982–1987 Fame television series based upon the film.

Born in Harlem, New York on May 24, 1962, Ray grew up on West 153rd Street. He began performing early in life, street dancing at block parties.

He performed in a dance class at the Julia Richman High School; he skipped school one day to audition for Fame choreographer, Louis Falco.

Ray attended the New York High School of the Performing Arts, the inspiration for the film Fame, but was kicked out after one year. “It was too disciplined for this wild child of mine,” Ray’s mother, Jean E. Ray said.

Ray won the part of Leroy Johnson in the film, Fame, which was released in 1980. Much like his Fame character, Ray had little professional training, but he possessed a raw talent that won him his role for the film.

In 1981, Ray starred as Friday, alongside Michael York as Robinson Crusoe, in the 1981 TV adventure-comedy Vendredi ou la Vie sauvage (fr) (alternative title: Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday).

Ray also starred in the television series based on the film, Fame. The series was produced by MGM Television from 1982 to 1987, and syndicated from 1983 to 1987. Reports USA Today:

“Alan (Parker, the director) had to approach him very carefully. His mom was dealing drugs during the filming. It was not pretty.”

Also in 1982, Ray danced in The Weather Girls’ music video for “It’s Raining Men”. Additionally, he began touring the U.K. with the other members of the Fame cast as The Kids from “Fame”; they performed at 10 venues, including a sell out performance at Royal Albert Hall.

In 1984, USA Today reports:

“Ray was axed from the show after his mother was jailed for running a drug ring, and he failed to turn up for work 100 times.”

He struggled with addictions to alcohol and drugs and worked intermittently once the TV series ended.

In 1987, he won the role of Billy Nolan in the ill-fated musical adaptation of Carrie by Stephen King. Ray played the role in the original opening in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which closed after less than a month.

He then transferred to Broadway and continued to play the role until the musical closed after only 21 public performances.

Ray also appeared in the 1995 film Out-of-Sync, which was directed by his Fame co-star Debbie Allen, in the 1996 Whoopi Goldberg comedy Eddie (for which he was also credited as associate choreographer), as well as in commercials for Dr Pepper and Diet Coke.

His last video project was a one-hour BBC Fame reunion documentary, Fame Remember My Name, taped in Los Angeles in April 2003.

As his Telegraph obituary describes:

“Ray remained a ‘frantic partygoer’ with a self-confessed weakness for drink and drugs. As his life fell apart, he slept on park benches, and during a failed attempt to launch a Fame-style dance school in Milan, shared a flat there with a porn actress. In 1996 he was diagnosed HIV positive. He suffered a stroke in 2003.

“Flamboyantly camp, he brushed aside questions about his sexuality. He never married.”

In 2001 Marco Papa, an Italian artist, tries to trace Gene Anthony Ray to involve him in his art project Dancing on the Verge, research between success and failure. The result of their professional and human relationship is a poignant story, documented by drawings, sculptures, installations video, and multimedia performances, and collected in the book titled Dancing on the Verge, published by Charta which testifies to their path until the death of Ray.

Ray died on November 14, 2003, at age 41, from complications of a stroke he had suffered in June of that year. Ray’s mother stated that Ray was HIV positive (source).

Photo credit: Source.

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