Born Frederick Austerlitz, May 10, 1899, in Omaha, NE; died of pneumonia at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles, CA, June 22, 1987. Fred Astaire's style,grace, and flair won him high praise throughout his long career as a dancer,actor, choreographer, and singer. He started in vaudeville in a dance team with his sister, Adele, and their first Broadway appearance in the 1917 production Over the Top garnered rave reviews. They remained steady draws on Broadway and the London stage into the thirties with such hits as The Passing Showof 1918, Lady Be Good, 1924, Funny Face, 1929, and The Band Wagon, 1931. After his sister's retirement in 1932, Astaire continued on Broadway in Cole Porter's Gay Divorce, but it was to be his last appearance in a stage musical. Despite a screen test that was judged less than favorably, Astaire made his Hollywood debut in Dancing Lady, 1933. In his second film that year, Flying Downto Rio, he began his legendary partnership with Ginger Rogers. Although theydid not receive top billing in the movie, their dance routines stole the spotlight and they went on to star in eight more features between 1934 and 1939,including The Gay Divorcee, 1934, Top Hat, 1935, and The Story of Vernon andIrene Castle, 1939. They reunited a decade later for The Barkleys of Broadway, but Astaire made a number of other films with such partners as Eleanor Powell, Rita Hayworth, Ann Miller, Judy Garland, Cyd Charisse, and Gene Kelly. He also choreographed and performed in several critically acclaimed televisionspecials; An Evening with Fred Astaire in 1958 earned him an outstanding performance Emmy and won eight other Emmy awards. Among the many other major honors he received were a special Academy Award in 1949 "for raising the standards of all musicals" and lifetime achievement awards from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1978 and the American Film Institute in 1981. His apparently effortless routines on film and stage were actually the product ofhours of rigorous work. Such exacting perfectionism earned Astaire numerous accolades culminating in the New York Times's description of him as "the ultimate dancer."
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