Following the success of the popular 1980 film of the same name, the TV series Fame debuted on NBC in 1982 and was an instant hit. The show took many new faces – including Debbie Allen, Gene Anthony Rey, Carlo Imperato and Valeria Landsburg – and turned them into big stars of the day. Also among the cast was Erica Gimpel, who played performer Coco Hernandez and sang the version of the infamous theme song heard in the show’s first four seasons. At just 18 years old when she was cast in the role, the young actress saw her life and career shaped by her success in Fame. Read on to see Gimpel now and find out what she’s been up to since the series ended.
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Gimpel left the cast of Fame after the first three seasons, but continued to make guest appearances on the series throughout its six seasons. Over the next decade, she appeared in single roles on various TV series, until in 1996, she landed a 45-episode recurring role on the NBC crime drama Profiler. Simultaneously, she worked on ER, appearing in 19 episodes of the popular medical drama.
After that, the actor appeared in a number of shows including Veronica Mars, Boston Legal, The Young and the Restless, Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds, Rizzoli and Isles, and God Friended Me. In 2020, she appeared in the Amazon movie Sylvie’s Love, and her most recent credits are two episodes of NCIS: New Orleans and one of the series 12 to Midnight, both in 2021.
Given the subject matter of the show that propelled Gimpel to fame, it’s no surprise that she’s given some consideration to herself. She reflected on her newfound stardom shortly after Fame hit the airwaves.
“On the show I sang a song called ‘Be Your Own Hero’, and I was looking at the audience and thinking it was kind of ironic,” she told Official Fame Magazine in 1983. “I could see that some of the people in the audience were really admiring us and thinking ‘Oh I wish I were like them’, or maybe even, ‘I wish I were like Erica Gimpel’, but the song is about looking within yourself and finding your own dream and not putting your hopes and ideals in someone else. Here I was singing to people who might look up to me and what I was saying was ‘No, no, it’s not us, it’s you, it’s in you. Lots of light and emotion and spirit. within you as you see in us!'”
In 2010, Gimpel became part of the discovery of the next generation of talent, serving as a judge on the Irish reality show, Fame: The Musical, which sought out young actors to play leads on a stage tour.
The actress spoke about the “ups and downs” of fame in an interview with Ireland AM at the time, saying the ebb and flow of her own success helped keep her humble. “I think it’s about being human,” she said. “We’re all helping each other, we’re all encouraging each other to go on and on. It’s so hard at the end of the day – why not be nice about it? Why not encourage each other? mark me.”
It’s been 40 years since Fame first aired, and people still remember Gimpel for Coco. She’s fine with being associated with the show still, especially because of what it stands for.
“I think what that did was the show that Fame kindled in young people to follow their dreams, it really kindled that excitement and that permission – because a lot of people come from remote areas and it’s not even a conscious choice or even an availability that can be a job. for real,” she told Ireland AM.
She also shared more recently that she still feels the impact of Fame in her interactions with fans. “To this day I travel the world and people come to me and say, ‘You don’t understand – that school, that show, inspired me to follow my dream,” she said in 2021.
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Gimpel and his character Fame have a lot in common. For one, Gimpel graduated from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the real-life inspiration for the School of the Arts in Fame. “It’s all very artistic and emotional there, and I miss the energy of New York,” she told Official Fame Magazine at the time.
“I admire Coco,” said the actor. “She has a hard life, but she is very idealistic and dedicated.” She added that if Coco were a real person, there are some tips she would share with her. “I would tell her that I hope she continues to believe in herself as much as she does. I think people will try to convince her to do other things or take a different path, and they will tell her that she is very idealistic. I would say to her to try to play characters that are individuals, not just ethnic characters that are labeled by their looks. And most of all, I would tell her to keep believing and striving, because whatever you want and strive for can be yours. if you work hard enough.”
Forty years later, it is clear that Gimpel followed his own advice.
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