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Fred Astaire
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Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire (May 10, 1899 - June 22, 1987), born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska, was an American film and Broadway ballroom dancer and actor. He is particularly associated with Ginger Rogers, with whom he made ten films.

"Astaire" was a name taken by him and his sister Adele for their vaudeville act when they were about 5 years old. It is said to have come from an uncle surnamed "L'Astaire". During the 1920s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway, splitting in 1932 when she married her first husband, Lord Charles Cavendish, a son of the duke of Devonshire.

Famously, a Paramount Pictures screen test report on Astaire read simply: "Can't sing. Can't act. Slightly balding. Can dance a little." In the opinion of millions of fans of his popular films, Astaire could actually dance quite a bit. His singing voice was weak, yet Cole Porter wrote a number of songs especially for him.

His second film, Flying Down to Rio, paired him with Ginger Rogers for the first time. That partnership, and the choreography of Hermes Pan, helped make dancing an important element of the Hollywood film musical. His films with Rogers included The Gay Divorcee (1934), Top Hat (1935) and Carefree (1938). He also teamed up with other stars, notably with Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942) and Blue Skies (1946). After retiring in that year, he soon returned to the screen to replace the injured Gene Kelly in Easter Parade (1948) (opposite Judy Garland) and for The Band Wagon (1953) with Cyd Charisse.

Having given up dancing, Astaire continued to act, appearing in films such as On the Beach (1959), Finian's Rainbow (1968), and The Towering Inferno (1974) for which he received his only Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor. His final film was the 1981 adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story.

He received an honorary Academy Award in 1950 "for his unique artistry and his contributions to the technique of musical pictures." A television special, An Evening with Fred Astaire, won nine Emmy Awards in 1959 including "Best Single Performance by an Actor" and "Most Outstanding Single Program of the Year." He also won Emmys in 1961 and 1978.

He received Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the first year they were awarded. The American Film Institute awarded him their "Lifetime Achievement Award" for 1981.

Fred Astaire died in 1987 from pneumonia and was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.

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