She Played Coco on "Fame." See Erica Gimpel Now at 57.
THE ACTOR HAS SHOWED UP IN SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE TV DRAMAS, TOO.
Following the success of the wildly popular 1980 film by the same name, the TV series Fame debuted on NBC in 1982 and was an instant hit. The show took many fresh faces—including Debbie Allen, Gene Anthony Rey, Carlo Imperato, and Valeria Landsburg—and transformed them into big stars of the day. Among the ensemble cast was also Erica Gimpel, who played show-stopping performer Coco Hernandez and sang the rendition of the infamous theme song heard on the first four seasons of the show. Just 18 years old when she was cast for the role, the young actor saw her life and career shaped by her breakout success on Fame. Read on to see Gimpel now and to find out what she's been doing the series ended since.
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She's still an in-demand actor.
Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Gimpel left the cast of Fame after the first three seasons but continued to make guest appearances on the series throughout its six-season run. In the decade that followed, she appeared in one-off roles on various TV series, until in 1996, she landed a recurring, 45-episode 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 on a range 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.
She takes her own fame with a grain of salt.
Given the subject of the show that shot Gimpel to fame, it's no surprise that she's given some consideration to her own. She reflected on her newfound stardom soon after Fame hit the airwaves.
"In the show I sang a song called 'Be Your Own Hero,' and I was looking at the audience and thinking that it was kind of ironic," she told the 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 could be like them,' or maybe even, 'I'd like to be like Erica Gimpel,' yet the song is about looking within yourself and finding your own dream and not putting your hopes and ideals into someone else. Here I was, singing to people who maybe look up to me and what I was saying was 'No, no, it's not us it's you, it's in you. You have just as much light and excitement and spirit within yourselves as you see in us!'"
In 2010, Gimpel became a part of finding the next generation of talent, serving as a judge on the Irish reality show, Fame: The Musical, which sought young actors to play leads in a tour of the stage show.
The actor talked about the "highs and lows" of fame in an interview with Ireland AM at the time, saying that the ebb and flow of her own success has helped keep her humble. "I think it's about being human," she said. "We're all helping each other, we're all igniting each other to follow and continue forward. It's so hard, ultimately—why not be nice about it? Why not encourage each other? That always left a mark with me."
She's proud of the show's impact.
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 represents.
"I think what it did was the show Fame ignited in young people to follow their dreams, really ignited 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 it can be a real job," 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 will travel around the world and people come up 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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She's always felt connected to Coco.
Gimpel and her Fame character 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 exciting there, and I miss the energy of New York," she told the Official Fame Magazine at the time.
"I admire Coco," the actor said. "She has a hard life, but she's 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 keeps on believing in herself as strongly as she does. I think that people are going to try to persuade her to do other things or to go a different route, and they'll tell her that she is too idealistic. I would tell her to try to play characters who are individuals, not just ethnic characters who are pigeon-holed by what they look like. And, most of all, I would tell her to keep on believing and striving, because whatever you want and strive for can be yours if you work hard enough."
Forty years later, it's clear that Gimpel has followed her own advice.
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