On this day, February 2, 1996, famous Irish-American actor Gene Kelly passed away. The singer, actor, and dancer, most famous for his roles in hit movies such as "Singing in the Rain" and "An American in Paris", was extremely proud of his Irish roots.
Eugene Curran "Gene" Kelly was born in Pittsburgh to an Irish Canadian father and an Irish German mother. It wasn’t until much later in life that he was issued an Irish passport, which made him extremely proud, according to his wife.
The American dancer, actor, singer, film director, producer, and choreographer, best known for his performances in movies such as An American in Paris and Singing in the Rain is credited with making his ballet form commercially acceptable to movie audiences.
In 1952 Kelly was awarded an Academy Honor for his career achievements and later received a lifetime achievement award at the Kennedy Center and from the Screen Actors Guild and American Film Institute.
He was born in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, the third son of James Patrick Joseph Kelly, a phonograph salesman, and his wife Harriet Catherine Curran. His father was born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Irish Canadian family. His maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Derry.
When young Eugene was eight, Kelly's mother enrolled him and his brother James in dance classes, and the rest as they say his history. They were all part of an early Vaudeville act called The Five Kellys. Young Gene was picked on because of his dancing, but it helped his family survive the Depression and eventually made him a star.
Kelly's wife speaks in Ireland
In 2013 the National Concert Hall in Dublin as part of RTE’s “Ireland at the Movies” screened Singing in the Rain with a live orchestral score. The show was introduced by Kelly’s wife, Patricia Ward Kelly. In advance of the show, Patricia spoke to RTÉ in 2013 about Kelly’s pride in his Irish heritage.
"He was very proud of being Irish and I think he felt a real identity with Ireland. At one point he said to me that he really felt his Irish roots were at the core of his being.
"I remember the day that the Irish passport arrived and the new certificate was in Gaelic and he was just tickled, he was like a little kid with it."
When asked about the success of her husband’s famous film, Patricia said that her husband and MGM did not intentionally make Singin’ in the Ran for posterity, saying:
"They never dreamed that we would be sitting here in Dublin 60 years later with this turnout crowd watching this movie.
"That would be astounding to him and I think he would extremely proud of that."
The 1952 musical film starred Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds and was choreographed by Gene Kelly. It is now classed as one of the best American films of all time.
* Originally published in 2014. Updated in 2021.