Debbie Allen Goes Right to the Heart of Her Personal Life

Actress Debbie Allen, best-known for her roles in 'West Side Story' and 'Fame,' talks about her career, her health and her involvement in a cause near and dear to her heart. An edited version of our phone interview with her follows

by Ilyssa Panitz • Celebrity Reporter
debbie allen image
Debbie Allen has taken her "Fame" and done something even more with her platform.
Photograph: Courtesy Debbie Allen

More: You’ve recently been calling the shots on Grey’s Anatomy and making a few onscreen appearances.
DA: Wasn’t that fun?

More: Is Jackson’s mom Catherine, your character, coming back?
DA: She might be. At least that is what they told me, since the fans responded really well to her. The producers also liked the energy I brought to the show.

More: You look fab. 
DA: I love where I am right now.

More: What’s your secret to the fountain of youth?
DA: I think it is sweat. It is like the line you heard over and over in the opening of Fame: “You want fame? Well, fame costs, and right here is where you start paying in sweat.” If you sweat, you clean your skin, you are energizing your body and your brain functions well.

More: Sweat from dancing?
DA: Yes. I teach a class in California for mothers called Salsa Downsize. I also work with Mariah Carey and staged her world tour before she had the twins. She and I are even making plans for this year. I love to keep it going.

More: What are the pros to getting older?
DA: You gain wisdom. You don’t exert so much energy as you used to because you realize you can do things simpler. You do things more wisely, and you gain a real sense of compassion. I have also noticed that you look at yourself and really appreciate yourself. I am comfortable with who I am.

More: You suffered a number of injuries, which required an MRI, while you were starring in Fame and various other productions. What happened?
DA: I had three MRIs. I had to have an MRI for a shoulder injury I suffered at the Kennedy Center. I had to have one for my knees and one for another injury, too. They were helpful in telling me what was wrong with the tissues in my body.

More: What was causing these injuries?
DA: That is the field I am in. It is just like for my husband [Norm Nixon], who is an athlete and former NBA All-Star. He's had both knees operated on. Our industries are so similar in that regard. Injuries come with the territory.

More: What can’t you do?
DA: I am still trying to find new things to do and new challenges to face.

More: Examples?
DA: I created The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, which will took center stage last December in Los Angeles. I basically re-wrote The Nutcracker by making it funny. I also lined up a great cast.

More: Such as?
DA: Raven-Symoné, and Carlo Imperato [Danny] from Fame starred in it with me. I played a rat and the rats were the ones who took over the story.

More: You teamed up with your Fame co-star—how cool. 
DA: Carlo is a real New Yorker and is so much fun to work with. We were in rehearsals laughing so hard, I am surprised we got through the day.

More: Do you still keep in touch with any of your other Fame co-stars?
DA: Sadly, I lost Gene Anthony Ray [Leroy] as a result of a stroke, and a bunch of dancers to AIDS. Gene was such a talent. I am still the mama over there. Aside from Carlo, I still speak to Lee Curreri [Bruno].

First Published March 14, 2012

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