Fred Astaire was born May 10, 1899 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was originally born Frederick Austerlitz. He and his sister took the name Astaire for their Vaudeville, which means multi-act, theater act when they were about 5 years old. Together, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway and on the London stage. In 1932, they split when she married. He went on to achieve success on his own.
In his second film, he was paired with Ginger Rogers for the first time. The Astaire-Rogers series are among the top films of the 1930's. He was credited with two important innovations in film musicals, first, on his insistence that they film a dance routine with the dancers in full view at all times. Second, he was persistent that all the songs and dances be integrated into the plot lines of the film.
He announced his retirement in 1946, but he didn't give up dancing completely. He made series of specials for television. One of these programs, 1958's An Evening with Fred Astaire, won nine Emmy Awards, including "Best Single Performance by an Actor" and "Most Outstanding Single Program of the Year." Finian's Rainbow (1968) was his final musical film. In the 1920's, he continued acting. He appeared in the film The Towering Inferno (1974), which he received his only Academy Award nomination in the category of Best Supporting Actor.
Fred Astaire died in 1987 from pneumonia at the age of 88. His unparalleled skill as a dancer leads many critics to cite him as the best dancer ever to come out of Hollywood.