“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 studio 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.
With his new partner, Ginger Rogers, and choreographer, Hermes Pan, Astaire 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). In his long career, he 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). His final film was 1981's adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story.
Fred Astaire died in 1987 from pneumonia and was interred in the Oakwood Memorial Park Cemetery in Chatsworth, California.