Astaire was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the son of Johanna “Ann” and Frederic “Fritz” Austerlitz (born September 8, 1868, as Friedrich Emanuel Austerlitz).
Astaire’s mother was born in the United States, to Lutheran German immigrants from East Prussia and Alsace.
Astaire’s father was born in Linz, Austria, to Jewish parents who had converted to Roman Catholicism.
He was named the fifth Greatest Male Star of All Time by the American Film Institute.
He is best known as the dancing partner and on-screen romantic interest of Ginger Rogers, with whom he co-starred in a series of ten Hollywood musicals which transformed the genre.
By age 14, Fred had taken on the musical responsibilities for their act.
He first met George Gershwin, who was working as a song plugger for Jerome H. Remick’s music publishing company, in 1916. Fred had already been hunting for new music and dance ideas.
Their chance meeting was to deeply affect the careers of both artists.
Astaire was always on the lookout for new steps on the circuit and was starting to demonstrate his ceaseless quest for novelty and perfection.
The Astaires broke into Broadway in 1917 with Over the Top, a patriotic revue. The Astaires performed for U.S. and Allied troops at this time too.
During the 1920s, Fred and Adele appeared on Broadway and on the London stage in shows such as Jerome Kern’s The Bunch and Judy (1922), George and Ira Gershwin’s Lady Be Good (1924), and Funny Face (1927) and later in The Band Wagon (1931), winning popular acclaim with the theater crowd on both sides of the Atlantic.
By then, Astaire’s tap dancing was recognized as among the best, as Robert Benchley wrote in 1930, “I don’t think that I will plunge the nation into war by stating that Fred is the greatest tap-dancer in the world.”
In 1933 Astaire married Phyllis Livingston Potter and shortly afterward went to Hollywood.
He had a featured part in Flying Down to Rio (1933).
The film was a hit, and it was obvious that Astaire was a major factor in the success.
The Gay Divorcee (1934), a film version of Gay Divorce, was the first of Astaire’s major pictures with Ginger Rogers (1911–1995) and an even bigger hit.
With seven more films in the 1930s (the most popular of which was Top Hat in 1935), Astaire and Rogers became one of the legendary partnerships in the history of dance, featuring high spirits, bubbling comedy, and romantic chemistry. By the end of the 1930s the profits from the Astaire-Rogers films were beginning to decline.
By the mid-1950s the era of the Hollywood musical was coming to an end, and Astaire moved into other fields. On television he produced four award-winning musical specials with Barrie Chase as his partner.
He also tried his hand at straight acting roles with considerable success in eight films between 1959 and 1982.
Over the years he played a number of characters on television in dramatic specials and series.
In 1980, as he entered his eighties, Astaire married Robyn Smith, a successful jockey in her mid-thirties. He died seven years later.