Kelly was a relative latecomer to screen stardom. He had made his way as a dance teacher before he started to work on Broadway; he was 29 before the Hollywood talent scouts came calling and his early rise was interrupted by two years war service in the Naval Air Service – though since he was only working in the photographic unit, he used the time to learn more about cinema.
But it was never easy. In 1982, Kelly spoke about the hard work of dancing, which he identified as a form of masochism.
"You have to punish your body," Kelly told an audience at the National Press Club in Washington. "Your muscles have to be tough enough and hard enough so that you can pick up the girl, and at the same time your legs have to be strong enough so you can jump over the table without taking 40 steps."
Kelly’s legacy can also be found all over music videos. The photographer Mike Salisbury shot Michael Jackson for the cover of Off the Wall in the “Gene Kelly white sox [sic] and loafers”—a signature look for the movie star, which would soon become the singer’s own recognizable brand (with added sparkle). Just a few years later, Jackson and Paul McCartney paid homage to Kelly and Singin’ in the Rain co-star Donald O’Connor in their video for “Say Say Say,” which features outfits almost identical to the Singin’ number “Fit as a Fiddle.” Paula Abdul, first known primarily for her dancing and choreography, referenced Kelly’s famous dance with Jerry the Mouse in her kitschy video for “Opposites Attract,” which includes a final tap-dance breakdown.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Kelly's hometown paper)
The idea of a statue for Kelly has certainly been kicked around, before ultimately being kicked to the curb. He and his umbrella were going to be embronzed in Gateway Center back in the '90s, right there for all passing traffic to spew their state-limited emissions upon. Then Kelly's widow, who married him in 1990 despite nearly half a century of age difference between them -- he was the older one, in case you were wondering -- put the kibosh on any public statue plan.