In a career spanning over forty years, John Travolta has experienced dizzying highs and depressing lows both personally and professionally.
From dazzling early success in smash hit movies such as Grease and Saturday Night Fever, to the doldrums of the 1980s and a career renaissance in the 1990s courtesy of Quentin Tarantino.
But now, in 2017, the star thought he was about to make a comeback to the big screen, thanks to his role in ‘Gotti’ a crime drama about the infamous Gambino crime family. But just weeks before it’s release this month it has been axed.
Find out why as we look at the life of John Travolta.
Travolta’s four decades in the public eye have certainly been eventful both off and on screen. Here are twenty surprising facts about the life and career of one of Hollywood’s most charismatic leading men.
He Was A High School Drop-Out
Travolta had excelled at sports at high school, but he decided to drop out at the age of sixteen to focus on acting. “Not too many of my friends identified with what I was doing,” he said. “I participated in football and basketball, and did what they were doing, but not many kids understood my going to acting studios at night.” It’s funny to think that a man who would soon become famous for playing one of the most famous high school students in movie history never finished high school himself.
His Mother And Sister Were Actresses
Travolta has often mentioned many times how his mother Helen’s career as an actress and a dancer was what influenced him to enroll in drama school in New York. Travolta studied voice, dancing, and acting. John wasn’t the only one to take follow Helen’s footsteps, as his sister Ellen had also attempted a career in Showbiz with her and Helen both appearing in Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
Travolta’s Father Ran A Tire Shop
Salvatore Travolta was a second-generation Italian-American who owned a tire shop in Hillsdale, New Jersey called “The Travolta Tire Exchange”. Salvatore was extremely of both his children and wife’s success on stage and passed away in 1995.
His First Big Break
After dropping out of high school, Travolta left his native New Jersey and headed for the bright lights of New York City. He landed a few supporting roles, such as the part of Donny in the stage version of Grease, before he landed his first big role as Vinnie Barbarino in the sit-com, Welcome Back, Kotter. The show ran from 1975-1979, and Travolta won many fans for his portrayal of bad boy Vinnie.
He Did Saturday Night Fever Before Grease
One would presume that Travolta played the role of high school student Danny Zuko in Grease before he played the disco-dancing New York hardware store worker Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, but it was in fact the other way round. Travolta disco-danced his way into the world’s affections in 1977, one year before he played high school student Danny in Grease at the age of twenty three. Of course, he wasn’t the only cast member who was a bit long in the tooth to be playing a high school student. His co-star, Olivia Newton John, was 29 when she played the role of Sandy!
He Sparked Yet Another Musical Trend
Saturday Night Fever and the music of the Bee Gees turned the New York disco craze into a worldwide phenomenon, with people keen to copy Travolta’s signature dance moves. However, not a lot of people now remember that Travolta was also responsible for an upswing in interest in another musical genre. Following the release of his 1980s film Urban Cowboy, interest in country music soared.
He Became A Scientologist
Travolta had been raised a Roman Catholic by his second generation Italian-American parents. However, in 1975 an actress he was working with gave him L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book, Dianetics. Travolta liked what he was reading and delved further into the religion. Very soon he was a convert, and remains a firm believer in Scientology, as well as one of its most high-profile followers alongside Tom Cruise and his good friend Kirstie Alley.
The ’80s – His Career Takes A Nosedive
Travolta had been hot property in the 1970s, but his star began to wane in the 1980s as he made a series of poor career choices. He received three Golden Rasberry award nominations in a row for Stayin’ Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, as well as for Two of a Kind and Perfect. About the only high point Travolta enjoyed during this fallow period was the surprise smash hit Look Who’s Talking starring Kirstie Alley and the voice of Bruce Willis.
Dancing With Diana
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the actor in the 1980s. In 1985, President Reagan held a grand gala at the White House. Travolta was surprised to be invited, but not as surprised as he was when one of the guests personally requested a dance. That guest was none other than Princess Diana, who had always wanted to dance with the Saturday Night Fever star. She got her wish that night, and it is one of Travolta’s most precious memories. “I’ll never forget it,” he later said. “I’m so honored that I was able to experience this and I know that for a fact that it was her highlight in being in the United States. So it was her favorite moment. I feel like I made her life better. She made my life better. I’m very sorry she’s not here.”
Kelly Preston – An Enduring Relationship
Travolta met his wife-to-be Kelly Preston on the set of the 1989 movie, The Experts. The two fell in love and married three years later in a Scientologist ceremony. As the marriage was not legally recognized by the US legal system, the two tied the knot again two years later. They have been together ever since, making their’s one of the most enduring Hollywood marriages.
Diana Hyland Romance
John met fellow actor Diana Hyland in 1976 while on the set of their movie ‘The Boy In The Plastic Bubble’, Diana actually played John’s character’s mother in the film. But the two fell in love and started dating, but sadly Diana was diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away just months into her battle.
Pulp Fiction And Beyond
By 1994, Travolta was seen as a has-been. However, there was one man who had a plan to revive the actor’s career – Quentin Tarantion. Tarantino had expressed an interest in working with Travolta, stating publicly that he had not been happy with the career choices the actor had made in the 1980s. He cast Travolta in the role of hit-man Vincent Vega in his movie Pulp Fiction alongside Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman and Harvey Kietel. The movie went on to be a commercial and critical success, with particular praise heaped on Travolta’s performance. After the success of Pulp Fiction, the offers cam flooding in. John Travolta was back!
Pulp Fiction Salary
John was paid just $150,000 for his role in the hugely successful Pulp Fiction in 1994. Considering the critical acclaim the film received, it was certainly money well spent by director Quentin Tarrantino!
Following on from the success of Pulp Fiction, the rest of the ’90s proved to be a lucrative and successful period for an actor many people had written off. Travolta kept knocking ’em out the park in movies such as Get Shorty, Phenomenon, Broken Arrow, Face/Off and The Thin Red Line. Travolta was back. Surely nothing could knock him off the top spot again?
Battlefield Earth – A Very Public Disaster
Riding high on the success of movies such as Face/Off and Get Shorty, Travolta’s star power was sufficiently high that he could get backing and funding for a personal labor of love – L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. Seen as nothing more than a vanity project used to promote his religion, the movie was panned by critics and shunned by audiences, and it marked a downturn in the star’s career that he has never fully recovered from. But does Travolta regret making the movie? Not at all. “If we had to do it over again, I would still do it,” he said. “It was a moment where I could say ‘I had all the power in the world and could do whatever I wanted’. Not a lot of people get that opportunity, and I did what I wanted to do.”
He’s A Fully-Qualified Pilot
Travolta gained his pilot’s licence at the age of just 22. Since then, the enthusiastic flyer has learned to master the controls of everything from crop dusters to the mighty Boeing 707. The actor regularly flies friends and family to foreign climes in his private jet.
His House Has To Be Seen To Be Believed!
Travolta’s house is a truly a sight to behold. Situated in the exclusive Jumbolair Aviation Estates gated community in Florida, Travolta has two personal taxiways and access to an on-site runway. This is just perfect for housing his own Boeing 707, as well as his Bombadier Challenger 601, Eclipse 500 and Soko Galeb G-2 fighter jet.
Ella was born to John and Actress Kelly Preston and has recently begun starring in movies herself. Dad John recently stated that his one hope for his daughter is that she ‘Breaks in to acting, as she’s fabulous’. While on the Ellen show, they were asked if Elle was dating,
I’m saving her because she has two guys that she hangs out with. I don’t ask anything about what they say or do with each other.’ John said.
‘Let’s keep it that way. I never want my children to leave the house, ever,’ John said.
Travolta’s oldest child Jett tragically passed away in 20009 after suffering a seizure during a holiday in the Bahamas.
John’s estimated net worth is an incredible $165 million! The Jumbolair estate is worth $5 million alone! Now that he is a Hollywood superstar, John has been able to ask for paychecks of up to $20 million and boasts expensive assets including luxury jets and just as impressive sports cars.
He’s Duetted With Miley Cyrus
There were still a few career high points after the disaster that was Battlefield Earth. In 2009, Travolta teamed up with teen star Miley Cyrus to record a song for the Disney animated movie, Bolt. The song, and indeed the movie, went on to be a critical and commercial success. Considering the rather unusual turn Cyrus’s career has taken since the when days she was a contracted Disney starlet, it’s doubtful that the two will be singing together anytime soon!
‘Let Her In’
As we all know John is not just an actor in TV and films, he even attempted a solo singing career and at 22 recorded his debut single ‘Let Her In’. The song reached no.10 in the US Billboard Hot 100 and stayed in the chart for an impressive five months.
He Tragically Lost His Son
Travolta and Preston tragically lost their eldest son Jett while the family was on vacation in 2009. Jett had been diagnosed with autism and Kawasaki Disease. The boy suffered from regular seizures, and one he experienced on vacation caused him to trip and hit his head on the bathtub. He never recovered from his injuries, and died soon afterwards. Travolta later described his son’s death as “The worst thing that’s ever happened in my life”.
After Jett’s Death
Travolta actually thought about retiring from his acting career after his son’s death with him questioning whether he could mentally recover. He claimed that ‘Life was no longer interesting to me, so it took a lot to get me better’ and he believed that the treatment he received from the Church of Scientology was the main reason he was able to bounce back.
He Flew The Oprah Audience To Australia
Life must go on, even in the face of unimaginable tragedy. After his son’s death, Travolta threw himself into his work. One of the happier things to come out of the tragedy was Travolta’s chance to spread a bit of unexpected love to, of all things, the audience of the Oprah Winfrey Show. To celebrate 25 seasons of her show back in 2010, Winfrey surprised three hundred of her biggest fans with a trip of a lifetime to Australia. And who would be flying them there? Why, none other than qualified airline pilot John Travolta!
He Founded A Charitable Organization
The Travoltas decided to set up a charitable foundation in their late son’s honor. They set up the Jett Travolta Foundation, which, according to the charity’s website, uses its resources ‘to assist and provide relief to children with vision, hearing, mobility, communication, behavior learning impairments or other special medical, environmental, health or educational needs’. A noble way to honor a lost loved one.
He’s Written A Children’s Book
As well as being a successful actor, singer, dancer, pilot and charity spokesman, Travolta has another string to his bow – writing. In 1997 he wrote the story Propeller One-Way Night Coach: A Fable for All Ages. Originally intended just for his children, this story of a young boy who moves to Hollywood and becomes a pilot proved so successful that it was eventually published. Hmm. A young boy who moves to Hollywood and becomes a pilot, eh? Where on earth did he get that idea!
He’s Big In Brazil!
Rather bizarrely, John Travolta isn’t just a big star in the United States. He also has a huge fan-base in Brazil. The Brazilians can’t get enough of the 63-year-old actor, so much so that in 2013 he was invited to the country to star in an advertisement for Cachaça Ypióca rum. The ad showed Travolta playing soccer on the world famous Copacabana beach and showing off those famous dance moves of his. There seems to be no end to his talents!
His Relationship With Olivia Newton John
After Grease was released to worldwide acclaim and huge box office success, rumors began to circulate that Travolta and Newton John were more than just good friends. The two remain adamant that there was no substance to these rumors, though Travolta did make a confession about his co-star in a 2012 interview. “We both had a crush on each other,” he said. “It created great chemistry.” The two have remained close friends over the years, making many public appearances together. They also meet up twice a year outside of the public gaze, and the two talk on the phone every couple of weeks.
He Released His Own Single
Travolta was 22 when he recorded his debut single, “Let Her In” which fast became a hit reaching number 10 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and stayed on the chart for five months. His self-titled album reached the top 20.
In 2017, John Travolta aimed to make a comeback to the big screen in crime drama ‘Gotti’, a film about the infamous Gambino crime family directed by Kevin Connolly.
However, just ten days before it’s release, film distributor Lionsgate pulled the plug on the project after claims the mafia had actually got involved!