John Travolta has enjoyed a long, successful career in Hollywood that began at a young age. As fans know, Travolta is a triple threat because he can sing, dance, and act — and it also helps that he’s a heartthrob, too. According to his profile on IMDb, the star was born in Englewood, N.J. in 1954, and was one of six children. Travolta began his career on the TV series "Emergency!" in 1972 and, as of 2021, he has 86 acting credits to his name. The multi-talented star has also served as producer and writer on a few projects, proving there’s literally nothing he can’t do.
Travolta is also an avid pilot — and he also played the role of one in "Look Who’s Talking Now." According to Business Jet Traveler, the actor got his pilot’s license at age 22. He’s the proud owner of several planes, including a Boeing 707-138, and he even has a runway at his home in Florida. In 2010, he flew relief to Haiti following the devastating earthquake (via The Guardian.) Again, there’s nothing this man can’t do! Let’s take a look back at Travolta’s life and his transformation over the years because the star has come a long way.
John Travolta breaks out with ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’
While his first significant film role would not come for a few more years, there is one television show that always comes to mind when people hear the name John Travolta, and that’s "Welcome Back, Kotter." The actor played the role of Vinnie Barbarino from 1975-1979 (per IMDb), and let us tell you — he was definitely our favorite sweathog. But would you believe that one of the actor’s most iconic roles almost never transpired?
In an interview with Yahoo! Entertainment in September 2020, Travolta revealed that his mother was not the project’s biggest fan. "She didn’t want people to think that I had a New York accent or that I behaved in that less-than-ideal IQ way," he shared. "She was saving my reputation because she didn’t think I’d ever become famous playing a dumb New York character!"
Travolta also shared that, since his mother was an acting teacher, she had seen many actors ruin their careers by being typecast in a specific role — and that’s the last thing she wanted to see happen to her son. While we usually think that mother knows best, we have to disagree with Helen Cecilia Burke Travolta this time because look at how far John has come!
John Travolta joins the Church of Scientology
John Travolta is one of the most famous members of the Church of Scientology along with Tom Cruise and Leah Remini (who had a famously public falling-out with the church). According to 7 News, the same year that Travolta landed his role in "Welcome Back, Kotter," he also joined the Church of Scientology. An Australian woman named Yvonne Gillham moved from Australia to Los Angeles and she was in charge of recruiting celebrities to join the church. During her visits with the actor, Gillham recorded Travolta, and she filed his thoughts with the Church. At the time, Travolta didn’t know that he was being recorded. The actor remained friends with Gillham until she died in 1978 from a brain tumor, marking one of his first experiences with tragedy.
Travolta has been pretty open about his place in the Church, opening up about it in several different interviews. "I’ve been so happy with my [Scientology] experience in the last 40 years, that I really don’t have anything to say that would shed light on [a documentary] so decidedly negative," he told Tampa Bay Times in 2015. "I’ve been brought through storms that were insurmountable, and [Scientology has] been so beautiful for me, that I can’t even imagine attacking it." It definitely appears as though Travolta remains one of the church’s most loyal (and famous) members.
John Travolta dances and sings on the big screen
John Travolta’s acting career may have started in 1972, 1977’s "Saturday Night Fever" put him on the map (though we cannot forget that he starred in "Carrie" with Sissy Spacek in 1976). The actor famously played Tony Manero (per IMDb). Manero was "a 19-year-old Italian-American from Brooklyn who tries to escape the harsh reality of his bleak family life by dominating the dance floor at the local disco." Travolta donned his disco duds and, in an interview with Vanity Fair from 2013, he shared how his groovy dance moves came to be. "I think my first turn-on to dance was James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy when I was five or six," he revealed. "I used to watch ‘Soul Train,’ and what I wanted to create was a ‘Soul Train’ feel in ‘Saturday Night Fever.’ Is it just us, or did it seem like the role was made for Travolta?
One year after showing off his disco moves, Travolta showcased his singing chops in "Grease." The actor starred opposite Olivia Newton-John, who played his love interest, Sandy Olsson. Fans can thank Travolta for selecting Newton-John as his co-star. In 2020, she told The Sunday Post that he played a considerable role in convincing her to do the film. "I went outside to be greeted by those piercing blue eyes and the warmest smile on the planet," she shared "In person, John Travolta radiates pure joy and love. That day, he greeted me with a big hug like we were already lifelong friends. How could you say no to John Travolta?"
John Travolta undergoes physical transformations for these iconic roles
John Travolta played one of his most memorable roles in 2007 when he played Tracy Turnblad’s mother, Edna Turnblad, in the movie "Hairspray." In 2009, the actor told ABC News that he agreed to the part because he wanted to be an inspiration for every woman with curves (just when we thought we couldn’t love him more). "Instead of going the Vegas way with it, I decided to go that kind of real, kind of sexual woman, as opposed to a grandma," he dished. "That’s what half of what sells it as a woman are those curvaceous thighs, breasts and butt and you would be amazed what that attracts." He also shared that at the end of the day, he needed a breather. "Being groped, having scenes, dancing, singing, I was ready to let her go at the end of the day."
Travolta also turned heads with his performance in the TV Series "The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" in 2016, where he played Simpson’s defense attorney, Robert Shapiro. "Thankfully, Robert Shapiro had a very distinct style of speaking, physical gestures, cadence, and thought process," he told Parade in 2016. "He was audacious. Like any great lawyer, he understood how to hire experts and put them together." Travolta also said he’d be inclined to do more television gigs in the future. "If it were with these producers Ryan [Murphy] and Nina [Jacobson], yes. I trust them so much. And equally important, they trust me and I think that’s important." Hopefully, he’ll stay true to his word!
John Travolta loses his first-born son Jett Travolta
In 2009, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, joined the club nobody wants to be a part of when they lost their son, Jett Travolta. ABC News reported that Jett died at the family’s vacation home in the Bahamas, where they were celebrating the New Year. Jett died after a seizure-related accident inside the house. "A nanny attempted to revive him … but he couldn’t be revived," Travolta’s attorney, Michael Ossi, shared at the time. According to Deseret News, Jett was in the bathroom when he had a seizure and hit his head on the bathtub. The time was challenging for the entire family, but it had a significant impact on John, who took the loss incredibly hard.
"The truth is, I didn’t know if I was going to make it," he told BBC in 2014. "Life was no longer interesting to me, so it took a lot to get me better." He credited the Church of Scientology for helping him get through such a tough time in his life. "I will forever be grateful to Scientology for supporting me for two years solid, I mean Monday through Sunday," the actor shared. "They didn’t take a day off, working through different angles of the techniques to get through grief and loss, and to make me feel that finally I could get through a day."
John Travolta endures grief again with loss of Kelly Preston
John Travolta lost his wife Kelly Preston in July 2020 following a two-year battle with breast cancer. The actor shared a touching post on Instagram to remember his late wife, who died just 11 years after losing his son. "It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you that my beautiful wife Kelly has lost her two-year battle with breast cancer. She fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many," Travolta wrote before thanking doctors and nurses at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. "Kelly’s love and life will always be remembered. I will be taking some time to be there for my children who have lost their mother, so forgive me in advance if you don’t hear from us for a while." Excuse us while we go and grab the tissues.
In the year after Preston’s death, he has been very open about remembering his late wife and sharing how he’s coping. "I learned that mourning someone, mourning, is something personal. Mourning is individual and experiencing your own journey is what can lead to healing," Travolta told Esquire in April 2021. "This is different from someone else’s journey." As fans will recall, Travolta also lost his girlfriend Diana Hyland to the same disease in 1977 (per People). We cannot imagine going through so much tragedy.