John Travolta's Life of Fame, Fortune, and Tragedy - too cool 2 be true

John Travolta’s Life of Fame, Fortune, and Tragedy

The history of film is filled with talented actors who have impacted us so strongly that we can’t keep them out of our heads or tabloid magazines. In the early days, it was rebellious heartthrobs like James Dean. Now, it’s charismatic actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix. Although they bare their soul on screen, many fans are still eager to learn more about the private life of these public figures. 

Some actors have obliged and allowed their lives to be open books. Others, like John Travolta, have tried to maintain a certain level of privacy. Despite being in the public eye since the mid-1970s, Travolta has managed to keep a relatively low profile in terms of his private life – even though it has been the stuff of movies! Let’s take a look at the ups and downs of his public and private life. 

John the high school outcast

Although it might be hard to believe (considering the extroverted roles he is famous for), actor John Travolta was a bit of a loner during high school. Sure, in the day he enjoyed sports with friends, but at night he did his own thing – singing, dancing, and acting.

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Many of his friends couldn’t understand why he loved the performing arts so much, and that made him feel like an outcast. Regardless of the temporary discomfort, he chose to push forward with his newfound passion.

Travolta chose acting over academics

Soon, singing, acting, and dancing became far more important to a young John Travolta than his high school studies, so he decided to leave school and move to New York City. As luck (and talent) would have it, shortly after this move, he landed a role in the musical Grease.

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After Grease came the Broadway show Over Here. With such lucky breaks early in his career, John knew he picked the right path. He also knew New York City wasn’t the place to be, so he headed off to Hollywood.   

Travolta’s First Big Role

In the mid-70s, only a few short years after diving headfirst into acting, John Travolta played the lead role in the 1976 drama The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. It was a film about a boy with a weak immune system who had to spend his life wrapped in plastic.


Over time, the boy (named Tom) explored the world and fell in love with the girl next door. Off-screen, Travolta also fell in love – with Diana Hyland, who played Tom’s mother in the movie. 

A tragic end to a new love

John and Diana hit it off despite the fact that she was 18 years older. They were madly in love, and the Hollywood press was as well – they were the talk of the town. However, that talk turned tragic when Diana found out she had breast cancer.

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Although she fought hard, there was only so much she could do. It took less than a year for cancer to end her life. John was by her side as Diana took her last breath.

Saturday Night Fever

1977 was a big year in John Travolta’s life. It was a mix of grieving over Diana’s death and excitement over landing one of the biggest roles of his life – playing Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. It was a massive undertaking that involved nine months of dance classes before shooting the film.


It paid off – as anyone who has seen the film can attest. Travolta laid down some impressive dance moves that helped catapult Saturday Night Fever into a massive pop cultural (and financial) success.

A star on big screens and small screens

Travolta wasn’t only a star on the big screen in hits like Saturday Night Fever and Grease, he was also a star on the small screen in the hit TV show Welcome Back, Kotter. There he played bad-boy Vinnie Barbarino for four years.

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Vinnie’s backstory and John’s actual life shared a lot of similarities – both dropped out of high school, loved to be the center of attention, and had a knack for singing. Embodying that kind of character came naturally to John, and fans adored him for it. 

The first male on McCall’s magazine

Alongside all the acting work, John Travolta also dabbled in a bit of modeling. Plenty of companies were eager to get a piece of this rising star, and McCall’s magazine gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.


In 1983, for the first time in the magazine’s history, they featured a man on the cover. That man was John Travolta. It was a risky move, but ultimately successful. Soon after, other publications caught on to the “celebrity cover” craze, and it changed pop culture forever.

John dances with Princess Diana at The White House 

As John’s fame grew, it spread out beyond the narrow confines of the film industry. The wider culture was taking notice of his talents. President Ronald Reagan (a former actor himself) invited Travolta to a dinner at the White House.


Princess Diana was also there, and she was a big fan. Before the dinner ended, Travolta asked her to dance, she agreed, and they spent 15 memorable minutes together. When pictures were taken, the black dress Diana wore became known as the “Travolta Dress.” 

John’s career takes a downturn

John Travolta was a massive star in the late 1970s, and with that came a slew of film offers. Some, like the 1980 flick Urban Cowboy, were hits. However, in the early 1980s, he starred in a few films that were far from loved.

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Critics and fans alike were underwhelmed (to say the least) by 1983’s Two of a Kind and 1985’s Perfect. Both films were critically panned and financially unsuccessful. The continual stream of negative reviews led Travolta to take a short break from acting.

John Travolta turns down box office hits

The early-to-mid 1980s was a rough time for John Travolta’s career. Not only did he star in at least two critically panned films, but he also decided to pass over three box office hits – 1980’s American Gigolo, 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman, and 1984’s Splash.

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The first two film roles went to Richard Gere, and the last one went to Tom Hanks. Since the films were critically and financially successful, they boosted both actors’ careers. Travolta, on the other hand, was plagued by negative movie reviews.

John falls in love on set for the second time

Twelve years after being struck with love on set, John Travolta was struck again. While filming the 1989 romantic comedy The Experts, Travolta fell for the actor Kelly Preston. She felt the same, but she was also married.


They tried to keep it cool while finishing the film and promoting it, but the mutual attraction was too hard to ignore. Preston soon filed for divorce, and once the ink was dry, they got married. Rather than a massive wedding, they decided to elope in Paris. 

Kelly Preston’s high-profile dating history

John Travolta wasn’t Kelly’s first high-profile partner. When they first met, Preston was already married to actor Kevin Gage. After divorcing him in 1987, she began dating the (soon to be monumentally famous) George Clooney in the late 1980s.

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After their romance faded, Preston got engaged to the Hollywood superstar Charlie Sheen. Flush with fame and cash, Sheen gave Preston a 2.5-carat diamond ring. However, after a gun incident, the couple decided to sell the ring and call it quits

The two weddings of John and Kelly

Although adoring fans and the press hoped they would have a big New York City wedding, John Travolta and Kelly Preston decided on something a bit more private. They opted for a small ceremony in France led by a minister from the Church of Scientology (they were both Scientologists).

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When they returned to the US, however, their marriage wasn’t officially recognized. That legal loophole led them to have another wedding. That being said. New York City was still off the list – instead, they opted for Daytona Beach, Florida. 

All John’s siblings went into acting

John Travolta came from an outgoing family – his father played semi-pro football and his mom was a singer and actress. His mom’s love of performance clearly impacted her kids because all five of John’s siblings went into acting.

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The Travolta family’s passion for acting pushed John to hone his skills and help out his family when he got a lucky break. For example, his mom also got a role in Saturday Night Fever and Ellen, one of John’s sisters, garnered some screen time as a waitress in Grease. 

John the pilot

As many of his fans know, John is more than just a trained actor – he’s also a trained pilot. In the mid-1970s, John got his pilot’s license. As his wealth grew alongside his fame, John spent a substantial sum of it on private planes – and a private airport!

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That’s right, he owns a residential airfield at his house in Florida. His collection of four planes that sit on his lawn when he’s not flying them through the air. One of John’s favorite off-screen hobbies is flying friends and family around the US and other countries. 

John becomes the Qantas “Ambassador-at-large”

Qantas, the Australian airline, is one of the oldest airlines in the world. They took their inaugural flights way back in the 1920s, and ever since have been a well-respected name in the aviation world – and in the mind of John Travolta.

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John was deeply impressed by Qantas’s dedication to safety. Despite the risks they take by doing a lot of transcontinental flights, Qantas has maintained one of the highest safety records in the business. John’s admiration led him to purchase one of their former Boeing 707s. Qantas, in turn, made him an “Ambassador at Large.”

Travolta’s many homes

Starring in hit TV shows and movies for several decades has earned John Travolta quite the fortune. His net worth is said to be around $170 million. One substantial portion of his wealth has gone to airplanes, and another substantial portion has gone to real estate.

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John owns houses in Florida, Hawaii, California, and Maine. His Florida house (the one with the airfield) is his main home and largest property. The famous house allows him to be closest to the planes he loves to fly. 

John and Oprah are best buds

Being a leading man in Hollywood for multiple decades means John has met a lot of famous people – actors (of course), politicians, and royalty. Someone in that sphere who he has grown overwhelmingly close to over the years is talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

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The feeling is mutual as Oprah has shown by inviting him on her show multiple times. During the final season of Oprah’s show, she surprised her audience by giving them a free trip to Australia – on a plane piloted by John Travolta!

John and Buzz Aldrin promote Share Space

Travolta’s love of flying goes beyond airplanes – he’s also a great fan of spaceflight. When pioneering astronaut Buzz Aldrin (second man on the moon) launched his non-profit Share Space to encourage math and science education, he enlisted the help of John.

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John was more than willing to help raise funds and the profile of the non-profit. One way he did this was by taking part in a contest. One lucky fan would be allowed to recreate Uma Thurman’s famous dance with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction.

John’s career gets back on track

John’s career slump in the 1980s ended abruptly in 1989 with the release of Look Who’s Talking. The romantic comedy turned into a massive box office hit that grossed upwards of $297 million. It was his biggest hit since Grease, and fans looked forward to a “John-aissance.”


That career renaissance became a reality as John landed another significant role in 1994. He played Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s comedy-crime classic Pulp Fiction. John’s performance earned him a nomination for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. 

John Travolta takes on a new acting challenge

Although Pulp Fiction wasn’t big on funds, it was big on talent. Many critics and fans consider it to be Tarantino’s masterpiece. Alongside boosting Tarantino’s career, it shot Travolta right back up to Hollywood elite status. 


His regained fame came with a steady stream of new movie offers. One of them – the 1997 thriller Face/Off – had him working with Nicolas Cage. The film was tricky and unlike anything he’d done before because it required him to closely mirror his co-star’s mannerisms.

Gaining weight to play the president

Stretching his acting muscles in Face/Off got John ready for another tricky role – the 1998 film Primary Colors. For this, John was to play Jack Stanton in a story centered around Bill Clinton’s first Presidential campaign. This role was far different than the musicals and comedies he was well known for.


To really look like the character, John had to add some 20 pounds to his waistline. That level of dedication to the role really resonated with fans, and they were supportive of the risks John took. 

Tragedy befalls John and Kelly’s oldest son

Although many of us tend to assume that fame and fortune shield people from tragedy, that it’s always the case – and certainly not with John Travolta. In 2009, John and Kelly’s oldest son, Jett, died while the family was on vacation in the Bahamas.


16-year-old Jett had a seizure that caused him to smash his head on the bathtub. That, in turn, caused more seizures which led to his death. In a statement to People magazine, the grieving parents said burying their son was “the worst thing you can ever do.”

Details from Jett’s life come out

Despite being the son of two Hollywood stars, very little was known about Jett. That changed, however, when a fatal accident led to his death a few days after New Year in 2009. While grieving through that tragedy, the Travoltas also had to deal with the fact that some people were using Jett’s death as a way to extort the Travoltas for millions of dollars.


Due in part to a court case and the desire to be open, John and Kelly eventually disclosed that Jett had autism and a neurological disorder that caused frequent seizures.

The Travoltas get some unexpected but good news

A little over a year after the tragic loss of their Jett, the Travolta family finally had some good (albeit unexpected) news. Kelly was pregnant with their third child! This was surprising to say the least, considering she was 47 years old.

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Many fans, friends, and family members were happy that some good fortune came to the Travoltas after a year of heartache. Shortly after finding out, John and Kelly released a statement to let their world know they would be having a new addition to their family.

Benjamin Travolta is born

Some tragedies have a way of tearing families apart, but others have a way of pulling them together. Luckily for the Travolta family, they experienced the latter. With the love and support of fans and family alike, they were able to pull through the tragedy of their young son’s untimely death.

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One thing that helped them do that was the birth of their son Benjamin Travolta on the 23rd of November, 2010. Born a healthy eight pounds at birth, the Travoltas were happy to welcome Benjamin into their family. 

Tragedy strikes again in July 2020

From the death of Diana Hyland to the death of his son Jett, John Travolta has lived through a lot of tragedy in his life. Unfortunately, in 2020, he experienced another massive hit when Kelly Preston, his wife of 28 years, died.

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The cause of death was breast cancer. Kelly had been battling it – out of the public eye – for two years before it took her life on July 12, 2020, at the age of 57. She left behind a 20-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old son, and a husband of 28 years.

Ella Travolta follows in dad’s footsteps

Most parents try to find the right amount of encouragement for their kids – not enough means they miss out on opportunities, but too much means they end up running away. Although John and Kelly never pushed acting on their kids, their daughter Ella Bleu felt a calling.

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In 2019, Ella Travolta appeared in The Poison Rose alongside her dad, Brendan Fraser, and Morgan Freeman. Although it wasn’t the most groundbreaking movie, it was a respectable start to a career. It gave her experience on Hollywood film sets and a desire to do more.

John’s reputation takes a dive

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, John Travolta once again became a household name with box office hits like Look Who’s Talking and Pulp Fiction. This led adoring fans and critics to assume that the “John-aissance” would continue into the 2000s.

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This view changed when they saw Battlefield Earth. Since Travolta both produced it and starred in it, the fact that this science fiction film was a box office bomb (losing more than $40 million) had a big effect on the actor’s reputation. 

John’s legal troubles

In 2012, a masseuse filed sexual harassment charges against John Travolta. On top of that, he was accused of assault and battery at a hotel in Atlanta and a hotel in Beverly Hills. Over time, Travolta’s legal team was able to have both the charges dropped.

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However, it didn’t end there. Other legal troubles popped up when a cruise ship worker accused Travolta of inappropriate conduct. Although John affirmed that he was on the cruise, he denied that he did anything inappropriate. Soon after, the charges were dropped. 

The 2015 Oscars were awkward for John Travolta

The 2015 Oscars were pretty awkward for John Travolta. The previous year, he messed up the name of Idina Menzel – the singer of “Let It Go” in the movie Frozen – by calling her “Adele Dazeem” instead. Although she took it light-heartedly, at the 2015 Oscars, she introduced John as “Glom Gazingo.”

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On top of that, the press snapped a very awkward photo of him attempting to give Scarlett Johansson a kiss hello rather than a handshake or hand wave. Although Scarlett defended him, the press was less forgiving. 

Richard Gere is indebted to John Travolta

John Travolta has had movie offers come his way since the 1970s. Some he accepts, others he rejects. Some of the rejects, unfortunately, have turned out to be massive hits. Bad for John, but great for the guy who accepted the roles.


For many of Travolta’s rejected roles, that guy was Richard Gere – and it turned out great for his career. Due to Travolta’s rejections, Gere picked up roles in American GigoloAn Officer and a Gentleman, and Chicago – a musical that eventually earned him an Oscar for Best Actor!

John plays John Gotti

In recent years, John Travolta has expanded the kinds of characters he plays on the big screen. 2018 saw him playing the lead role in Gotti, a biographical crime flick about the American gangster John Gotti.

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As head of the Gambino family, Gotti led a ruthless life that required the happy-go-lucky John to take on a new personality. To do so, Travolta teamed up with other stars to try his best. Unfortunately, critics and fans weren’t convinced, and the film received a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and lost $4 million.

John Travolta the author

Alongside his acting, singing, and dancing, John is also quite a talented writer. His first book came out in 1984 and was titled John Travolta Staying Fit. It gave a mix of John’s ideas, his preferred fitness routines, and some dance tips. 


Later on, in the late 90s, Travolta came out with another book. This time it was a work of fiction called Propeller One Way Night Coach: A Fable for All Ages. Based on John’s love of aviation, it tells the story of a young boy who dreams of flight.

John has never won an Oscar

Despite the fact that John Travolta has been a Hollywood star and household name since his role in Welcome Back, Kotter. Despite the fact that ten of his movies made over $100 million and eight of them made over $200 million.

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Despite the fact that he’s played everything from heart-throbs (in Saturday Night Fever) to mob bosses (in Gotti) to aliens (in Battlefield Earth). Despite all of that experience and time, John Travolta has never won an Oscar for his acting. 

Is John Travolta part of the LGBT community?

Being a public figure who likes a bit of privacy is bound to spark rumors from tabloid writers and fans. One such rumor came when Douglas Gotterba, a licensed pilot, claimed to have had a six-year-long relationship with John.

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John denied the accusations, but the rumors persist. Is John part of the LGBT community? It’s hard to say, but he has been photographed sharing a kiss with other male actors – most famously, with Kirk Douglas – and a friend boarding a plane. The fact that John enjoys his privacy only adds to the rumors. 

Scientology has deeply impacted John’s life

Scientology – a religion started by L. Ron Hubbard in the mid-20th century – has been a constant source of fascination and controversy over the years. One of the reasons for that is that a lot of famous people follow the teachings.

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One of the most famous has to be Tom Cruise. The other one? John Travolta. In 1975, John first heard about the teachings of Hubbard and soon after became a convert. He has been a loyal adherent ever since, and he credits it with helping him work through life tragedies.

Despite church controversies, John still defends Scientology

Around 1991, some higher-ups in Scientology thought that John Travolta was losing faith in the religion, so they threatened to release personal information about him if he left. John stayed, and it’s rumored that the Church and he reached an agreement whereby neither of them would release intimate information.

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Despite the tense personal history, John often defends Scientology against criticism. Recently a lot of ex-members have gone on record to call out some of the Church’s practices, John has remained steadfast – saying that he “can’t ever imagine attacking it.” 

What will the future hold for John Travolta?

John Travolta has proved that he’s a multi-talented individual – singing, acting, dancing, writer, piloting – who has managed to stay on top in the competitive world of Hollywood. But alongside all his talent and success has come a fair bit of loss and tragedy.

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Although Travolta has experienced a lot of success in his personal and professional life, he has also experienced a lot of loss – most recently, the death of his wife Kelly Preston. As he works through that grief, will John continue to take part in the world of film? Or will he opt for a quiet life? We’ll have to wait and see.