MOTW: The Life and Career of John Travolta

Photo Credit: Miramax Films
August 22nd, 2013

MOTW: The Life and Career of John Travolta

Born on February 18, 1954 in Englewood, New Jersey, John Travolta's stellar acting career has spanned more than four decades. Probably best known for his roles in "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," he has suffered his fair share of professional and personal highs and lows.

As a child, Travolta was the youngest of six children to his parents Salvatore and Helen. His father had a short-lived, semi-professional football career but ultimately became a tire salesman while his mother received recognition both as an actress and a singer. Travolta grew up in an Irish American neighborhood, which isn't surprising when his father had an Italian background and his mother's was Irish. He was born a Roman Catholic and would remain one until converting to Scientology in the mid-1970s. As a teenager, Travolta attended Dwight Morrow High School but dropped out during his junior year.

As a high school dropout with little hope for the future, Travolta did what most people in the same position do; he headed for the bright lights of a big city. In his case, Travolta didn't have far to go, merely crossing the Hudson River to live in New York City. All his elder siblings had dabbled in acting, so it only seemed right that he also pursue this line of work. Not long after moving to the Big Apple, Travolta found a role in the touring company of the musical "Grease." He also gained vital acting experience while singing in the Broadway production "Over Here!" He didn't settle in New York for too long though, and he quickly made the move to Los Angeles in the hope of developing a career in show business.

It didn't take long for him to find some work, playing a bit-part role in one episode of local California television show "Emergency." Success did not come instantly though; it took a further four years until he appeared on the big screen with a part in the horror film "Carrie." During that time, Travolta experienced heartbreak in his personal life when his girlfriend, Diana Hyland, died of breast cancer. The pair had met while on the set of "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" and had only been dating for a year when tragedy struck.

In addition to pursuing an acting career, he wasn't afraid to try his hand at music. In July of 1976, Travolta released a hit song, "Let Her In," that reached the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The following couple of years really set the stage for the rest of his career. His roles as Tony Manero in "Saturday Night Fever" and Danny Zuko in "Grease" turned him into a Hollywood star and heartthrob at the same time. These two films were among the highest-grossing films of the 70s, and Travolta was recognized for his talents with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, making him one of the youngest ever actors to be nominated at that time.

After the highs of the late 1970s, it was difficult for him to repeat those successes. The early 1980s were a tough time for him from a professional standpoint; the films "Perfect" and "Two of a Kind," in which he starred, both spectacularly failed at the box office.

The late 1980s and early 1990s saw an upturn in his acting fortunes when he starred in "Look Who's Talking" and the two follow-up sequels. In 1991, Travolta married longtime girlfriend Kelly Preston, and the pair had a son, Jett, the following year. Only a few years later, Travolta came back into the Hollywood spotlight thanks to his performance in "Pulp Fiction." An Academy Award nomination immediately followed; however, he did not really take advantage of this new lease of life, with many of his films in the late 1990s proving to be commercial failures.

The new millennium did not prove to be much better for Travolta either, with few film roles opening up for him. In 2009, disaster struck him and his family when his teenage son Jett died from a seizure while the family was on Christmas vacation in the Bahamas. He confirmed, not long afterward, that Jett did have a long history of seizures and had struggled with Kawasaki disease since early childhood. He was embroiled in an extortion plot in the wake of his son's death, but after a mistrial, he withdrew all the charges.

Travolta has only appeared sporadically in films over the past few years, but his contribution to Hollywood cannot be underestimated. His best days may be behind him, but he still has something to offer on the big screen. His only film scheduled for release during 2013, "Killing Season," wasn't a commercial success, but he did get to star alongside famed actor Robert De Niro for the first time ever.