The amazing bio of the amazing man
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The perennial Comeback Kid,
who has faced more public ups and downs than any other actor,
John Joseph Travolta was born in Englewood, New Jersey on February 18th, 1954, the youngest of six children to his parents, Salvatore (tire salesman and former semiprofessional football player) and Helen (drama teacher who also took part in a radio vocal group called the Sunshine Sisters). His family was always involved in show business in one way or another, and it's no surprise that all John's siblings also pursued careers in this sphere.
John grew up in a warm family. He was a late-in-life baby, and therefore a miracle according to his Roman Catholic parents - his upbringing was appropriately pampered and permissive. Encouraged to yield to creative whims, the Travolta offspring staged nightly shows in the basement of their suburban New Jersey home, where their kindly father had constructed a theatre for their amusement. This nurturing childhood naturally led to thoughts of a life onstage, and by the age of 12, little Johnny had already joined an actors workshop in his hometown of Englewood. Soon he was appearing in local musicals and dinner-theatre engagements and indulging his natural inclination to groove by taking tap lessons from the Gene Kelly's (lesser-known) brother Fred.
John was so taken with acting that he dropped out of high-school at age of 16 (with parents' permission) in order to make a go at an acting career. He moved to Manhattan, and after a period of training in acting and dancing he began doing commercials and off-Broadway productions. Then he moved to Hollywood, where he got occasional small roles on TV, and in 1973 joined the national touring company of "Grease" (in a minor role of Doody), eventually making the Broadway casts of "Grease" and the Andrews Sisters' musical "Over Here!".
As an appealing young man with a wavy dark hair, luminous blue eyes, dazzling smile, and a characteristic cleft chin (not to mention his insouciant manner and casual sensuality), Travolta made his film debut in 1975, with a bit role in a horror movie entitled "Devil's Rain". It was also in 1975 that John got his big break - he joined the cast of the TV series "Welcome Back, Kotter", in the role of dimwitted but lovable Vinnie Barbarino. The show was almost an immediate success and Travolta was catapulted to stardom - Barbarino t-shirts, lunchboxes and other merchandise flooded schools. This role, that actually was secondary in the series, immediately attracted an enthusiastic following and soon John became one of television's top stars. Film assignments quickly followed.
The following year, John stared in Brian DePalma's horror classic "Carrie", (based on Stephen King's story) and also took time to record a hit single, "Let Her In", the first of several. 1976 also saw Travolta star in the television movie, "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble", that at the time it was a hit. Diana Hyland, who portrayed Travolta's mother in the film (she was 18 years his senior), became romantically involved with him. That was John's first major romantic relationship, but it tragically ended one year later, when he held his lover in his arms as she died of cancer. (John's mother succumbed to the disease within two years of Diana Hyland; it was in the wake of her death that he first turned to the Church of Scientology seeking solace).
The very bad year ended on a happy note, though, with the release of John Badham's box-office smash "Saturday Night Fever", Travolta's first major feature film. He played the role of Tony Manero, cocky king of the Brooklyn disco scene. As this dancing rebel John earned himself an Oscar nomination and caused a pop culture sensation, defining popular taste in music and fashion - the John Travolta craze: before you could say "Stayin' Alive", three-piece polyester suits, gold chains, and duck-butt haircuts were making astonishing inroads into the fashion of an entire nation. Tony Manero's original white garment recently fetched a record-setting $145,500 at a Christie's auction (to give you an idea of this guy's cultural impact).
"Saturday Night Fever" grossed over $350 million and paved the way to the promised land for its disco-dancing star. Travolta followed up his Oscar-nominated performance in the movie with lead roles in the film version of the musical "Grease", (performing all his singing by himself - as Danny, a boys' leader and girls' hearts conqueror), and in "Urban Cowboy" (as Bud Davis, a macho honky-tonk-patronizing Texan). He seemed destined to symbolize the pop-culture landscape, regardless of role: his Tony Manero ignited the disco fad of the late 70's; his Danny Zuko launched a revival of 50's music and fashion; his Buford "Bud" Davis made mechanical bull-riding a nationwide fad of embarrassing proportions and helped popularize Western wear in the early 80's. In one sentence - John was the 70's "it" boy, every guy wanted to be him and every girl wanted to be with him.
However, this triumph - "Saturday Night Fever" - was also Travolta's career's peak, which now was headed for a major and inevitable decline: the late 70's and most of the next decade presented a seemingly endless string of box-office failures. "Moment by Moment" (1978) was an unmitigated fiasco, and, for various reasons, John turned down the leads in "Days of Heaven" (1978), "American Gigolo" (1980), and "An Officer And A Gentleman" (1982) - plum roles greedily snatched up by Richard Gere (that practically owes his film career to John). Actually, Brian De Palma's "Blow Out" (1981) marked the beginning of Travolta's lengthy eclipse. "Staying Alive" (1983), a follow-up to "Saturday Night Fever", was a transparent and ill-fated-attempt to replicate the original's success, and then came "Two Of A Kind" (1983), which reunited him with "Grease" costar Olivia Newton-John in an embarrassing comedy-fantasy flop. Travolta, who'd always been an engaging personality if not a particularly skillful actor, was positively ludicrous as an investigative reporter in "Perfect" (1985 - written and directed by "Urban Cowboy"'s James Bridges). Its indifferent reception sent him into a self-imposed exile for several years, which passed with a lot of extravagances - "I can make daring decisions with my career but never with my finances"...
By the mid-80's, if not persona non grata around Hollywood, John was certainly yesterday's news, and as yesterday's news he endured ugly tabloid rumors that he was gay, bisexual, fat, and hopelessly under the sway of a mind-controlling cult - the cult being the mysterious and misunderstood Church of Scientology. Yet John somehow preserved his innate cool through all his trials. Even during his darkest hours, his lavish lifestyle (20 bedroom waterfront Maine chateau, the French provincial in Florida, the pads in Carmel, Santa Barbara, and Hollywood, his stable of luxury automobiles, and the three jets he pilots himself) remained intact, for a number of reasons. Reason number 1: Travolta had secured a percentage of the profits from the "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease" soundtracks (which sold in excess of 19-million copies). Reason number 2: not all of the doltish movies in which he starred during the dark years were flops (although "The Experts", his first comeback effort on 1989, barely got released - on the same year "Look Who's Talking" surprised everyone and became one of the year's top hits). Reason number 3: Travolta always maintained a winning attitude about his losing streak: "I've always thought that as long as I did the right things and had the right intentions, everything would fall into place."
After the success of "Look Who's Talking", Travolta returned to appear in its sequel, "Look Who's Talking Too", and in "Shout" (both 1991). This year his home life finally fell into place too, when he wed actress Kelly Preston; their son Jett arrived the following year. On 1993 was released the second sequel to the "Look Who's Talking" movies - "Look Who's Talking Now", which succeeded in a much lesser extent. But with the life-ordering support of John's family and his electrifying faith in Scientology in place, just when Hollywood had written him off, he made a spectacular comeback and struck a second time, in the form of "Pulp Fiction" (1994) - due in large part to the brilliant mind of a new director on the scene, Quentin Tarantino (who had been John's fan since "Welcome Back, Kotter"). Resuscitating a basically flat-lined career with his winning portrayal of the paunchy, pony-tailed, sympathetic hit-man Vincent Vega, Travolta earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination, and once again he topped every director's A-list. "For a long time, I felt forgotten, and suddenly I realised the applause weren't only for the film, but also for me" John said. "Pulp Fiction" undoubtedly regenerated his career, but his continued success is due mainly to his newfound maturity and the more intelligent management of the career this time. "I have a young feature but the age and the weight, cut a little this young's feelings. This give more credibility to the performers"...
Since "Pulp fiction", Travolta has managed to keep hurtling forward at a dizzying pace, with roles as a loan shark-cum-film producer in "Get Shorty", as a villainous bastard in director John Woo's "Broken Arrow", as a mechanic turned genius in "Phenomenon".
After the success of "Get Shorty", everyone's favorite Comeback Kid landed a $17-million contract to headline "The Double" (Roman Polanski's ), but "creative differences" led to Travolta's reluctance and swift quitting. Production ground to a halt (despite the fact that Travolta's reins were handed over to the capable Steve Martin) and Travolta was subsequently slapped with a breach-of-contract suit; he countersued for breach of contract, fraud, and interference.
Not that Travolta didn't have plenty of work to fill the void: apart from starring roles in "Michael", "Face/Off", and "Mad City", he inherited (from Tom Hanks) the role of a U.S. president whose libido runs amok, in Universal's adaptation of "Primary Colors", the best-selling satire of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.
Since then John has taken on more challenging roles which have allowed him to demonstrate his dramatic range, while recognizing the need to keep up a high profile in box office hits. He has managed to become a leading man, action hero and respecting thespian all in one. It seems that after all of these years, John Travolta has finally found peace, success and stability. The Comeback Kid is back for good.
The biography is taken from a few sources, and edited exclusively for JTplanet