The real life story of John Travolta

John Travolta is one of the most iconic names in cinema. He has starred in many great films, including musicals Grease and Saturday Night Fever, and drama Pulp Fiction. He shot to fame during the seventies for his portrayal of Tony Manero, the working class man who spends much of his weekends setting dance floors on fire in musical drama Saturday Night Fever. His career hasn’t always been at the highest level, and Travolta spent much of his time struggling to find the roles that would bring him back to the top of the A-list.

Despite the hardship, he has never stopped working hard, and has achieved some personal goals in his life that might come as a surprise. Travolta has gone through personal troubles in his life away from the movie set, and it’s fair to say that he has had a lot to deal with. It hasn’t all been bad though, and he has been able to rub shoulders with some of the most famous people in the world, including billionaires and royalty. Check out the real story behind the life of the world-famous actor, dancer, singer, and, um, pilot.

Scandals everywhere

There have been a lot of rumors surrounding John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston. They have been accused by many of being one of the strangest couples in Hollywood. As far as many people are concerned, there is something that these two are hiding, but is it all just hearsay?

The pair have had three children together and have had to deal with a lot of public comments about Travolta’s personal life, but have stuck together through it all. Despite there being so many reported scandals in Travolta’s life and Kelly sticking by his side the entire time, rumors are flying that she might have finally reached her breaking point with the whole thing.

Diana Hyland

For Travolta, however, there was a whole life he lived before he even met and fell in love with Kelly Preston. In his younger years, he met and fell head over heels for someone else, actress Diana Hyland. The pair met on the set of the TV drama movie, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble in 1976 and soon fell in love, despite there being an 18-year age gap between them.

Hyland played his onscreen mother, but their relationship would take a sad turn just one year later Hyland was diagnosed with cancer, and she passed away in Travolta’s arms. She was later awarded a posthumous Emmy award for her role in the film the pair starred in together.

High school dropout

Travolta was famed for playing Danny Zuko in the musical, Grease; a high school teen who finishes school falling in love with Olivia Newton John’s character, Sandy. Unlike his character, Travolta never actually completed high school, instead dropping out when he was just 16 years old.

He left early so he could focus on his acting career, but admitted that his peers didn’t really understand what he was doing. He loved playing basketball and football at school but missed out on it all to focus on acting.

Early days

Travolta was born in New Jersey on February 18, 1954. His neighborhood was filled with Irish-Americans who all lived just outside of New York City. He was the baby of his family and is the youngest of five children who also loved acting as much as he did.

His dad was Italian-American, while his mom was Irish-American, and he had a religious upbringing as a Catholic. However, he would later choose a different religion as an adult.

Studying wasn’t for him

He openly admits that he was ever really that good at studying, even before he chose to drop out of school. Travolta never tried to be a straight-A student, instead, he was average because he sent much of his time focusing on his acting.

Travolta also admits that he tried to charm his teachers into giving him better grades as a way to make up for his less than perfect grades. He said that he tried to communicate with his teachers on an adult level.

Broadway career

After dropping out of school, he tried his best to break into acting, and he had one thing on his side, living near to New York. He crossed the Hudson River from New Jersey and started auditioning for roles in commercials and Broadway shows.

Eventually he began to find work and starred in some commercials before treading the boards in the Broadway version of his later movie Grease. He tried to make it in LA but was drawn back to New York and Broadway.

First real TV gig

Thanks to his experience on Broadway, it wouldn’t be too long before he featured on our TV screens at home. His first big role came in the ABC sitcom, Welcome Back, Kotter, where he played the loveable rogue Vinnie Barbarino.

The show ran from 1975 to 1979 where Travolta became one of the nations favorite heartthrobs overnight. Travolta claimed that he drew a lot of inspiration for the role from his own experience of getting into trouble at school.

Acting dynasty

Not only was it Travolta and his siblings who loved to act, but his mom also was an actress. He claims that the main reason why he even thought about acing in the first place was due to the influence his mother had on him.

He mentioned that the career she had as both a dancer and actress is what really drove him on to make sure he made a success of his. His mom later appeared alongside him in Saturday Night Fever and Grease.

Opening up

During his long career there have been a lot of rumors about him and how he conducts himself in the privacy of his own home, but Travolta went on the record to publicly shut any rumors down.

As far as he was concerned, it was just people trying to make some money off the back of his name and he learned to stop caring about it after a while. He told reporters that he learned to ignore stuff about him in the media a long time ago because he can’t control it.

Olivia Newton John

On the set of musical drama Grease, the two main stars Travolta and Newton-John struck up a pretty close relationship. They both admitted that spending so much time together on the set led to them developing feeling for each other, admitting they had a crush on each other.

They had a great chemistry together and have remained friends long after the movie wrapped. Travolta says they still meet a couple of times a year and speak on the phone every few weeks.

Sparking a craze

When he starred in Saturday Night Fever, he sparked a craze for disco music. Proving that people loved his movies a lot, Travolta sparked yet another nationwide craze. In the 1980 romance film Urban Cowboy, Travolta helped to generate huge interest in country music.

The movie was set in Texas, and it perfectly captured the spirit of the state during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. It starred Travolta alongside his love interest Debra Winger, who played the role of Sissy.

His religion

Although he was raised as a Catholic, there came a time in Travolta’s life when he began to question his faith. He found that there was another church calling to him that he could relate closer to, one that is quite controversial.

His relationship with the church began in the ‘70s when he was filming for an early film in his career, horror movie The Devil’s Rain. He was offered the book of Dianetics and soon began reading up on all of the religion’s beliefs and theories.

Stalling career

Despite Urban Cowboy starting the ‘80s off with a bang for Travolta, that decade would prove to be the beginning of his troubles finding roles to suit his skills. For over ten years, Travolta had to put his career on hold despite turning down some major roles in that decade.

He decided he wouldn’t play the lead roles in drama movies, American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman. It seemed as though Travolta had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Dancing with a princess

Travolta was famed for his dancing skills thanks to his roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, so there was some pressure on him when a princess wanted to have a dance with him.

In 1985, President Reagan had a gala in the White House and invited some of the most famous and glamorous people in the world, including Travolta and Princess Diana of England. Travolta couldn’t hide his delight at the honor of sharing a dance with Lady Diana.

Meeting Kelly

It wouldn’t be until 1989 that Travolta would meet his now wife, Kelly Preston. They were both cast in the comedy film The Experts, and just 3 years later the pair were married in a religious ceremony.

The wedding wasn’t recognized as legal in the US, so a couple of weeks later the pair had an official wedding to fully legitimize their union. Over the years there have been many stories come out about them, and they are considered to be one of Hollywood’s strongest couples.

What about his dad?

While his mom wanted to have a career in the acting industry, his dad chose a different path for his life. Salvatore Travolta played semi-professional football in his younger days but retired to open up his own tire shop.

The shop was in New Jersey and that allowed him to have a happy life watching his five children all grow up to live their own lives. He knew he could always rely on The Travolta Tire Exchange to bring in regular cash for his family.


It wasn’t just acting and dancing that Travolta was good at though, he also studied voice after dropping out of high school and tried his hand at breaking into the music industry.

When he was 22 he recorded his very first single, Let Her In, with the song becoming a big hit in America thanks to Travolta’s soft voice. His debut song reached number 10 on the Hot 100, staying the in the charts for an incredible five months.

His breakthrough

Although he had been acting for a while now, he hadn’t truly launched his career to the levels that we have come to know today. For him to become a megastar, all he had to do was show the world his dance moves.

Travolta starred in the disco dancing drama Saturday Night Fever where he got to wow audiences in movie theaters with his fancy moves. Travolta said he took nine months of dancing lessons to perfect his skill for the movie.

Iconic role

The iconic roles came flooding in following Saturday Night Fever and just one year later he was starring in yet another classic. He had already appeared in the Broadway version of Grease, but in 1978 he was cast as the lead actor in the musical film adaptation.

The movie has made over $400 million since it was first released and turned both Travolta and Newton-John into megastars overnight. The movie is the fourth highest-grossing musical film of all time.

A revival?

Following Urban Cowboy’s release in 1980 Travolta was seemingly cast out into the wilderness, and after over a decade not featuring in any major movies, Quentin Tarantino came knocking on his door.

Pulp Fiction is a 1994 crime drama that helped relaunch Travolta into the public realm. He played Vincent Vega, a hitman who could throw some serious moves on the dancefloor. He was a complex character who shared a lot of his time on screen with the charismatic Samuel L. Jackson.

He’s got skills

It isn’t just entertaining skills that John Travolta has learned throughout his life. By the time he was only 22, Travolta had already devoted a lot of his time to flying, and he had earned himself a pilot’s license.

As he has gotten older, he has added different types of plane to his license so he can pretty much take to the sky in anything with wings. He can fly 11 different types of aircraft and has often spoken about how he can jet his family off on holiday himself.

A private airport

John Travolta is incredibly passionate about flying. He loves it so much that he moved his family to a large complex that is capable of housing some of his planes.

Not only is it a luxurious house, with plane parking, but there is a runway attached to it so he can take off to anywhere in the world whenever he feels like it. Travolta owns a large jet plane so he can bring hundreds of people on vacation with him if he chooses to.

His fun side

Travolta has reached a point in his career where he doesn’t have to worry about money, so he can afford to take on different acting roles. Without worrying about the monetary gains, he has appeared in several fun movies, but maybe his most famous appearance was in 2007 musical film Hairspray.

In the movie he plays Edna Turnblad, testing his dancing skills to the limit as he had to do them while wearing heels and a dress.

Delivering aid

There are some benefits to having your own pilots license and a fleet of planes to fly whenever you need them. During the 2010 earthquake disaster that struck Haiti, Travolta felt like he couldn’t just sit and do nothing.

He fired up the jets in his plane, and loaded it with medical supplies, doctors, nurses, and food. He said he had the ability to make a difference in the situation so he couldn’t leave his plane on his private runway and chose to fly there to help as many people as possible.


There have been some low points in his life too, unfortunately. Sadly, Travolta’s eldest son passed away at the young age of just 16. His son, Jett, was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease that caused him to suffer from seizures, and one of those made him trip and bang his head.

Jett died from his injury and Travolta said, understandably, that the death of his beloved son was the worst thing that had ever happened to him.

Losing Jett

Losing Jett was incredibly hard on both Travolta and his wife; naturally they were devastated. He considered leaving the acting industry altogether following the death of his son, because he just couldn’t see a way forward.

He found that life was not interesting for him any longer and it took him a very long time to get better. He attributes the support from his church as the reason why he was able to get through such a hard time.

A favor for a friend

In 2010, Travolta decided to provide his piloting skills as a favor for his friend, Oprah Winfrey. Oprah has been on the air for over 25 seasons, and as a reward to her audience members, she decided she was going to fly them all out on a jet plane to Sydney, Australia for a treat.

Who better to have pilot the plane then Mr. Travolta himself. John was an ambassador of Qantas Airways, so it seemed a no-brainer that he would be the pilot for Oprah’s fans.

Young Ben

Travolta and Preston had spent a long time grieving over the loss of their son, and thought it might help them if they were to conceive another child. So, after three years of trying, John and Kelly welcomed young Benjamin Travolta into the world in 2010.

Still trying to piece their lives back together again following the tragedy, the family have said that it was little Ben coming along who really helped them all work their way through the loss.

Starting a foundation

Jett sadly passed away so suddenly, not giving his family time to commemorate him in the aftermath. So, later they decided to start a foundation in his name as a tribute. The Jett Travolta Foundation was set up to support children through charitable and educational purposes.

They have donated over 70 grants to organizations and aim to help children who suffer from hearing, communication, and behavioral learning impairments, as well as those with special environmental or health needs.

Net worth

Travolta has starred in some of the biggest movies in the history of Hollywood, so it’s little surprise that he is worth a lot of money. He has an estimated net worth of $165 million, and it’s reported that Travolta now earns around $20 million per acting paycheck.

He has a lot of money tied into property; his private runway mansion is estimated to be worth almost $5 million. Travolta has a collection of exotic and vintage cars, including a Rolls-Royce Phantom, and a Jaguar XJ6.

His daughter

Much like John followed in his mother’s footsteps by choosing a career in acting, his daughter, Ella Bleu, has followed in her mom and dad’s footsteps. Her first acting role came sooner than John’s though as she was only 9 years old when she appeared alongside her dad in the 2009 comedy movie Old Dogs.

In fact, not only did she appear alongside her dad, but she also got the chance alongside her mom too! She had the blessing of Travolta who thinks she is a fantastic actress.

Still working

Despite almost having more money than he can actually spend, Travolta continues to work in the movie industry. Now into his sixties, he is still going strong and is set to star in four movies in 2018.

He is shooting a movie called ‘Speed Kills’ in Puerto Rico where he plays a criminal millionaire speedboat racer, who has troubles with the law as well as other criminal kingpins. He’s also due to appear alongside his daughter once more in a thriller called The Poison Rose.

Talented family

It isn’t just his immediate family that has acting talents. Having seen her uncle enjoy great success as an actor, Travolta’s niece Nicole has been working hard to make a name for herself in the world of entertainment.

She has appeared in TV comedies such as Anger Management, Two and a Half Men, Cowgirl Up, and The Middle. She continues to make a name for herself and is due to appear in upcoming movie releases Sushi Burrito and The Pom Pom Massacre.

Loving his work

Travolta starred in one of the most critically panned movies in film history, Battlefield Earth. Although the critics hated it, Travolta has no problem with the movie and said he would appear in it again even knowing how it was received.

The film was based on a book written by Travolta’s church founder L. Ron Hubbard, the religion that Travolta follows. As far as Travolta was concerned he had enough money, so he wasn’t bothered about the movie, he did it because he had a blast.

A perfect villain?

Despite featuring in many movies that he has said he is proud of, there is still one role he feels he is missing from his resume. John Travolta has said he will continue playing villains in movies until he lands his dream role.

What is that dream role? Travolta hopes that someday he will be selected to play a villain in the James Bond spy movie franchise. Well, one can dream!

Powerful friends

John Travolta has been in show business for a long time. He has rubbed shoulders with the greats of cinema, and unsurprisingly he has befriended many of the famous people he has met.

Travolta was concerned about appearing in the TV drama The People v. O. J. Simpson, so he told reporters that he contacted a few of his famous friends to get their advice. He said he called on Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, and Oprah Winfrey before deciding on taking the role of defense attorney Robert Shapiro.

Singing again

Although he had a debut single to remember when he was 22, Travolta didn’t put all of his attention into the music industry, only releasing music when it suited him.

In 2009 he was given a chance to get in the recording studio once again, and he couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Miley Cyrus was recording some music for the animated movie Bolt, and called upon Travolta to sing along with her in one of the songs titled I Thought I Lost You.

Escaping death

By this stage, it’s pretty clear that John Travolta loves flying planes. He has spent decades learning how to fly them and must be pretty good at it otherwise he wouldn’t hold so many licenses. It was, however, when flying a plane that Travolta came close to losing his life.

In 1992 he began to lose power in the plane he had taken control of. He almost had to crash land the plane because of an electrical failure, but eventually managed to guide the plane down safely on the ground.

His daughter’s name

Travolta’s daughter was born in 2000, but he and his wife were butting heads over her name. John wanted to name her Qantas as that was the airline he was an ambassador for at the time, but Kelly refused to allow it.

Despite this little bundle of joy coming into the world, the pair couldn’t stop arguing about what to name her. Eventually the couple decided that the name Ella perfectly suited their newborn baby girl.

Meeting with Tarantino

World-renowned film director Quentin Tarantino had long been an admirer of Travolta’s but was disappointed in his acting choices before he cast him in Pulp Fiction.

Tarantino approached Travolta to cast him in his movie From Dusk Till Dawn, but Travolta told the director that he was much more interested in appearing in Pulp Fiction. Tarantino vowed to resurrect Travolta’s career and had to put up a real fight to get filmmakers to agree to put him in the 1994 crime drama.

He works hard

Travolta has reportedly always worked hard, even before he made his way onto the sets of the biggest movies in the world. Before he made it as an actor, he would work odd jobs to make sure he was able to do the basic things in life we all like; stuff like eating and sleeping with a roof over our heads.

He would audition for roles during the day and then at night take shifts working at a check out in a grocery store, or as a luggage handler.

He writes

There seems to be no end to John Travolta’s talents. Not only is he a pilot, actor, singer, and dancer, he also writes books. He had a book published in 1997 titled, Propeller One-Way Night Coach: A Fable for All Ages.

He only wrote it for his family to read, but after getting such great feedback from them, he decided to get in touch with a publisher and bring it to bookstore shelves across the country. It’s a story about a boy moving to Hollywood and dreaming of flying planes.

The original Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise is an action movie actor who is famous for doing most of his own stunts. Well move over Tom, because you’re not the only person to do it, and John Travolta was doing it first!

In the 1980 movie Urban Cowboy, Travolta had to ride a mechanical bull, so he spent some time practicing in his own home to make sure he could look the part when the movie started shooting. He told the stunt double to sit this action sequence out as he already had the skills.

Kirstie Alley

John met Kirstie Alley on the set of the children’s adventure movie, Look Who’s Talking in 1989 – the same year he met his wife. There were a lot of rumors that Travolta and Alley were dating as they had formed a very close friendship during the shooting of the movie.

Although dismissed as just rumors, Alley admitted many years later that she did have a crush on Travolta and, before they were married to other people she fell in love with him.

Enigmatic costar

Travolta had the pleasure of working opposite one of Hollywood’s most divisive actors, Nicolas Cage. They starred together in the 1997 sci-fi action movie Face/Off. In that movie, the pair have their faces surgically transplanted onto the others and had to learn how to act like each other.

Their solution? Cage and Travolta spent 2 weeks before shooting just watching and learning from the other, trying to perfectly capture each of their facial gestures and mannerisms.

Big Brando fan

Travolta wanted to be an actor from an early age, and while he drew inspiration from his mom, there was another actor who he admired. He has confessed to being a huge fan of acting royalty, Marlon Brando, the man who brought The Godfather to life.

Travolta was given a piece of advice from his acting idol that he still stands by to this day. Brando told Travolta to never expect something from people who cannot give it to him.


The casting department really wanted John Travolta to feature in 2001 crime action film Swordfish. They reportedly approached Travolta five times, and each time they asked him to appear in the movie he flat out refused.

The movie starred Halle Berry and Hugh Jackman, two huge movie stars, but it wasn’t their inclusion that finally convinced Travolta to do the film. When asked for the sixth time to appear in the movie, Travolta learned that Dominic Sena was directing, and as soon as he knew that, he signed up right away!

John Gotti

As he has gotten older, he has found that there are some roles ideally suited to his acting style. Gotti is a 2017 biographical crime movie about the life of crime boss John Gotti.

Travolta admitted that it took him an entire six years to fully prepare himself to portray the criminal overlord. As he did his research on the crime boss, he discovered that they had some things in common, particularly their favorite adult drink, a gin martini.

Picky eater

People often tell of superstars making crazy demands from the production companies that are looking after them, but Travolta has a few interesting eating habits he saves for home.

Every day he will start the same way, enjoying a fine cup of coffee blended from beans from Starbucks. He has a guilty food pleasure too, he admits that he really loves eating Coleman’s hot mustard on lots of foods and will occasionally treat himself to a McDonald’s.

Brazil loves him

Being one of Hollywood’s top acting talents often comes with fame and fortune, but it isn’t just in America that Travolta can find his fans. One of his biggest fan bases anywhere in the world is in Brazil.

In 2013, he appeared in an advertising campaign for a drink brand popular in Brazil. Travolta was seen playing soccer on the beach as well as showing off his salsa dance moves. From that moment he has been adored in Brazil.

He loves tennis

Looking to add yet another string to his bow, Travolta decided he would take up playing tennis around ten years ago. Despite being in his fifties, he figured he could pick up a racket and give it a go.

His problem was that he couldn’t find time to train during the day so he said he was having to live like a vampire and bring in his house manager and maintenance guy to have games of tennis with him.

First credit

Travolta has had a long and eventful acting career, acting from the ‘70s all the way through to now. With so many roles gone by, it would be easy to overlook the moment he first appeared to the public in his maiden acting credit.

Travolta appeared in the TV series Emergency! The show followed the emergency services in the LA region as they went about the county trying to rescue people in need. Travolta appeared as a 16-year-old who fell down a canyon, injuring his leg.

Owing success to religion

Although he has put in a lot of work to get where he is, Travolta puts his success down to his religious faith. He claims without the support of his church he would never have made it.

For his very first role in Welcome Back, Kotter, Travolta shared his worries about the role but said that his entire church all pointed toward the TV studio and sent a message to them. “We want Travolta for the part,” was the message they telepathically sent, and it must have done the trick!

Huge donation

A Qantas Airways ambassador for many years, Travolta received a jet from the air travel company after many years as the face of their company. The airline had converted one of their jets for private use in 1964 and donated it to the Grease star.

Travolta recently announced he would be donating his jet to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society in Australia. This is the plane that he named after his son Jett.

Christmas album

Travolta reunited with his Grease co-star Olivia Newton-John to record a Christmas album, titled This Christmas. The couple recorded multiple songs together and even managed to record a music video for one particular song titled, I Think You Might Like It.

Not only did John get involved with the video, but his entire family all appeared in the Christmas music video as John and Olivia did a line dancing routine together. It was the first time the pair had worked together since the ‘80s.

Oscar error

Although he has mostly been riding a wave of positivity in recent years, there was a moment at a recent Oscars ceremony where he couldn’t quite get his words out. In 2014 he was announcing the singer Idina Menzel to perform her smash hit Let It Go from Disney’s animated movie Frozen.

Things didn’t go smoothly, and Travolta couldn’t pronounce her name, instead embarrassingly calling her Adele Dazeem. He has personally apologized to the singer for her mistake, and she seems to have taken it well.

Going bald

As the first full week of 2019 began, so did a new look for John Travolta. He posted a photo with his daughter Ella on Instagram with a caption wishing everyone a great New Year. That wasn’t what caught people’s attention, though.

Everyone can’t stop talking about his new hairstyle, or lack thereof. The 64 year old decided to go bald for the new year and, quite frankly, he looks great! He did do this a couple other times for films, but this time seems to be a personal choice.