John Joseph Travolta (born February 18, 1954) is an American actor, singer and dancer. Travolta rose to fame during the 1970s, appearing on the television series Welcome Back, Kotter (1975–1979) and starring in the box office successes Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978). His acting career declined through the 1980s, but enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s with his role in Pulp Fiction (1994), and he has since starred in films such as Get Shorty (1995), Broken Arrow (1996), Face/Off (1997), Swordfish (2001), Be Cool (2005), Wild Hogs (2007), Hairspray (2007), Bolt (2008), and The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009).
Travolta was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for performances in Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction. He won his first and only Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy for his performance in Get Shorty and has received a total of six nominations, the most recent being in 2011. In 2010, he received the IIFA Award for Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema. In 2016, Travolta received his first Primetime Emmy Award, as a producer of the first season of the anthology series American Crime Story, subtitled The People v. O. J. Simpson. He also received an additional Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of lawyer Robert Shapiro in the series.
Travolta is the youngest of six children, and was born and raised in Englewood, New Jersey, an inner-ring suburb of Bergen County, New Jersey. His father, Salvatore Travolta (November 1912–May 1995), was a semiprofessional American football player turned tire salesman and partner in a tire company. His mother, Helen Cecilia (née Burke; January 18, 1912–December 1978), was an actress and singer who had appeared in The Sunshine Sisters, a radio vocal group, and acted and directed before becoming a high school drama and English teacher. His siblings Joey, Ellen, Ann, Margaret, and Sam Travolta were all inspired by their mother's love of theatre and drama and acted. His father was a second-generation Italian American with roots in Godrano, Sicily, and his mother was Irish American. He grew up in an Irish-American neighborhood and said that his household was predominantly Irish in culture. He was raised Roman Catholic, but converted to Scientology in 1975. Travolta attended Dwight Morrow High School, but dropped out as a junior at age 17 in 1971.
After attending Dwight Morrow High School, Travolta moved across the Hudson River to New York City and landed a role in the touring company of the musical Grease and on Broadway in Over Here!, singing the Sherman Brothers' song "Dream Drummin'." He then moved to Los Angeles for professional reasons.
Travolta's first screen role in California was as a fall victim in Emergency! (S2E2), in September 1972, but his first significant movie role was as Billy Nolan, a bully who was goaded into playing a prank on Sissy Spacek's character in the horror film Carrie (1976). Around the same time, he landed his star-making role as Vinnie Barbarino in the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter (1975–79), in which his sister, Ellen, also occasionally appeared (as Arnold Horshack's mother). The show aired on ABC.
Travolta had a hit single titled "Let Her In," peaking at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in July 1976. In the next few years, he starred in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and two of his most noted screen roles: Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Danny Zuko in Grease (1978). The films were among the most commercially successful pictures of the decade and catapulted Travolta to international stardom. Saturday Night Fever earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, making him, at age 24, one of the youngest performers ever nominated for the Best Actor Oscar. His mother and his sister Ann appeared very briefly in Saturday Night Fever and his sister Ellen played a waitress in Grease. Travolta performed several of the songs on the Grease soundtrack album. In 1980, Travolta inspired a nationwide country music craze that followed on the heels of his hit film Urban Cowboy, in which he starred with Debra Winger.
After Urban Cowboy, Travolta starred in a series of commercial and critical failures that sidelined his acting career. These included Two of a Kind (1983), a romantic comedy reteaming him with Olivia Newton-John, and Perfect (1985), co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis. He also starred in Staying Alive, the 1983 sequel to Saturday Night Fever, for which he trained rigorously and lost 20 pounds; the film was a financial success, grossing over $65 million, though it, too, was scorned by critics.
During that time, Travolta was offered, but declined, lead roles in what would become box-office hits, including American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, both of which went to Richard Gere.
In 1989, Travolta starred with Kirstie Alley in Look Who's Talking, which grossed $297 million, making it his most successful film since Grease. Next came Look Who's Talking Too (1990) and Look Who's Talking Now (1993), but it was not until he played Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's hit Pulp Fiction (1994), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, that his career revived. The movie shifted him back onto the A-list and he was inundated with offers. Notable roles following Pulp Fiction include a movie-buff loan shark in Get Shorty (1995), a corrupt U.S. Air Force pilot in Broken Arrow, an FBI agent and terrorist in Face/Off (1997), a desperate attorney in A Civil Action (1998), a Bill Clinton–esque presidential candidate in Primary Colors (1998), and a military investigator in The General's Daughter (1999).
In 2000, Travolta starred in and co-produced the science fiction film Battlefield Earth, based on the novel of the same name by L. Ron Hubbard, in which he played the leader of a group of aliens that enslaves humanity on a bleak future Earth. The film had been a dream project for Travolta since the book's release in 1982, when Hubbard had personally written him to try to help make a film adaptation. The film received almost universally negative reviews and did very poorly at the box office. Travolta's performance in Battlefield Earth also earned him two Razzie Awards.
Throughout the 2000s, Travolta remained busy as an actor, starring in many films, including Swordfish (2001); Ladder 49 (2004); Be Cool (2005); Lonely Hearts (2006); Wild Hogs (2007); the animated film Bolt (2008), in which Travolta voiced the title character; The Taking of Pelham 123; and Old Dogs (both 2009).
Since 2010, Travolta has starred mostly in action films and thrillers. In 2016, he returned to TV in the first season of the anthology series American Crime Story, titled The People v. O. J. Simpson, in which he played lawyer Robert Shapiro.
Travolta married actress Kelly Preston in 1991, and bought a house in Islesboro, Maine. The couple had a son, Jett (who died in 2009). Their daughter, Ella Bleu, was born in 2000, and a third child, a son, was born in 2010 in Florida. Travolta and Preston have regularly attended marriage counseling; Travolta has stated that therapy has helped the marriage.
In May 1991, Time magazine published a cover story titled "The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power." In the article, former Church of Scientology executive director William Franks alleged that Travolta was wary of leaving the faith because he feared the Church would publish detailed revelations of his private life, to include homosexual behavior. These claims were reiterated by Franks and other Scientology defectors in Lawrence Wright's 2013 book Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, and former Church official Marty Rathbun claimed that he worked with Travolta's attorneys several times to keep allegations about Travolta's homosexuality out of the press and resolve lawsuits against the star.
On January 2, 2009, Travolta's son Jett died at age 16 while on a Christmas vacation in the Bahamas. A Bahamian death certificate was issued, attributing the cause of death to a seizure. Jett, who had a history of seizures, reportedly suffered from Kawasaki disease since the age of two. Travolta confirmed speculation that his son had autism and suffered regular seizures and immediately made his public statements while giving testimony after a multimillion-dollar extortion plot against him in connection to his son's death. After a mistrial, Travolta dropped the charges and has credited his immediate family and Scientology with helping him survive the death of his son and in moving forward with his film career. In memory of his son, Travolta created the Jett Travolta Foundation, a nonprofit organization to help children with special needs. It has contributed to organizations such as the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Travolta has been a practitioner of Scientology since 1975, when he was given the book Dianetics while filming the movie The Devil's Rain in Durango, Mexico. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, joining other celebrities in helping with the relief efforts, Travolta reportedly flew his Boeing 707 full of supplies, doctors, and Scientologist Volunteer Ministers into the disaster area.
Travolta is a private pilot and owns four aircraft. This excludes the ex-Qantas Boeing 707-138B (Ex-VH-EBM) that he owned. In 2017, the plane was donated to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) near Wollongong, Australia, and is expected to be flown to Australia in November 2019. Travolta plans to be on board when the aircraft is flown to Illawarra Regional Airport, where HARS is based, however will not be allowed to fly it, because it will be registered as an Australian aircraft. The 707 aircraft bears an old livery of Qantas, and Travolta acted as an official goodwill ambassador for the airline wherever he flew. Travolta named his 707 "Jett Clipper Ella," in honor of his children. The "Clipper" in the name represents that Pan Am used that word in the names of their aircraft.
On November 24, 1992, Travolta was piloting his Gulfstream N728T at night above a solid undercast when he experienced a total electrical system failure while flying under instrument flight rules into Washington National Airport. During the emergency landing, he almost had a mid-air collision with a USAir Boeing 727, an event attributed to a risky decision by an air traffic controller.
On September 13, 2010, during the first episode of the final season of her talk show, Oprah Winfrey announced that she would be taking her entire studio audience on an eight-day, all-expenses-paid trip to Australia, with Travolta serving as pilot for the trip. He had helped Winfrey plan the trip for more than a year.
He is the author of the book Propeller One-Way Night Coach, the story of a young boy's first flight.
In May 2012, an anonymous masseur filed a lawsuit against Travolta, citing claims of sexual assault and battery. A lawyer for Travolta said that the allegations were "complete fiction and fabrication". Travolta's counsel also stated that his client would be able to prove that he was not in California on the day in question and asserted that Travolta would "sue the attorney and Plaintiff for malicious prosecution" after getting the case thrown out. A second masseur later joined the lawsuit making similar claims. Both lawsuits were subsequently dropped by the complainants and dismissed without prejudice.
On September 27, 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey dismissed a defamation lawsuit against Travolta and his attorney Marty Singer by writer Robert Randolph because he found that a letter, written by Singer in response to allegations in a book by Randolph, was protected by free speech.
In September 2014, Travolta denied claims made in January 2014 by his former pilot, Douglas Gotterba, that the two had shared a sexual relationship during the six-year period in which Gotterba worked for Travolta's aircraft company, Alto.
|1974||Over Here! (musical)||—|
|1977||Can't Let You Go||69|
|1983||Two of a Kind (soundtrack)||26|
|1986||The Road to Freedom (collaboration)||—|
|1996||Let Her In: The Best of John Travolta||—|
|2012||This Christmas (with Olivia Newton-John)||81|
|Year||Title||US Billboard||US Cash Box||US Record World||US AC||CAN||CAN AC||UK|
|"Can't Let You Go"|
|1976||"You Set My Dreams to Music"|
|"Goodnight Mr. Moon"|
|"Right Time of the Night"|
|"What Would They Say"|
|"Back Doors Crying"|
|"Let Her In"||10||5||16||7||12|
|"Whenever I'm Away from You"||38||62||26||61||29|
|"It Had to Be You"|
|"I Don't Know What I Like About You Baby"|
|1977||"All Strung Out on You"||34||28||30|
|"Baby, I Could Be So Good at Lovin' You"|
|1978||"You're the One That I Want" (with Olivia Newton-John)||1||3||2||1|
|"Summer Nights" (with Olivia Newton-John)||5||3||3||1|
|1980||"Never Gonna Fall in Love Again"||—||—||—||—|
|1983||"Take a Chance" (with Olivia Newton-John)||3||—||—|
|1997||"Two Sleepy People" (with Carly Simon)||—||—||—||—|
|2008||"I Thought I Lost You" (with Miley Cyrus)||—|
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