Since the 1970s, John Travolta has endured as one of Hollywood's most fascinating and, at times, controversial stars. The famed actor and noted Scientologist has spent more than 40 years in the entertainment industry appearing in cult-hit films and as the occasional subject of some of Tinseltown's most salacious headlines. In celebration of John's 66th birthday on Feb. 18, 2020, Wonderwall.com is taking a look back at his long life and career through photos… Keep reading for more…
Those eyes! This soulful baby picture of John Travolta was taken around 1954 — the year he was born in Englewood, New Jersey, into a great big working-class Irish-Italian family of eight. As the youngest of six children, John spent much of his life daydreaming about becoming a Hollywood star. He was so set on finding fame, he wound up dropping out of school at 16 to pursue his acting career!
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Here's John Travolta in 1975 starring as Vinnie Barbarino on the popular TV series "Welcome Back, Kotter." The role was one of John's first recurring acting gigs and followed his fortuitous Broadway debut in 1972's stage production of "Grease," where he replaced the original actor who played Doody, a minor character. The same year John was cast in "Kotter," he made his big screen debut in the thriller "The Devil's Rain." It was around this time that he first learned about Scientology, reportedly after someone gave him the L. Ron Hubbard book "Dianetics."
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This pic of John Travolta and Nancy Allen is from the set of the 1976 horror flick "Carrie," in which John had a supporting role. The film was the actor's second big-screen gig while he continued his recurring TV role as Vinnie on "Welcome Back, Kotter."
In 1976, John Travolta began dating actress and single mom Diana Hyland, who was 18 years his senior and co-starred with him in the TV movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." John — seen here with Diana and her son, Zachary Goodson — was smitten with his new love. Sadly, Diana was later diagnosed with breast cancer and died in John's arms on March 27, 1977.
In this 1977 scene still from the disco-inspired hit film "Saturday Night Fever," John Travolta flexed his boogie muscles as Tony Manero alongside co-star Karen Lynn Gorney. The film was a box-office success, bringing in more than $237 million worldwide and becoming John's ultimate breakthrough role in Hollywood. Although John's popularity rose with the movie, so did rumors of his alleged homosexuality, which he has long denied.
In this black-and-white photo from the 50th Annual Academy Awards on April 3, 1978, John Travolta has reason to look nervous. The young star was up for best actor in a leading role for his performance in "Saturday Night Fever." Although he didn't win that night, the nomination ensured John's status as a major talent and Hollywood heartthrob.
John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John are seen here striking a pose in the 1978 film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Grease," which became an immediate cult hit as well as the most successful musical in history. In the film, John played Danny Zuko, a high school rebel who romances good girl transfer student Sandy Olsson.
As if we needed more proof that John Travolta was one of the hottest stars of the '70s! Standing beside Hollywood legends Fred Astaire and Jane Fonda at the Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 27, 1979, John happily held the statue he received for winning the world film favorite award. He was also nominated that year for best actor in a comedy or musical for "Grease" but lost to Warren Beatty in "Heaven Can Wait."
Following John Travolta's critically acclaimed performance in "Grease," his career took a hit when he starred in the 1978 flop "Moment by Moment." Thankfully, John recovered his mojo in the 1980 romantic drama "Urban Cowboy" (pictured) in which he played Bud, a young cowboy working in a Houston oil refinery who falls in love with a woman who defies his expectations.
We can totally see why John Travolta was considered a major sex symbol early in his career. Unfortunately, his Adonis-like good looks (and well-oiled bod) seen here in the 1983 film "Staying Alive" weren't enough to save him from critics. The movie, which was the sequel to "Saturday Night Fever" and directed by "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone, might have been a commercial success, but film critics found it lacking in both substance and appeal.
In this June 5, 1985, picture John Travolta poses alongside his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The actor selected the northern portion of the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard for its placement.
A royal moment! On Nov. 11, 1985, John Travolta shared a dance with Princess Diana at the White House while first lady Nancy Reagan (who was dancing with President Reagan) looked on with amusement.
In this 1989 promotional photo, John Travolta poses alongside his "The Experts" co-star Kelly Preston. The two met in 1987 on the set and wound up falling in love. In 2018, Kelly shared with "Watch What Happens Live" host Andy Cohen that she was actually unhappily married at the time they met. She divorced her first husband, Kevin Gage, in 1987 after feeling an intense connection to John. Although their film ended up being a massive flop, it managed to bring both of the stars lifelong love.
In 1989, John Travolta returned to the big screen again, this time with Kirstie Alley in the family comedy "Look Who's Talking." In the film, John played James, a cab driver who falls in love with a single mom after driving her to the hospital while she's in labor. The movie was a huge success at the box office, bringing in nearly $297 million worldwide.
Few knew that John Travolta and Kelly Preston were newlyweds in this Sept. 8, 1991, pic. Taken at the Festival du Cinema Americain in France, John and Kelly made the most of their romantic getaway by eloping in Paris days earlier on Sept. 5. Unfortunately for the lovebirds, their marriage ceremony wasn't legally binding, causing them to re-marry in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Sept. 12.
While attending a celebrity softball game in Los Angeles on Oct. 24, 1992, Kelly Preston and John Travolta also showed off their baby boy, Jett Travolta. Born on April 23 that year, Jett was seemingly healthy at birth but later developed a condition known as Kawasaki syndrome, a rare inflammatory condition that can affect the lymph nodes, arteries, veins and capillaries. Kelly and John later said they blamed the condition for causing their son's developmental disabilities.
Call it a comeback! In this 1994 scene still from the film "Pulp Fiction," John Travolta appears as hitman and heroin addict Vincent Vega. Not only was the movie a success at the box office, pulling in more than $213 million worldwide, but it earned John the respect of formerly disenchanted film critics who called his performance "extraordinary."
John Travolta and Kelly Preston were all smiles at the Academy Awards on March 27, 1995. Reclaiming his former glory, John was nominated that night for best actor in a leading role for his work as Vincent Vega in "Pulp Fiction." He was also nominated for a Golden Globe that year in the same category.
Following his Oscar and Golden Globe nominations, John Travolta returned to the big screen in 1995's "Get Shorty." In the film, John played Chili Palmer, a tough-talking loan shark who finds the lure of Hollywood too great to resist.
In this Jan. 21, 1996, photo, John Travolta and Nicole Kidman are seen laughing, statues in hand, at the Golden Globes. John won a best actor Globe that night for his work in "Get Shorty" while Nicole took home the best actress prize for her performance in "To Die For."
John Travolta took a supernatural turn alongside Kyra Sedgwick in the 1996 film "Phenomenon." In the movie, John played George Malley, a man from a small town who has an unexplainable experience with mysterious lights that leave him with telekinetic powers.
Even with a busy Hollywood career, John Travolta has always made time for his family. In this 1997 pic, John and son Jett Travolta were all smiles when they went to visit Kelly Preston on the set of her film "Addicted to Love." That year, John had another reason to smile: He became a published author with his children's book "Propeller One-Way Night Coach: A Fable For All Ages."
After riding a near decade-long career high, John Travolta added another box-office flop to his resume with the 2000 sci-fi adventure "Battlefield Earth." In the film — which is based on a novel written by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard — John played the villainous Terl, a humanoid alien from the planet Psychlo. The movie managed to bleed cash: It cost an estimated $73 million to produce and only brought in $29 million in worldwide sales. Fortunately, John had something else to celebrate that year: the birth of his daughter, Ella Bleu.
John Travolta — a certified pilot who owns at least five planes, including a Qantas Boeing 707– is seen here at New York's JFK Airport on Aug. 28, 2002, after landing the "Jett Clipper Ella" on the final stop of his around-the-globe "Spirit of Friendship" tour for Qantas. He and his family live in Florida in a community that caters to plane owners — they have two full runways leading right to their house! "It was always John's dream to have planes in his front yard — to practically be able to pull up to the house — so that when you wanted to go to dinner, all you'd have to do was step out the door, get on the plane and whisk off," Kelly explained to Architectural Digest in 2005.
We'll never get tired of this image of John Travolta in the 2007 musical "Hairspray." Proving his acting versatility, John took on the role of Edna Turnblad, the mother of the film's protagonist, Tracy Turnblad. The performance earned John a Golden Globe nod for best supporting actor the following year.
On Jan. 2, 2009, John Travolta, Kelly Preston and daughter Ella Bleu suffered a devastating loss when the couple's 16-year-old son, Jett Travolta, died after falling in the bathtub while on vacation in the Bahamas. The teen, who'd been plagued with health and developmental problems, reportedly suffered a seizure before falling and was later found by his caretaker. Shortly after news of his death broke, the Travoltas released this family picture to honor their son's memory.
A little more than a year after the death of son Jett, John Travolta and Kelly Preston welcomed their third child to the family, Benjamin. John and Kelly proudly showed off their baby boy to the world in Paris on June 23, 2011.
Although John Travolta's career in Hollywood has long been plagued by rumors that he's secretly gay, things took a dark turn when two male massage therapists came forward with independent allegations of sexual battery and a lawsuit seeking $2 million in damages. John's lawyer firmly denied the claims, calling them "complete fiction." The lawsuit was dismissed four months before this photo of John and Kelly was taken on Sept. 10, 2012.
Returning to the small screen in 2015, John Travolta took on the role of noted criminal defense attorney Robert Shapiro in "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story." The performance earned John another Golden Globe nomination for best supporting actor in a series.
If you don't remember the cringeworthy "Adele Dazeem" debacle from the 2014 Oscars, were you even watching?! John Travolta was on stage to introduce Idina Menzel's live performance of the song "Let It Go" from the film "Frozen." When it came time to say the Broadway star's name… John called her Adele Dazeem instead! It quickly became one of the most memorable Oscar moments to date! In 2015, however, just one year after that buzzworthy evening, Idina got her revenge! She took the stage to introduce John, and rather than pronounce his name correctly, she referred to him as "Glom Gazingo." John's response was hilarious, and the two icons shared a good laugh about it!
They're getting so big! John Travolta posed with wife Kelly Preston and their kids, Benjamin (then 7) and Ella Bleu (then 18), at the premiere of "Solo: A Star Wars Story" during the Cannes Film Festival in France on May 15, 2018.
In 2018, John Travolta appeared in the long-awaited film "Gotti" starring as Gambino family crime boss John Gotti. The film, which took more than seven years to complete, faced intense backlash as critics gave it a rare and unforgiving score of zero on the popular movie review website Rotten Tomatoes (one review called it a "connect-the-dots disaster"). Fortunately, John was able to move on from the film and land new roles. In 2019, he starred in three films: "Trading Paint," "The Poison Rose" and "The Fanatic." In February 2020, it was announced that John would star in the Quibi series "Die Hart" alongside Kevin Hart. It's John's first television role since he acted in the Emmy-nominated series "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" in 2016.
Reunited and it feels so good! John Travolta shared an embrace with co-star Olivia Newton-John at the "Grease" 40th anniversary film screening in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 2018.
John Travolta made headlines in January 2019 when he stepped out sporting a surprising new look — a bald head! The star, who's long worn wigs and weaves, told People magazine of his new 'do, "[It] feels great." As for whether he'll stay bald, he added, "Listen, my new look came on a whim. It was a New Year's Eve idea. Because everyone liked it so much, I decided to keep it for a while. So we'll see." John is seen here at the G'Day USA Gala in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, 2019.
A father-daughter moment! In May 2019, John Travolta and his then-19-year-old look-alike daughter, Ella Bleu Travolta, were both guests on an episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" where they discussed the film in which they co-starred, "The Poison Rose." This is the second time John and Ella have acted together on screen — their first collaboration was the 2009 Disney flick "Old Dogs."