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John Travolta - Biography

American actor John is best-known for his role as Danny Zuko in hit movie musical Grease

John Travolta smiling in brown suit
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Who is John Travolta?

"I was a very impatient child, a very impatient teenager, and I was a very impatient adult," says John Travolta. "I was the kind of guy who said, 'If I hit 25 and I'm not making a mark in this business, tell me to do something else'."

Luckily, there was no need for anyone to tell the actor a change of career was in order. Aged 24, just one year short of the deadline he'd set himself, the proof he wanted that he'd made his mark was evident for all to see. 

His roles in Grease and Saturday Night Fever had catapulted him to superstardom, while Time magazine was comparing him to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. John Joseph Travolta arrived in the world on February 18, 1954, the youngest of six children born to Salvatore Travolta, a second-generation Italian American, and Helen Cecilia Burke, an Irish American actress and singer. 

He grew up in New Jersey, where his dad a former semi professional American football player had a tyre repair shop. As a teenager he had his sights set on working in an airport as a baggage handler or a ticket seller, but decided instead to follow his mother into the acting world. 

His Acting Career

So, aged 16, he moved to New York to pursue his dream. By the time he was 18, John had toured America as a Grease cast member, performed on Broadway, and appeared in several TV dramas. His part in Seventies TV show Welcome Back Kotter established him as an American teen heart-throb. 

His first major film part was in the Steven King film Carrie. But it was his role as the narcissistic, white suit-wearing, disco king Tony Manero in 1978 flick Saturday Night Fever - for which he underwent months of extensive dance training - that captured the attention of the world's audiences. It also earned him an Oscar nod. 

A year later his status as one of Hollywood's hottest leading men was confirmed when he set female hearts aflutter as leather-clad heartbreaker Danny Zuko in the film version of Grease. The Eighties was less kind to the handsome star, with his career taking a down turn after he appeared in a series of works which failed to find favour with the critics. 

Many felt he'd been typecast as a Seventies disco icon, and saw his appeal as waning. It was during this time he became a follower of the Scientology movement something the actor says helped him cope with difficult times. 

John's luck changed, however, when Quentin Tarrantino invited him to play hoodlum Vinnie Vega in his 1997 film Pulp Fiction, replacing Michael Madson who had dropped out to make Wyatt Earp

His performance in the cult classic received rave reviews and earned him a second Oscar nomination. Suddenly he was in demand again, and the scripts came flooding in. On Tarantino's advice he accepted a role in Get Shorty, which in 1996 netted him a Golden Globe. 

And several notable roles followed, including that of an FBI agent who assumes the identity of his agent in Face/Off, hacker operation boss in Swordfish and protective mother Edna Turnblad in 2007's Hairspray. Once one of Hollywood's most eligible bachelors, John stepped out with Brooke Shields and Catherine Deneuve, and even danced with the late Princess Diana at a White House dinner - a moment he has since credited with helping re-launch his career. 

His Personal Life

In 1991 he settled down, though, tying the knot with actress Kelly Preston two years after the pair had filmed The Experts together. Their son Jett arrived in April 1992, with daughter Ella Bleu making her entrance a year later. With financial success came the opportunity to indulge his childhood passion for planes and over the years he had added to his fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft. 

Having earned his wings as a pilot at 26, he went on to qualify to fly a Boeing 747 - a 189-seat, four-engine passenger plane. In January 2009 tragedy struck with the death of his beloved son Jett. The 16-year-old, who suffered from autism, passed away after suffering a seizure while the family holidayed in the Bahamas. 

"We are heartbroken that our time with him was so brief. We will cherish the time we had with him for the rest of our lives," read a statement issued by the disraught couple. 

"Jett was the most wonderful son that two parents could ever ask for and lit up the lives of everyone he encountered." The grieving family then found themselves at the centre of an extortion attempt, after a paramedic who treated Jett shortly before he died allegedly threatened to release private information unless the Grease star paid $25 million. 

The case went to court, but the Travoltas eventually dropped the charges. "The Travolta family has said that this matter has caused them unbelievable stress and pain and they wish to put this whole thing behind them," said their lawyer. 

In May 2010, there was joy for John and Kelly, who announced they were expecting a child. "It's impossible to keep a secret... especially one as wonderful as this," they announced, as a friend said: "This baby is such a healing baby".

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