Life as a celebrity looks pretty desirable from afar. The work is far from backbreaking, the money is great, and being able to do virtually anything you want anytime you want seems hard to beat.
But even the biggest Hollywood stars can still hit a speed bump in life, and John Travolta experienced that harsh reality firsthand. All of his stardom seemed meaningless when a single major conflict nearly derailed his entire acting career.
By the mid ’80s, Travolta was so big that he even danced with Princess Diana during her visit to the White House. But, despite his countless successes, he knew his life was still missing something crucial.
Via Ronald Reagan Library – by Pete Souza
Travolta wanted a family. He met Kelly Preston in 1987 while filming The Experts; they would officially tie the knot in 1991. About a year later, their first son was born in strange circumstances.
See, Preston and Travolta decided to follow L. Ron Hubbard’s recommended method for giving birth, which stresses complete quiet. It was in that silent scenario that Jett Travolta came into the world. But tragedy wasn’t far away.
Los Angeles Daily News
When Jett was still an infant, he was in the passenger cabin of an airplane when the electronics system suddenly failed. They landed safely but the incident still spooked Travolta.
“I can’t imagine what life would be like without Jett,” the star said. And while his son was safe and happy at the moment, another issue was also beginning to develop.
The two-year-old was getting rashes all over his body and experiencing flu-like symptoms. As the mysterious illness continued to get worse and worse, Travolta and Preston knew they had to do something.
They took him to the doctor, who found the boy had a dangerously high fever. Beyond that, his lymph nodes were swelling. He would need to go to the hospital ASAP.
Jett was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, which causes inflammation of the blood vessels and organs. While he was successfully treated, the boy’s medical issues weren’t done yet.
Jett was also suffering from autism and frequent seizures, which wore on the family. But, as a group, they pulled together to cope with his medical issues.
Life wasn’t always easy, but Jett grew up without any major issues. When he was sixteen, he joined his family on a Christmas vacation to the Bahamas. The trip would alter their lives forever.
After a day of family fun, Travolta was awoken by a pounding on his bedroom door. It was Eli, the family’s nanny, with an urgent message. Jett was in desperate trouble downstairs. He needed help.
Jett was in the bathroom when he apparently had a seizure; he hit his head during the fall and was found lying on the floor. John rushed downstairs desperate to see his son’s face.
There was nothing he could do to help. The actor sat by his son’s side for his final moments before reality hit him. Jett was gone. Moments later, the pain of it all got even worse.
Kelly Preston/ Instagram
As the actor grieved, he received a strange message. A paramedic who reported to the scene and a lawyer were demanding money; if he didn’t comply, they would release Jett’s medical records to the public.
Travolta planned to fight the extortion attempt, but that legal battle came with a price: he had to painfully retell his version of Jett’s death in front of a packed court room.
Travolta told the court how he was awakened by the nanny and tried to perform CPR on his dying son in vain. Revisiting the night was clearly taking a toll on him.
He would also officially confirm Jett’s struggles with autism and seizures. But the constant disclosure was too painful; Travolta eventually removef himself from the case, causing a voluntary mistrial.
With the case concluded, the Travolta family tried to resume their lives. In 2010, they welcomed a third child, Benjamin, into the world. But behind the happy exterior, John was still struggling behind the scenes.
The loss of Jett was so painful that the actor considered bringing the curtain down on his career; how could he do something as trivial as appearing in a film after saying goodbye to his beloved son?
In 2014, he called Jett’s death “the worst thing that’s ever happened. Life was no longer interesting to me,” he added. “So it took a lot to get me better.”
Travolta slowly got better, but he never forgot. On Jett’s 27th birthday, he shared a painting of his son on Instagram with a simple caption. “Happy birthday my son, I love you,” he wrote.
John Travolta/ Instagram
Ultimately, Travolta decided the best way to honor Jett’s legacy was to return to his acting career. Getting back on set and chatting with his fellow actors, he knew, would ultimately be the best thing for him. He had plenty of happy memories to draw strength form.
For instance, after his role in Urban Cowboy, though Travolta’s star started to wane, he was still a big enough celebrity to get invited to a White House gala in November 1985. There, he created a moment he — nor the world — would ever forget.
There were plenty of stars in attendance, but one woman was bigger than all the rest. Princess Diana was being formally welcomed to the United States by President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy.
Diana had gone through her own rise to stardom on the other side of the Atlantic, morphing from a relatively unknown socialite to a beloved princess in a matter of years. But life was far from perfect…
During the 1980s, Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles was breaking down, with both parties looking for love elsewhere. The White House Gala was an opportunity for Diana to let her hair down and enjoy herself.
As a girl, the princess loved to dance. While she eventually grew too tall to pursue the hobby seriously, her passion remained even as her adult life became more challenging.
“She had dance in her soul,” her former tutor said. “She loved the freeness of being able to move and dance… I could see it helped to alleviate her emotional life.”
And that evening, Diana got a chance to dance with both Tom Selleck and Clint Eastwood. But there was another dance partner that she had her eye on, however.
Diana wanted to dance with Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was one of her ballet heroes. The iconic dancer, however, was injured and was unable to hit the dance floor. Someone else would have to take his place.
Nancy Reagan asked Travolta to step in. As the clock neared midnight, the movie star knew it was time for the big moment. He took a deep breath and braced himself.
If any Hollywood star was known for his dance moves, it was Travolta. He could do this! He tapped Diana on the shoulder; she turned around, and they locked eyes.
Even as an established actor, Travolta felt the gravity of producing a Hollywood moment in real life. “It had to look like a million dollars, because it was history being made,” he said.
Travolta asked her to dance and she accepted. The pair twirled around the room to a medley of tunes from Saturday Night Fever and Grease. But what did Diana think of the American?
Reagan Presidential Library
She never publicly commented either way, but Travolta was confident she enjoyed the dance. “I know for a fact that it was a highlight of being in the United States,” he said. “It was her favorite moment.”
He treasured the moment, too, calling the dance a highlight of his career. During a Good Morning America appearance, Travolta picked that dance as the one experience from the 1980s that he most wanted to relive.
Part of Princess Diana’s fame was, of course, her good looks. Was Travolta enthralled by them? Or was he simply lured in by the prospect of someone with more star power than himself?
Unsurprisingly, Travolta said he “absolutely” found Diana attractive. “People are either innately sexual or sensual or not,” he explained in 2007’s The Diana Chronicles. “She had both.”
The actor felt the moment was truly significant for a different reason, however. Princess Diana was a woman who could have anything she wanted, but her reaction told him something important…
He believed that Diana had watched his movies as a girl and was fulfilling a childhood fantasy. “And now even a princess’ dreams can come true,” Travolta said.