John Joseph Travolta (born February 18, 1954) is an Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe Award-winning American actor, dancer, and singer, best known for his leading roles in films such as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Pulp Fiction, and Hairspray.
Travolta, the youngest of six children, was born in Englewood, New Jersey. His father, Salvatore Travolta, was a semi-professional football player turned tire salesman and partner in a tire company. His mother, Helen Cecilia (née Burke), who was 42 when Travolta was born, 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. Travolta's father was a second-generation Italian American and his mother was Irish American; Travolta grew up in an Irish-American neighborhood and has said that his household was predominantly Irish in culture. His family was Catholic.
After dropping out of Dwight Morrow High School after his junior year, Travolta moved to New York City to get a job as a performer. He landed a role in the touring company of Grease (musical) and on Broadway in Over Here! singing the Sherman Brothers' song "Dream Drummin'.'" Travolta also cut singles for a local record company, but the songs were quickly forgotten. But eventually, he moved to Los Angeles to further his career in show business.
Travolta's first television role was as a fall victim in Emergency! (S2E2) in September 1972, but his first major movie role as Billy Nolan, a bully who played a prank on Sissy Spacek's Carrie White 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 (1975–1979) in which his sister, Ellen, also occasionally appeared (as Arnold Horshack's mother). (Travolta also had appeared in various TV commercials during this time span, appearing in ads for Band-Aid, Haggar Slacks and Mony Insurance among others.)
Around this time he also had a hit single entitled "Let Her In" peaking at number ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In the next few years, he appeared in some of his most memorable screen roles: Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (1977) and as Danny Zuko in Grease (1978). These two films were among the most commercially successful pictures of the decade and catapulted Travolta to international stardom. His mother and his sister Ann appeared as extras in Saturday Night Fever and his sister Ellen appeared as a waitress in Grease. Travolta performed several of the songs on the Grease soundtrack album, that eventually went on to sell more than 10 million copies. 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 came a string of flops that sidelined his acting career. Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Perfect, co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis, and Two of a Kind, a romantic comedy reteaming him with Olivia Newton John, were all commercial disasters severely beaten up by critics. Some suggest that he was typecast as a disco stud or 1970s icon, which could be the reason his agent intervened on several occasions to turn down acting roles. During that time he was offered, but turned down, lead roles in what would become box office hits, including American Gigolo, An Officer and a Gentleman, Splash and Fatal Attraction. Disenchanted, Travolta pursued flying and eventually earned his license to command aircraft. His only hit film was Look Who's Talking with Kirstie Alley and a baby voiced by Bruce Willis.
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 was revived. The movie shifted him back onto the A-list, and he was inundated with offers. Coincidentally, before Travolta took the role he visited Tarantino, who was living in the same ramshackle apartment in Los Angeles that Travolta had inhabited when he got his start. Notable roles following Pulp Fiction include a movie-buff loan shark in Get Shorty (1995), an FBI agent 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 detective in The General's Daughter (1999).
Travolta also starred in Battlefield Earth (2000) based on a work of science fiction 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 received almost universally negative reviews and did very poorly at the box office. The film won a Razzie Award for Worst Film of the Year at the 2000 awards. Travolta, who joined Scientology in 1975 and endorses Hubbard's teachings, had hoped that the film would be well received and be the first in a series of Hubbard film adaptations. In 2004, Travolta played Deputy Chief Mike Kennedy in the Ladder 49. This film was notable for being the first post-9/11 film that focused on the life of a crew of firefighters. Travolta starred as a successful businessman gone broke/ biker in 2007's Wild Hogs. Travolta plays Edna Turnblad in the remake of Hairspray, his first musical since Grease.
Travolta married actress Kelly Preston in 1991. They have a son named Jett, and a daughter named Ella Bleu.
Travolta is a certified pilot and owns five airplanes, including an ex-Australian Boeing 707-138 airliner. The plane bears the name Jett Clipper Ella in honour of his son Jett and his daughter Ella. Pan Am was a large operator of the Boeing 707 and used Clipper in its names. The 707 aircraft bears the marks of Qantas, as Travolta acts as an official goodwill ambassador for the airline wherever he flies. His US$4.9 million estate in the Jumbolair subdivision in Ocala, Florida is situated on Greystone Airport with its own runway and taxiway right to the door.
In 1992, he wrote and illustrated a short children's book entitled Propeller One-Way Night Coach about the fictional journey of an 8-year-old boy named Jeff across the USA in the 1950s.
Travolta was previously involved with actress Diana Hyland, who died of breast cancer in 1977.
Travolta has been a practitioner of Scientology since 1975 when he was given the book Dianetics while filming a movie in Durango, Mexico
1975 The Tenth Level Unknown
The Devil's Rain Danny
1976 The Boy in the Plastic Bubble Tod Lubitch
Carrie Billy Nolan
1977 Saturday Night Fever Tony Manero
1978 Moment by Moment Strip Harrison
Grease Danny Zuko
1980 Urban Cowboy Buford 'Bud' Uan Davis
1981 Blow Out Jack Terry
1983 Staying Alive Tony Manero
Two of a Kind Zack
1985 Perfect Adam Lawrence
1989 Look Who's Talking James Ubriacco
The Experts Travis
1990 Look Who's Talking Too James Ubriacco
1991 Shout Jack Cabe
Eyes of an Angel Bobby
1992 Boris and Natasha: The Movie Himself (cameo)
1993 Look Who's Talking Now James Ubriacco
1994 Pulp Fiction Vincent Vega
1995 Get Shorty Chili Palmer
White Man's Burden Louis Pinnock
1996 Michael Michael
Phenomenon George Malley
Orientation: A Scientology Information Film Himself (short subject)
Broken Arrow Maj. Vic 'Deak' Deakins
1997 Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasen's Himself (documentary)
Mad City Sam Baily
Face/Off Sean Archer
She's So Lovely Joey
1998 A Civil Action Jan Schlichtmann
The Thin Red Line Brigadier General Quintard
Junket Whore Himself (documentary)
Primary Colors Governor Jack Stanton
1999 The General's Daughter Warr. Off. Paul Brenner/Sgt. Frank White
Our Friend, Martin Kyle's dad (animated educational film, voice only)
2000 Welcome to Hollywood Himself (documentary)
Lucky Numbers Russ Richards
Battlefield Earth Terl
2001 Domestic Disturbance Frank Morrison
Swordfish Gabriel Shear
2002 Austin Powers in Goldmember "Austinpussy" Johann van der Smut / Goldmember
2003 Basic Hardy
2004 Ladder 49 Captain Mike Kennedy
A Love Song for Bobby Long Bobby Long
The Punisher Howard Saint
2005 Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D Himself (narrator; documentary)
Be Cool Chili Palmer
2006 Lonely Hearts Elmer C. Robinson
2007 Wild Hogs Woody Stevens comedy
Hairspray Edna Turnblad
2008 Bolt Henry the Dog (voice only; pre-production)
Old Dogs Post Production
2009 Wild Hogs 2 Woody Stevens comedy
Quantum Quest: A Cassini Space Odyssey Dave (voice only)