It’s a career that spans nearly three decades, and continues going strong, expanding into new and creative avenues. From his acting talents on the silver screen to his personal perseverance through the ups and downs, John Travolta’s skill and strength are beyond question. Though he’s been in the limelight for years, many probably do not know the challenges he’s faced while pursuing his career. If that’s you, have no fear! We’ll tell you all about why he deserves the accolades and respect he’s received, and is our “Dancer who Defined a Decade” for the 1970s!
Born into a family of performers, Travolta began appearing in local musicals and dinner-theater performances at age 12. After winning a dance competition doing the twist, he went on take up tap dancing and was lucky enough to be taught by Gene Kelly’s brother!
When he turned 16, he dropped out of high school and moved to Manhattan to take up acting full-time, quickly making appearances in a number of commercials and local productions. In 1970, Travolta landed his first professional acting role in the musical comedy, “Bye Bye Birdie,” setting the tone by foreshadowing his acting and musical future. After that show, Travolta moved across the country to see if Hollywood had any options for him, but his career didn’t quite take off. By 18, he was headed back to NYC, and eventually won a role on Broadway in the musical, Grease, as a character named Doody.
Fun fact! In these early years while acting was slow, Travolta actually invested much of his time and money on flying lessons, and though his career didn’t swing in the aviation direction, he is qualified to fly a number of different planes, including a Boeing 707.
Okay, back to what we’re here for: dance! The second half of the 1970s were a huge time for John Travolta — and are the reason why he’s our dancer of the decade! Hang on tight while we fly through some of his major accomplishments.
In 1975, Travolta won his first major TV role in the sitcom “Welcome Back Kotter,” in which he played the teenage delinquent Vinne Barbarino. As that role catapulted him into the limelight and stole the hearts of teenage girls everywhere, Travolta took advantage of his stardom to pursue his love of music. He recorded his hit single “Let Her In,” which charted at number 10 in the US.
In 1976, Travolta was cast in his first big film, the iconic horror flick “Carrie,” where he played a school bully who taunted the powerful main character. That same year he took on the role of an immunodeficient boy in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”
Now, we get to the good stuff: Travolta’s next role showcased his skills on the dancefloor. We’re talking about the 1977 hit “Saturday Night Fever,” of course! His character, Tony Manero, became a disco dancing legend. To prepare for the role, Travolta took nine months of dance lessons, and all his hard work paid off when he was nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Actor in a Leading Role.
1978 took his dancing stardom to a new level, giving way to one of his most recognizable roles, the warbling womanizer Danny Zuko in the film adaption of “Grease.” The movie musical was an absolute blockbuster. Grease the album sold over 10 million copies and the film went on to become one of the most successful musicals of all time.
Things slowed down a little following his 1970s success, though he continued to act throughout the 80s, 90s, and into the 2000s. In 2007, fans were delighted when Travolta made his return to the musical movie and dance scene. In a bold move, he swapped genders and starred as Edna Turnblad in the film “Hairspray.”
A loving father and husband, dancer, singer, actor, writer, and licensed pilot, Travolta’s expansive career is still going strong! Tell us– which of Travolta’s dance scenes is your favorite?