John Travolta: Life without Jett
Hollywood icon John Travolta is one of the entertainment industry’s greatest philanthropists, having raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for charitable causes during his long career. The personal tragedy of his son Jett’s death, at the age of 16, led Travolta to set up the Jett Travolta Foundation in his memory.
Jett had been diagnosed as having Kawasaki disease at the age of two. The rare childhood condition affects the blood vessels and can impact on the coronary arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle. He was later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, although it was reported that John and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, at first believed the diagnosis to be incorrect.
Jett had seizures throughout his life and in 2009, during a Christmas family holiday in the Bahamas, the teenager tragically lost his life after a seizure caused him to hit his head in the bathroom of their holiday home.
John later described the tragic loss as the “worst thing that had ever happened” to him. He said he thought he wouldn’t be able to survive the pain of his grief.
Now aged 64, Travolta saw his Hollywood career bloom in the 1970s, after he appeared in the TV sitcom, Welcome Back Kotter. Starring as Vinnie Barbarino, he was a student in a high school remedial class nicknamed the “sweat hogs”.
His television success led to Travolta winning the leading role in two cult films, Saturday Night Fever in 1977 and the musical Grease in 1978. This established his screen persona as a bad boy with a soft centre and it also showcased his dancing and singing skills.
He played Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, a 19-year-old Brooklyn youth who escaped his mundane job by going out clubbing at the weekend and attracting women, thanks to his prowess on the dance floor.
In Grease, he played high school heart-throb Danny Zuko – leader of the T-Birds gang and love interest of naive new student, Sandy, played by Olivia Newton John. Despite Travolta being in his 20s when he played both roles, his authentic portrayal of the tearaway teens established him as a Hollywood A-list actor.
In the 1990s, he turned his skills to darker roles, including playing gangster Vincent Vega in the Quentin Tarantino film, Pulp Fiction, in 1994. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor.
He also starred as special agent Sean Archer in the 1997 sci-fi movie, Face/Off, in which he battled international terrorist Castor Troy, played by Nicholas Cage. It becomes a personal vendetta after Troy shoots and kills Archer’s son.
Travolta has continued to be a successful actor and producer to the present day, winning the Award for Outstanding Achievement in International Cinema in 2014 and a Primetime Emmy Award in 2016 for producing the series, American Crime Story.
Travolta married Kelly Preston in 1991 and the couple settled in Florida. Their son Jett was born in 1992. The couple went on to have a daughter, Ella, in 2000 and a second son, Benjamin, in 2010.
Jett’s health problems became apparent at a young age when he began having seizures, which persisted throughout his life.
Travolta has always been a supporter of charities and worthy causes and following Jett’s death, he launched the charitable organisation, the Jett Travolta Foundation, to support children with hearing, vision, mobility, learning, behavioural and communication problems and any other special needs.
He also increased his own personal involvement in supporting people living in disaster zones. A certified pilot with his own aircraft, the star personally flew his private jet to deliver five tons of food and medicines to the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
John and Kelly flew vital supplies out to Baton Rouge in Louisiana, before touring the flooded streets of New Orleans. They visited evacuees in shelters and spoke to rescue workers, taking along 400 doses of vaccines for those who needed medical help.
The aid effort was co-ordinated by TV star Oprah Winfrey and provided aid for more than one million people who had been hit by one of the worst storms in history.
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