For a man who has been around since the 1970s, John Travolta
has had more comebacks than any politician or sports star – and has managed to fit in becoming a qualified airline pilot on the way.
It was Quentin Tarantino who gave Travolta’s career a life-saving boost when he cast him in Pulp Fiction alongside Samuel L Jackson, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel and Uma Thurman. It was Pulp Fiction that really bought Travolta back into the light – a multi-colored disco light that seemed to have him forever frozen in the 70s as the superbly quaffed, sharply-dressed and even more sharply-dancing Tony Manero of Saturday Night Fever.
That’s to say nothing of his turn as Danny Zuko in the ever-popular 50s musical Grease, where his hair and clothes were again a big feature. Travolta had already acted in Grease before, when he was part of the national touring company aged just 18, and after two such huge hits in succession early in his career, he seemed to have it made.
However, it wasn’t always going to be so easy for John Joseph Travolta, who turned 50 only a couple of years ago – there have been almost as many huge misses as there have been enormous hits. It had been a short jump for Travolta from his first famous role as Vinnie Barbarino on the TV series “Welcome Back, Kotter” to the aforementioned disco blockbuster of 1977, but after Grease it all went downhill very fast, and it seemed that he was over before he had begun.
Talking babies turned it round for him in the 1989 comedy Look Who’s Talking, which was a huge hit and birthed a successful sequel. A mere five years later, he was front and center at the Academy Awards, having been Oscar nominated for his role as the sympathetic hitman in Pulp Fiction and officially the Comeback King. Other hits followed – Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Primary Colors – but with scarily regularity, so did the misses – Battlefield Earth, Swordfish, Domestic Disturbance and Be Cool. Some of them may have done business, but with Travolta commanding a large fee, it was very much a case of up and down.
His biggest day may still come: he is due to play the world famous villain J.R. in the big budge movie version of Dallas, and then he is scheduled to do something entirely different, back in the world of musicals: playing the Edna Turnblad – a role that Divine made her own – in the new movie version of the musical based on the original movie (phew!) of Hairspray.
Travolta escapes from it all by pursuing something that has been a driving passion for more than 30 years – or more appropriately, a flying passion. Since earning his flying wings in 1974, Travolta has logged close to 5,000 flying hours:
“Every cent of my first paychecks went to flying lessons”
Travolta first fell in love with flying as a child, after taking endless trips to the airport to wave off his mother and sisters – they were also performers – and being fascinated with the flight paths above his head.
He read books on aviation, and played with neighborhood kids as “captain” of his very own backyard airliner – and 30 years later, he is fully qualified as a captain in several aircraft, and recently went on a world promotional tour for Australian airline Qantas – earning lessons to be trained as 747-400 first officer in return:
“I find flying extroverting – it puts your attention outside yourself – you’re responsible for a machine that is going through the air at 600mph. The sensation is thrilling.”
Hopefully for Travolta, he can keep on flying high in both the skies and on the screens for some time yet – if not, he has a useful second career to take him round the world.