What the Hell Happened to John Travolta?

john travolta

John Travolta is the King of the Comeback.  Where most careers involve a rise and a fall, Travolta’s career is a roller coaster or peaks and valleys.  In the 70’s, he was a pop culture icon, in the 80’s he was a has-been and in the 90’s, he reinvented himself as an Oscar-nominated tough guy.  Today, you’re more likely to see him on tabloid covers than headlining a movie.  What the hell happened?

travolta - boy in the plastic bubble

Travolta started off on the stage in New York in the touring production of Grease.  Eventually, he moved to California where he started making TV appearances like The Boy in The Plastic Bubble.

travolta - welcome back kotter

We’ve got a lot to cover here, so we’re just going to skip to 1975 when Travolta was cast in Welcome Back Kotter.  Kotter was a sitcom developed around stand-up comedian, Gabe Kaplan.  Kaplan played a teacher at an inner-city school and Travolta played one of his delinquent students known as the “Sweathogs”.

Kotter was a big hit during its first couple of seasons.  This lead to lots of merchandising opportunities including a board game based around Travolta’s catch phrase, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”

Interestingly enough (for me anyway), the actor standing-in for Travolta in that commercial was a young Steve Guttenberg.

travolta - carrie

While still appearing on Welcome Back Kotter, Travolta made the leap to film with Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Carrie.

By now, there have been umpteen adaptations of King’s novels.  Some have been adapted more than once.  A remake of Carrie is currently underway.  But De Palma’s Carrie was the first and it set the bar too high for most of the adaptations that would follow.

Travolta’s role was relatively small.  He played the boyfriend of Carrie’s primary tormentor, Chris, who was played by Nancy Allen.  But Travolta was involved in some of the movie’s more memorable scenes.  He was the one who slaughtered the pig for the bloody climax.  And when a blood-soaked Carrie left the flame-engulfed prom, Travolta’s character tried to run her over.

travolta - saturday night fever

The following year, Travolta entered pop culture history with Saturday Night Fever.  The image of Travolta in the white leisure suit dancing to the Bee Gees is bigger than any movie.  It has come to symbolize an entire decade.

But Saturday Night Fever is nothing like its image.  The soundtrack may make you want to dance, but the movie is actually a depressing melodrama about a guy who feels trapped in a meaningless existence he can only escape on the dance floor.

The movie was based on an article in New York magazine about the budding disco culture, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.  Ironically, the writer of the article later admitted that he had made it all up.  As an Englishman, he was baffled by the American dance craze.  So he based his story on a “Mod” friend instead.

Saturday Night Fever got mostly positive reviews.  It was nominated for several awards including Best Actor for Travolta.  Film critic, Gene Siskel claimed Fever as a personal favorite.  He even went so far as to buy Travolta’s leisure suit at an auction.

saturday night fever soundtrack

Fever wasn’t just a hit.  It was a smash that dominated the pop culture landscape.  It ushered in the Disco Era.  The soundtrack was the best-selling soundtrack album of all times.  Eventually, the popularity of disco eclipsed the movie.  So when the disco backlash started, Saturday Night Fever was marginalized along with it.

Next: Grease and Urban Cowboy

Posted on September 2, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 142 Comments.

  1. it hasnt been that long since he made a good movie 2012 silver linings his best movie in a while hes good iam not sure if he offered raging bull type films in his latter his career i think he at the point where he has accomplished alot and whether pick films he enjoys rather ones that will help his career sure hes made stinkers bullwinkle but he is still top notch in them hes still made hard hitting pieces likes everybodys fine and being flynn because from 70s to 2000s hes had at least a few good movies every decade because of his iconic status he can make 10 flops still be considered great years from now people will remember him for taxi driver not showtime his career is fine. Fans except every movie actor makes to oscar winning master pieces well iam sure actor s want loosen up and have fun daniel day lewis although good actor sometimes he can be hammy hes done comedy nine falls flat in it . he should do more fun popcorn films it would show his range. example cruise is considered one of greatest actors of all time yet hes not afraid to do popcorn films and hes held same regard as lewis. Although as good as lewis is cruise tops him


  2. meet the parents triloghy was funny silver linnings was good


  3. not many great parts wirtten for deniros age but hes like hanks ,ford and pacino no matter how many flops they have they got there iconic status so they will still consider legends its not like deniro will ever be on this actors slow down at certain age hes 70 at his age he needs to choose roles they likes he can have fun with not ones that help his career


  4. John Travolta defends Battlefield Earth:


    John Travolta admits he has no regrets over Battlefield Earth, and would do it all again…


  5. hanks feels that over terminal costner over postman matt damon bagger vance just because audience didnt like dosent they dont people have different taste in movies we dont know those actors experience in film set maybe travolta expereince making it was good


  6. Look Who’s Still Talking – The Strange Hollywood History Of John Travolta:


    John Travolta is as fascinating and complex a member of the Hollywood fraternity as you could wish for. Iconic performer, experienced pilot, vocal Scientologist and mangler of pronunciation of Idina Menzel.

    He has managed to appear in not just some of the best known, but also some of the best-full-stop films of the past forty years – Saturday Night Fever, Carrie, Grease, Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Face/Off, The Thin Red Line, Hairspray and the upcoming Gummy Bear The Movie – whatever one might think of the consistency of his output (and there have been some horrendous misfires), it is hard to imagine too many actors playing Danny Zuko, Vincent Vega, Castor Troy, Sean Archer, Chili Palmer and Edna Turnblad with equal conviction.

    After the temporary resuscitation of Look Who’s Talking turned out to be a false dawn, Tarantino did Travolta a favour of inestimable proportions by casting him in Pulp Fiction, »

    • Dave Roper


  7. he turned down as good as it gets i could actually see him in it that would done wonder for his career but he made face off instead that year which made a lot of money so no lost


  8. Heard Travolta is set to star in FX’s American Crime Story,playing Robert Shapiro alongside
    Gooding’s OJ Simpson………..



  9. I gotta say, I think Lucky Numbers may be a bit of an underrated comedy. I just finished watching it tonight and even after having seen it a few times over the years I still get some good laughs out of it. Travolta is terrific as the smug idiot local weatherman, but one of the film’s strengths is its fine supporting cast, all in top form: Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O’Neill, Bill Pullman, Michael Rapaport, and Michael Moore, all terrific here. Travolta, playing the local small town tv weatherman that is used to the finer things in life like his reserved parking spot and table at the finest bistro in town (the local Denny’s) decides to rig the local lottery when he gets into serious financial trouble. Kudrow’s vapid tv lotto-ball girl readily joins in, giddy at the prospect of being rich.

    It’s a shame that Lucky Numbers released just a couple months after Battlefield Earth, the film couldn’t shake the awful stink that Travolta had on him so soon after that colossal bomb (his career never did really recover fully from that bomb), Lucky Numbers is actually pretty funny and I think the film deserved to do better than it did.


  10. a dark cohen brother comedy i can see him in it


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,225 other followers

%d bloggers like this: