What the Hell Happened to Jennifer Grey?
In 2008, Grey had a brief appearance in David Mamet’s martial arts drama, Redbelt. Chiwetel Ejiofor starred as an honorable martial artist who needs some money to fix his studio’s broken window. But he believes it is dishonorable to enter a competition to fight for prize money. He comes across an action movie star played by Tim Allen. When Ejiofor protects him from assailants, Allen takes an interest in his situation. Joe Mantagna played Allen’s business associate and Grey played Mantagna’s wife.
Later that year, she had a supporting role in the coming-of-age drama, Keith. Elisabeth Harnois starred as a high school student with the world wrapped around her finger. Then she meets a strange kid played by pop singer, Jesse McCartney. She tries to keep him at arm’s length, but you know how it is with pop stars. He keeps pushing her to challenge her status quo. Grey played Harnois’ mother.
In 2009, Grey appeared Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ sitcom, The New Adventures of Old Christine. Grey’s real-life husband, Clark Gregg, played Louis-Dreyfus’ ex-husband on the show. In this episode, Louis-Drefus sets up Gregg with a woman she met at the gym played by Grey.
In 2010, Grey competed in the reality TV show, Dancing With the Stars. The show’s eleventh season (good lord how is that possible?!?) included David Hasselhoff, Michael Bolton, Margaret Cho, Florence Henderson, Brandy and Bristol Palin. Not surprisingly, Grey was the winner. But believe it or not, Grey was scared to appear on the dance competition:
I was an actress playing someone who had never danced before, but I became this iconic dance person. I was so afraid of what people would think, I wouldn’t even dance at weddings with my husband.
Grey took the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Patrick Swayze during her run on the show:
Grey said she took inspiration from Swayze’s courage as he fought against the cancer that ultimately took his life. She was also encouraged by some famous friends like Michael J. Fox and Jamie Lee Curtis. Once she made the decision to do the show, she went in for a check-up, She did not receive a clean bill of health. According to Dr. Robert S. Bray Jr., a neurological spine surgeon in L.A, Grey’s spine was in bad shape after her car accident in 1987:
One slip, one fall, one minor rear-end-that’s how close she was to paralysis.
The doctor had Grey undergo spinal surgery before she could participate in Dancing With the Stars. During the course of two procedures, they grew worried about a lump on Grey’s throat. What had previously been diagnosed as a benign thyroid nodule was now thyroid cancer. Grey underwent two more surgeries to have her thyroid removed. Dr. Bray said they got lucky:
If that tumor had broken out of the capsule of the thyroid, that’s a very bad cancer. She caught it in time.
So not only did Grey win the big prize, she came away from the show a lot healthier than she was before she agreed to compete.
Later that year, Grey appeared on an episode of the medical drama, House M.D. She played a mother whose grown daughter is jealous when she gives birth to an infant and exhibits better parenting skills the second time around.
In 2011, Grey appeared in the Lifetime movie, The Bling Ring. The movie was about a group of LA teens who break into the houses of celebrities and steal their bling. Grey played the mother of one of the teens. The movie was based on a true story which also inspired the Sofia Coppola movie of the same name in 2013.
In 2014, Grey appeared in the paranormal romance, In Your Eyes. The script was originally written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon in the early 90’s. Whedon rewrote the script several times over the course of two decades. It’s about two young people who have never met, but share a unique bond where they share each other’s experiences. The movie premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and was self-distributed on-line.
Grey also co-starred in the pilot for Amazon’s new comedy series, Red Oaks. The series is described as “A coming-of-age comedy set in the “go-go” 80s about a college student enjoying a last hurrah before summer comes to an end–and the future begins.” Director Steven Soderbergh serves as one of the show’s executive producers. Reviews for the pilot were very positive leading Amazon to commit to a full season of the show. Season one of Red Oaks begins streaming on Amazon in the Fall of 2015.
In 2015, Grey was in the headlines when her famous father, Joel Grey, came out publicly as homosexual. Least surprising coming out of all times? Maybe. But Jennifer was there with her dad showing her support for his decision:
I feel very happy for my dad that he has come to a point in his life where he feels safe and/or comfortable enough to declare himself in a public way as a gay man.
So, what the hell happened?
Well, first of all, Grey was never really that big of a movie star to begin with. Prior to Dirty Dancing, her biggest claim to fame was a relatively small role in Ferris Bueller. Dirty Dancing could have made Grey into a big star, but for reasons that are perfectly understandable, Grey backed away from her career to recover from the trauma of a lethal car crash. As regular readers know, one of the first rules in the movie star playbook is to strike while the iron is hot. If you want to get on the A-list and stay there, you have to capitalize on your hits.
Obviously, Grey failed to do that. But even if she hadn’t taken some time off, it’s questionable whether or not the success of Dirty Dancing would have translated to her career. Look at her co-star Patrick Swayze who continued working steadily after Dirty Dancing. He struggled to capitalize on that success as well. Three years later, he seemed to have missed his opportunity until Ghost rejuvenated his career. And even that was a temporary shot in the arm.
Obviously, things could have been different for Grey than they were for Swayze. But all things being equal, actresses have a harder time in Hollywood than their male counterparts. And Grey didn’t have the typical Hollywood look. Which brings us to the next point. In a case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t Grey had her look changed and became unrecognizable as a result. Whatever fame she had built up virtually vanished. Time out of the spotlight plus a new nose put her back at square one.
Eventually, Grey started a family and that became her primary focus. But she has continued to work as an actress to this day. And with a prominent role in a promising new TV series, Grey’s profile may be on the rise.