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John Travolta

television and movie actor

John Travolta

John Joseph Travolta was born in Englewood, New Jersey, on February 18, 1954, the youngest of Salvatore and Helen Travolta's six children. His father owned a tire repair shop, his mother was a high school drama teacher and former member of the radio vocal group The Sunshine Sisters. He attended a drama school in New York City, where he studied voice, dancing and acting, and got his first professional job at the age of 16, appearing in a summer stock production of Bye Bye Birdie. He quit school soon after and moved to Manhattan, where he worked regularly in summer stock and on television commercials. When work in New York became scarce he moved to Hollywood, where he played minor roles in several television series. A role in the national touring company of Grease took him back to New York, and his first starring role on Broadway came in that same play, at the age of 18. He then spent ten months as a member of the Broadway company of Over Here before moving back to Hollywood.

Travolta first gained fame as Vinnie Barbarino in the television series Welcome Back, Kotter, on which he appeared from 1975 to 1979. The role made him one of television's hottest young stars, and put his face on teen magazines across the country. He won his first critical acclaim for his starring role in the television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), in which he played a teenage boy forced to live life inside a protective dome because of a birth defect that left his body's immune system almost powerless.

cast of Welcome Back, Kotter -- Travolta is second from right
cast of Welcome Back, Kotter -- Travolta is second from right

Travolta's first major movie role was as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (1977), for which he had to spend nine months learning to disco dance. Already popular thanks to his portrayal of Vinnie Barbarino, Saturday Night Fever enhanced Travolta's fame and catapaulted disco into a nationwide sensation. He followed this success with his portrayal of Danny Zuko in the movie version of Grease, opposite Olivia Newton-John, in 1978, and of Bud in the western dance movie Urban Cowboy, in 1980.

poster for Saturday Night Fever
poster for Saturday Night Fever

Travolta's successes of the late 1970's were followed by a string of mediocre films and his career seemed all but over. His slump was finally reversed in 1989, when he appeared opposite Shelley Long in the hit movie Look Who's Talking, and its sequel Look Who's Talking Too the following year, and he has remained active ever since.

Family Life

John Travolta married Kelly Preston on September 12, 1991. The couple's first son, Jett, was born on April 13, 1992; their daughter Ella Bleu was born April 3, 2000. Tragically, Jett Travolta died after suffering a seizure on January 2, 2009.

Television Roles

Emergency (1 episode, 1972)
Owen Marshall: Counselor at Law
(1 episode, 1972)
The Rookies
(1 episode, 1973)
Medical Center
(1 episode, 1974)
Welcome Back, Kotter
(78 episodes, 1975-1979) Vinnie Barbarino
The Drew Carey Show
(1 episode, 2001)

Movie Roles

The Tenth Level (1975) uncredited college student
The Devil's Rain
(1975) Danny
(1976) Billy Nolan
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
(1976) Tod Lubitch
Saturday Night Fever
(1977) Tony Manero
(1978) Danny Zuko
Moment by Moment
(1978) Strip
Urban Cowboy
(1980) Bud
Blow Out
(1981) Jack Terry
Staying Alive
(1983) Tony Manero
Two of a Kind
(1983) Zack
(1985) Adam
(1987) Ben
The Experts
(1989) Travia
Look Who's Talking
(1989) James Ubriacco
Look Who's Talking Too
(1990) James Ubriacco
Chains of Gold
(1991) Scott Barnes
Eyes of an Angel
(1991) Bobby
(1991) Jack Cabe
Look Who's Talking Now
(1993) James Ubriacco
Pulp Fiction
(1994) Vincent Vega
White Man's Burden
(1995) Louis Pinnock
Get Shorty
(1995) Chili Palmer
Broken Arrow
(1996) Major Vic "Deak" Deakins
(1996) George Malley
(1996) Michael
She's So Lovely
(1997) Joey Germoni
(1997) Sean Archer/Castor Troy
Mad City
(1997) Sam Baily
Primary Colors
(1998) Governor Jack Stanton
The Thin Red Line
(1998) Brigadier General Quintard
A Civil Action
(1998) Jan Schlichtmann
Our Friend, Martin
(1999) voice of Kyle's Dad
The General's Daughter
(1999) Warrant Officer Paul Brenner
Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000
(2000) Terl
Lucky Numbers
(2000) Russ Richards
(2001) Gabriel Shear
Domestic Disturbance
(2001) Frank Morrison
Austin Powers in Goldmember
(2002) self
(2003) Hardy
The Punisher
(2004) Howard Saint
A Love Song for Bobby Long
(2004) Bobby Long
Ladder 49
(2004) Captain Mike Kennedy
Be Cool
(2005) Chili Palmer
Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon 3D
(2005) voice of Jim Irwin
Lonely Hearts
(2006) Detective Elmer Robinson
Wild Hogs
(2007) Woody Stevens
(2007) Edna Turnblad
(2008) voice of Bolt
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
(2009) Ryder
Old Dogs
(2009) Charlie
From Paris with Love
(2010) FBI Agent Charlie Wax
Savages (2012) Dennis
Killing Season (2013) Emil Kovac


American Cinematheque Gala Tribute
American Cinematheque Award (1997)

American Comedy Awards
Funniest Actor in a Motion Picture, Leading Role, for Get Shorty (1996)

BAFTA/LA Britannia Awards
Excellence in Film (1998)

Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
Favorite Actor, Drama, for Phenomenon
World Artist Award (1999)

Chicago International Film Festival
Lifetime Achievement Award (1998)

David di Donatello Awards
Best Foreign Actor, for Pulp Fiction (1995)

Golden Apple Awards
Male Star of the Year (1978, 1998)

Golden Globes, USA
World Film Favorite, Male (1979)
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Comedy/Musical, for Get Shorty (1996)

Hasty Pudding Theatricals, USA
Man of the Year (1981)

Hollywood Film Festival
Lifetime Achievement Award (2004)
Ensemble of the Year, for Hairspray (2007)

Hollywood Walk of Fame
Motion Picture Star, at 6901 Hollywood Boulevard

London Critics Circle Film Awards
Actor of the Year, for Pulp Fiction (1995)

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards
Best Actor, for Pulp Fiction (1994)

MTV Movie Awards
Best Dance Sequence, for Pulp Fiction (1995)
Best On-Screen Duo, for Face/Off (1998)

National Board of Review, USA
Best Actor, for Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Palm Springs International Film Festival
Desert Palm Achievement Award (1999)
Ensemble Cast Award, for Hairspray (2008)

Razzie Awards
Worst Actor, for Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2001)
Worst Picture, for Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2001)
Worst Screen Couple, for Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000 (2001)

ShoWest Convention, USA
Male Star of the Year (1996)

Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards
Best Actor, for Get Shorty (1996)

Stockholm Film Festival
Best Actor, for Pulp Fiction (1994)

TV Land Awards
Small Screen to Silver Screen (2003)

Other Information

John Travolta is the author of two books: John Travolta Staying Fit! (1984) and Propellor One-Way Night Coach, A Fable for All Ages (1997). He has also released several albums as a musician, including The Best of John Travolta, The Best of John Travolta: Let Her In, and The Collection.

Internet Movie Database

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The Robinson Library >> Dramatic Arts >> Biography: United States

This page was last updated on 06/16/2018.