John Travolta

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent on April 15, 2007 and was quoted in a number of international news sources including msnbc,, and Links at end of piece.

As virtually any billionaire celebrity will tell you, parking in central London is a complete nightmare. You could be driving round for days before you’d find a spot to park your private jet. And so on the afternoon I am due to meet jet owner/enthusiast and self-confessed icon John Travolta I travel to Canary Wharf on the outskirts of the city. Despite the fog, parking is a little easier around here – there’s an airstrip somewhere nearby apparently. And sure it’s only a plane ride (I didn’t notice a private bedroom or private pastry chef on the particular model I flew on, however) and three train changes for me. That’s not much to meet an icon, is it?I hear him before I see him: the creaking of his leather jacket and an unmistakable voice singing the line ‘I’d like to take you home with me’. And then he appears suddenly from behind a door and sits across the table from me. In person he’s leaner and paler than you would expect and looks like he’s in his late thirties. The only sign of the ravages of his fifty three years is the hair, which is weirdly thick and a strange shade of bluey black. He smiles broadly and looks at me with those piercing blue eyes. ‘You’re from Ireland, right? I grew up in an Irish American neighbourhood (in Englewood, New Jersey)’, and as if anticipating his life saving re-routing to Shannon airport a few days later he adds: ‘I love the Irish.’

He’s in town to promote Wild Hogs, a film about four men (the others played by Ray Liotta, Tim Allen and William Macy) having mid life crises, buying motorcycles and going on a road trip. Travolta is still sporting the leather jacket his character wears, has the ostentatious wheels – okay wings – and tells me that he suffered his own bout of middle aged soul searching a few years back. ‘When I turned 50 for the first time in my life I asked myself, ‘how many Christmases do I really have left? And for how many of them will be in good health? For about a year those thoughts seriously haunted me. But then I thought to myself ‘I’ve done a lot of things. So what if I die soon? A lot of people die young and I’ve had a great life and a great career.’’

That much seems indisputable. From his early beginnings as the disco stud of Grease and Saturday Night fever Travolta quickly established himself as a bone fides Leading Man and one of the most lusted after 1970s heartthrobs. There followed however something of a career slump as his star waned in the 1980s. He was ill advised to turn down roles in a number of films (An American Gigolo, An Officer And A Gentleman and Splash), which turned out to be box office smashes. In the 1990s his career enjoyed a second wind as he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece, Pulp Fiction, for which he also earned his first Oscar nomination. Some, including his Wild Hogs co star Ray Liotta, feel that Travolta’s career has now stalled again (‘that’s why he starring alongside me’ Liotta later quips). The man himself however has no such qualms about where he fits into the pantheon of fame. ‘I have the iconic presence of an Elvis Presley or a Frank Sinatra’ he somewhat immodestly tells me. ‘That’s what they say anyway.’

Since 1991 he has been married to Kelly Preston, an actress and former model, and they have two children together; a son named Jett and a daughter named Ella Bleu. According to the Travoltas Jett suffers from Kawasaki syndrome, a rare gland disorder, but last year an American journalist publicly made a plea to the family to have the child treated for autism. Mark Ebner of Hollywood, Interrupted cited five independent sources, including several autism charities, who felt sure that Jett was autistic and needed help.

According to Ebner the reason that Travolta would not allow his son to be diagnosed with autism was because Scientology does not recognise the disability. Travolta is one of the most famous members of the religion/cult (depending on you point of view) and doesn’t proselytise with quite the same fervour of Tom Cruise but he is a passionate supporter of Scientology. After Pulp Fiction he made a film based on a novel by L Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology), which was panned by critics as one of the worst films of all time. He lobbies world leaders for greater acceptance of Scientology. ‘We were having a problem in Germany (where Scientology is seen as a money making enterprise rather than as a religion)’ he tells me ‘I talked to Clinton who talked to Chancellor (Helmut) Kohl and things have improved since then. We’ve shown the government that we’re not a threat and resolved a lot of the mystery around it.’

He tells me that Scientology saved his life. ‘I have fame on the level of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis but part of the reason I didn’t go the way they did was because of my beliefs. People make judgements about it (Scientology) but often they don’t know what they’re talking about. I would advise anyone who wants to know about it to read up on it. We (the Church of Scientology) only getting bigger and we help people all over the world from disaster ones to drug rehabilitation.’

I ask him about the criticism that the stress tests which act as initiations into Scientology are designed to prey on vulnerable individuals. ‘I don’t know that there’s anyone on planet earth that doesn’t need help in some way so that’s a generality that doesn’t make sense to me. I can promise you that you could tell me something privately that is stressing you and I can give you a solution to it. It’s a wonderful religion. It supports me in everything I do.’

Like a lot of Hollywood stars Travolta has hopped on the Global Warming bandwagon but he has been criticised for being hypocritical in owning a massively polluting private jet. ‘Oh yeah I heard about that’ he says. ‘It’s a real issue and we have to look at solutions. The way I look at it: every time a plane takes off it effects global warming but if you stop the world of aviation you stop the world.’ He seems then to lose interest in the subject. ‘When I’m in a pinch I would ride a bike. I love all transportation … boats … cars… um, I have nothing but good things to say about transportation.’

That’s cleared that up then. He sees himself as ‘more of a target than most people. I’m aware of that continually. All celebrities are. We’re a moving target and I don’t mean it on the obvious level of being in the tabloid rags. That’s a given. I mean it more on a personal level. Let’s say I don’t know you and you become very friendly toward me. You’re a very attractive person but what if you just had the face of that. Let’s say you have a hidden agenda. You start chugging along with me but there are things I don’t know about – maybe you have a drug problem or criminal record something. Everyone wants to put their best face on with a celebrity but that wears out real fast.’

Our time is almost up and as John does his Sofia-Loren-pushing-her-boobs-together impression (it was a running gag on the set of the film, apparently) a publicist waits to usher him out of the room. He gives a friendly little wave and winks as he leaves. I have a fantasy of being given my own replica leather jacket and getting on the private jet. I’d Like To Take You Home With Me. Dublin is much more fun than Shannon. And I don’t have a criminal record, honest.



~ by Donal Lynch on January 21, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

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

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ 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 )


Connecting to %s