Inside Kelly Preston and John Travolta's Intensely Romantic Love Story

Married for almost 29 years, John Travolta and Kelly Preston experienced all of life's highs and lows together, supporting each other at every turn, until her death from breast cancer on July 12

By Natalie Finn Jul 13, 2020 8:12 PMTags

When Kelly Preston first met John Travolta, he swept her right off her feet. And not only because his plane was probably parked nearby.

It was 1987 and the actress was waiting to do her screen test for a spy caper called The Experts, when she looked up and saw the star of Grease and Saturday Night Fever stroll into the room.

"Yeah, no kidding," Preston agreed with Andy Cohen as he acknowledged what that must have been like, during Preston's 2018 visit to Watch What Happens Live. (Travolta also had his two dogs with him, which couldn't have hurt.)

Travolta has remembered the moment he first saw Preston just as fondly, telling Us Weekly in 2018, "She came in this, this gorgeous woman. We had an immediate chemistry."

Not that anything happened right away, since Preston was still unhappily married at the time, and then she lived with George Clooney for awhile and got engaged to Charlie Sheen.

But, she and Travolta made The Experts, it came out in 1989, and they remained devoted to each other for the next 30 years, up until Preston's death at 57 from breast cancer on July 12.

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"It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you that my beautiful wife Kelly has lost her two-year battle with breast cancer," Travolta posted on Instagram Sunday. "She fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many." He thanked everyone who supported them, adding, "Kelly's love and life will always be remembered. I will be taking some time to be there for my children who have lost their mother, so forgive me in advance if you don't hear from us for a while. But please know that I will feel your outpouring of love in the weeks and months ahead as we heal."

The family had kept Preston's cancer fight entirely private except for those in their trusted inner circle, so the news was met with shock and heartbreak far and wide.

They were parents to daughter Ella Bleu, 20, and son Benjamin, 9, together. In 2009 their eldest son, Jett, died at 16, a crushing loss that they weathered together—as they did everything in life.

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"I was not that happily married, let's put it that way. I was really with the wrong person," Preston explained to Cohen about the situation she found herself in when she first met her future second husband.

She had been married to Kevin Gage since 1985 after they starred in the 1986 cult-classic SpaceCamp—and though she was candid about not being happy later (they divorced in 1987), she played it cool in the moment.

"I remember she was going down the steps," Travolta recalled first seeing her, talking to Us Weekly in 2018. "And I was on top, and I said, 'May I ask you a question?' and she said, 'Yes,' and I said, 'What's it like to be married? Is it a good thing?'"

Preston apparently wasn't in the mood to spill her guts right there. "She said, 'I love it,'" Travolta remembered, "and I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn't it be great to be married to someone who loves being married?'" (Sadly, Travolta had lost his girlfriend Diana Hyland to cancer in 1977; she was 41.)

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Meanwhile, Preston remembered herself in the moment when Travolta stopped to say hello being "like, 'Oh s--t. Kill me now.' You know, like, 'Oh my God.' And that was my first meeting with him."

A perceptive mutual friend had even told Travolta at the screen test beforehand, "'You're going to meet this girl and you're going to fall in love with her, and you're going to want to get married.'"

It took a few years post-divorce for Preston to realize that it was Travolta she wanted for her forever-partner, but once they committed, that was it.

Travolta proposed in Gstaad, Switzerland, on New Year's Eve in 1990, slipping a 6-carat diamond ring on her finger. 

Travolta is "so kind and loving and generous," Preston's mother, Linda Carlson, told People after they got engaged, sounding relieved that her daughter's topsy-turvy romances with the likes of Charlie Sheen were behind her. "I just thank God. That's what she wants and that's what she needs." 

"I've never seen Johnny happier," added his sister-in-law Wendy Travolta. "I guess it's timing. John and Kelly are both ready to settle down."

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They got married on Sept. 5, 1991, at the Hotel de Crillon in Paris, then retied the knot two weeks later in the U.S. to make it legal. Preston, meanwhile, had predicted that they'd be starting a family soon.

"We plan to have some babies," she told Entertainment Tonight before the wedding. "We're practicing right now. This could be barefoot and pregnant for the next 10 years."

Jett was born on April 13, 1992, having been conceived—according to what Travolta cheekily shared with Premiere magazine in 1996—during a night when the newlyweds were house guests of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore.

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Aside from 1989's Look Who's Talking (which he co-starred in with Willis, who was the voice of baby Mikey), which was a huge hit, and its profitable but not nearly as good 1990 sequel (and we won't speak of the one with the talking dogs in 1993), Travolta's movie star status seemed to be on the wane in the early 1990s—until Pulp Fiction rocketed him back into pop culture relevancy in 1994. 

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Travolta was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, his first nomination since 1978 for Saturday Night Fever, and he once again became a go-to leading man and action star.

Preston continued to work all the time, most notably in the likes of Jerry MaguireAddicted to LoveJack FrostFor Love of the Game and What a Girl Wants, but she slowed down a bit to focus on family after Ella was born in 2000.

She and her husband also appeared in several more movies together. Battlefield EarthOld Dogs and, most recently, the widely panned Gotti aren't going to be the John-and-Kelly moments they're remembered for, but they loved working together when they could.

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"Although they're completely different from us, there's a few similarities," Preston shared with E! News at the Gotti premiere in 2018, referring to their roles of mob boss John Gotti and his wife Victoria. "We've been together for a long time, we love each other, we adore our kids—and then you're playing characters."

Rather, they'll be remembered for having one of Hollywood's most enduring romantic partnerships.

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"Communication is huge," Preston told Us Weekly in 2018. "Continue playing. People will let their marriage go but you have to have fun, play, have date night, you know, make it last."

Not much had changed over the course of their marriage, then, since she told Health in 2011 that one of the secrets to their lasting relationship was, "We check in with each other: What's wanted and needed? We keep it alive and playful and fun. And we don't push each other's buttons."

Asked on Watch What Happens Live what the best thing about being married to Travolta was, Preston replied, beaming as she thought about it, "There's too many best things."

But she came up with a few.

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"His lips, dancing, fun, laughing!" And they did really still dance "all the time," she said. "All the time. The kids dance with us, we dance at the house, we go out dancing. Yeah, I love it."

Preston added, "He's the nicest guy you've ever met, the sweetest."

And, of course, there was all the flying.

"I'll be sitting there [at home in Florida] doing something really normal with the kids and then all of a sudden I hear, 'Whoosh!' and see the lights of the airplane and he's like, 'Honey, I'm home!'" Preston told Health magazine in 2011. (The family's home in Ocala, Fla., is in a gated community for aviators, where there's room for residents to park their planes.)

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Tragedy struck in January 2009, when Jett died after suffering a seizure while the family was vacationing in the Bahamas.

"Jett was the most wonderful son that two parents could ever ask for and lit up the lives of everyone he encountered," Preston and Travolta said in a statement at the time. "We are heartbroken that our time with him was so brief. We will cherish the time that we had with him for the rest of our lives."

In his memory they started the Jett Travolta Foundation to provide assistance to children with disabilities.

"Johnny and I feel you're at your best when you're helping others," Preston told Health magazine in the summer of 2011. "And it was really important to us to have something positive come out of this, and help people, whether it's with learning difficulties, or seizures, or special needs—it's really a wide spectrum of help

The couple understandably did not speak much about their loss publicly. A longtime Scientologist, like her husband, Preston made a rare mention of their faith in her Health interview when talking about how she recovered from their son's death.

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"Johnny is definitely my rock. Kirstie [Alley, also a Scientologist] is one of my absolute best friends," Preston said. "My mom, my brother. And to be honest, the Scientology center. I don't know if I would have made it through without it. We've been able to navigate through it and to come to a place that is a lot better."

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By then, Preston and Travolta had welcomed their son Benjamin on Nov. 23, 2010. Preston was 48 when he was born, and that summer they called her pregnancy a "miracle."

"We tried for several years, and we didn't think it was going to happen for us," they told People (as sources close to them shut down rumors that they had started trying only after Jett's death). "This is a miracle and we feel blessed."

Talking to Health, which featured she and Ben on the cover together, Preston recalled, "We had been trying for quite a few years, and then of course there was a time when we weren't, and then we started trying again. When I found out I was pregnant, I was floored. I'd snuck out of bed and then came back and woke Johnny up in bed. We both started crying. It was wonderful."

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Once she was pregnant, "I didn't have any doubts. I love being pregnant. I love the closeness I feel when I'm carrying them. I love feeling them move inside me. My heart breaks for people who aren't able to have kids. But I feel like there's really hope for anyone.

Preston had said that she had learned over the years, dealing with trauma, that "even though it may seem like they won't, things always get better."

She was also grateful that she was able to be a "hands-on mom," and that both she and John doted on Ella and Ben.

"I absolutely adore my kids. Johnny and I love them up constantly," Preston shared. "Ella's like, 'Mom, ugh! Thank god you had Ben because now he can take some of the kisses!' And Johnny sings to them—a lot of Tony Bennett and Barbra Streisand."

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Through the years, Preston and Travolta always took time out for romance, often with the assistance of the pilot's license John has had since the 1980s.

"I think it's when Johnny just whisks me away, and we'll jump on the airplane and go out to dinner, and I don't know where we're going," Preston described a perfect date night to People in 2018. "It's good to be married to a pilot!"

The Mischief star was aware that almost no one can identify with what's that like, but she was intent on showing gratitude for every gift she'd been given in life so far.

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"I appreciate it all the time. It's not something you ever really get used to," she told Health about her husband pulling his plane into the hangar the way a regular person puts his car in the garage.

"For a lot of people getting older means you start slowing down," Preston also said. "I don't think you have to. A lot of it is mind-set."

Asked what she knew at 48 that she didn't know at 38, the actress advised, "Don't sweat the small things. Love your kids like it could be the last moment. Johnny and I really give our kids the space to discover who they are—to make their own choices and to experience the joys of life."

The day after Mother's Day, Preston posted photos of Ella and Ben, writing, "My beautiful babies... I love you with all of my heart."

And her final post on Instagram was a Father's Day tribute to Travolta, the man who had helped her raise the other loves of her life.

"Happy Father's Day to the best one I know, we love you," Preston wrote. Her husband replied, "I love you all so much!"