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

John Travolta Remembers Late Wife Kelly Preston

When Kelly Preston first met John Travolta, he swept her right off her feet, no airplane or gravity-defying dance moves required.

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 Saturday Night Fever and Grease stroll into the room.

"Yeah, no kidding," Preston said, agreeing with Andy Cohen as he acknowledged what that must have been like, during her 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 married at the time—though admittedly already souring on the union. "I was not that happily married, let's put it that way. I was really with the wrong person," Preston explained to Cohen about her state of affairs when she first met her future second husband.

photosKelly Preston: Life in Pictures

"I remember she was going down the steps," Travolta recalled first seeing her to Us Weekly. "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?'"

David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock

Preston had been Mrs. Kevin Gage since 1985, the couple having starred together in the 1986 cult-classic SpaceCamp—and though she was candid about not being happy later, she played it cool in the moment.

"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?'" (The actor had lost his girlfriend Diana Hyland, who he met making the 1976 TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, to cancer in 1977.) 

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

After her divorce in 1987, she lived with George Clooney for awhile and was engaged to Charlie Sheen, which ended spectacularly badly. (The shooting was a "complete accident," Preston later explained.)

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Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock

But as fate would have it, she and Travolta reunited to make The Experts. 

He recalled how a perceptive mutual friend had told him before their 1987 screen test, "'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.'"

The movie came out in 1989, and once they got together they stayed that way until Preston's death at 57 from breast cancer on July 12, 2020.

Instagram / John Travolta

Travolta, dad to daughter Ella Bleu, 23, and son Benjamin, 12, with Preston, has started using social media more often for family updates, happy to show off Ella's New York Fashion Week debut or Ben's gymnastic feats. And he never misses a tribute on his late wife's birthday or Mother's Day.

photosSee John Travolta's Mansion in Maine

"We miss and love you very much," Travolta wrote in wishing her happy birthday in 2021, almost 31 years after he proposed in Gstaad, Switzerland, on New Year's Eve in 1990, slipping a 6-carat diamond ring on Preston's finger. 

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

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

photosFrom Co-Stars to Couples

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, 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."

Son 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.

photosCelebrity Weddings We Wish We Could've Witnessed Like the Royal Wedding

Aside from 1989's Look Who's Talking, which was a huge hit, and its profitable but lesser 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.

James Aylott/Getty Images

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

Preston, who played Arnold Schwarzenegger's love interest in 1988's Twins, continued to work regularly, 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 (also featuring Ella) and 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.

Lionsgate

"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 as 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."

And off-screen, keep talking and having fun.

photosStars Reveal the Secrets Behind Their Long-lasting Marriages

"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."

Then not much had changed over the course of their marriage, 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.

Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

"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."

An Instagram post from August 2020 showed Travolta and Ella "dancing in memory of momma," father and daughter taking a turn around the floor at a lounge (and you know it was timely due to the masks the bartender and waitress were wearing). "One of Kelly's favorite things, dancing with me," the actor wrote. 

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. (The family's home in Ocala, Fla., is in a gated community for aviators, where there's room for residents to park their planes.)

Travolta told Parade, "Our time on the plane is special for all of us because it's only us in an enclosed area where there are no interruptions and we just get to be with each other. Flight time is a truly special time for us."

Courtesy of Travolta Family

But tragedy struck in January 2009, when Jett died at 16 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," his parents 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.

Randi Lynn Beach/Getty Images

"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."

Talking to the BBC in 2014, Travolta admitted of that terrible time, "The truth is, I didn't know if I was going to make it. Life was no longer interesting to me, so it took a lot to get me better." He too credited his Scientology community "for supporting me for two years solid, I mean Monday through Sunday. They didn't take a day off, working through different angles of the techniques to get through grief and loss, and to make me feel that finally I could get through a day."

John Parra/WireImage

By then, Preston and Travolta had welcomed their son Benjamin on Nov. 23, 2010. Preston was 48 when he was born, and 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 that summer (as sources close to them shut down rumors that they had started trying only after Jett died). "This is a miracle and we feel blessed."

Talking to Health, which featured her and Ben on the cover together, Preston reiterated, "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."

Disney/Kobal/Shutterstock

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 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."

Pascal Le Segretain/WireImage

Through the years, Preston and Travolta always took time out for romance, often with the assistance of the pilot's license the actor 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!"

Not to mention a pilot who owns multiple aircraft, including a Boeing 707. The Mischief star was aware that there aren't too many people who can identify with her casual jet-setting ways, but she was intent on showing gratitude for every gift life had bestowed on her.

Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

"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."

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A post shared by Kelly Preston (@therealkellypreston)

The day after Mother's Day 2020, 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!"

(Originally published July 13, 2020, at 1:12 p.m. PT)

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