The death of Kelly Preston at the age of 57 is the third personal tragedy to devastate the life of John Travolta, after the couple’s 16-year-old son Jett died from a seizure 11 years ago and the actor’s first love Diana Hyland died of breast cancer in 1977.
Travolta described his son’s death in 2009 as the ‘worst thing that ever happened in my life’ and told how the Church of Scientology had helped him and his wife through their grief after Jett died suddenly at a holiday home in the Bahamas.
The couple’s agony did not end there, because Jett’s death led to a lengthy court case after an ambulance driver and his attorney were accused of trying to extort $25million from the couple by threatening to release sensitive details about the death.
Travolta gave evidence at a criminal trial but later decided to stop pursuing the case, citing the severe strain on his family.
John and Kelly both subsequently returned to acting but the couple had continued to voice their grief in recent years.
Preston died from breast cancer on Sunday after a two-year ordeal which had never been made public – 43 years after the same disease killed Travolta’s first love Diana Hyland, who died in his arms in yet another personal tragedy for the actor in 1977.
Kelly Preston posted this picture of her late son Jett in 2019, a decade after he died at a Bahamas holiday home after suffering a seizure
John Travolta (second left), his wife Kelly Preston (right) and their children Jett (second right) and Ella (left) during the 2000s. Jett died in the Bahamas in January 2009
Jett Travolta was born in 1992, after the couple had married in Paris the previous year while expecting the child.
His parents revealed he had suffered from Kawasaki syndrome when he was a toddler, a little-understood illness which can cause fevers and skin rashes.
Speaking in 2012, she told the TV show The Doctors that she believed food poisoning she suffered during pregnancy might have contributed to this.
The family said he had a history of seizures, and friends said he had developmental disabilities which his mother Kelly later described as autism.
In January 2009, while on vacation in the Bahamas, Jett was found unconscious in a bathroom and was pronounced dead in hospital, where medics gave ‘seizure disorder’ as the cause of his death. Reports said he had hit his head on a bathtub.
Dozens of relatives flew to Grand Bahama to comfort John Travolta and Kelly Preston, who said that ‘Jett was the most wonderful son that two parents could ever ask for’.
‘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,’ they said at the time.
Kelly Preston would later say: ‘Everybody grieves in their own way. I felt at times like I was drowning. It felt like a sea of wet blankets.’
In 2010, Travolta said that he and Kelly had ‘leaned on’ their Scientologist religion to get through the traumatic time.
He said: ‘It’s something that has been very difficult, but I am getting a lot of help in dealing with it.
‘My wife and I and my daughter – we’re all dealing with it as well as can be expected. We lean on our church heavily and they have helped us a lot.’
Jett was cremated and his ashes flown to Florida with his parents, and a memorial service was held at the family home.
Scientologists explained that according to their belief system, ‘the person is not gone’ but instead they ‘go on’ in another lifetime, an idea similar to reincarnation.
‘Friends and family have the opportunity to say goodbye, to acknowledge and thank the person for what he or she has done in this lifetime, and to wish them well as they move on to their next lifetime,’ a spokesman said at the time.
While mourning the loss of their son, the couple faced further anguish when local ambulance driver Tarino Lightbourne and his attorney Pleasant Bridgewater allegedly tried to extort them by threatening to release sensitive details about the death.
Lightbourne, who was among the medics who treated Jett, allegedly used the threat to try to extort $25million from the actor. He and Bridgewater denied the claims.
John Travolta and Diana Hyland, pictured together in December 1976, were in a relationship until Hyland’s death from breast cancer in 1977
John Travolta and Kelly Preston with their surviving children Ella (right) and Benjamin (front) at the Cannes Film Festival in 2018
The two suspects faced criminal charges in the Bahamas, where Travolta gave testimony about how he had desperately tried to save the life of his son.
The actor testified that he performed CPR on the teen after a nanny alerted him and his wife about Jett’s seizure and lapse into unconsciousness.
According to Travolta’s evidence, Lightbourne had threatened to go public with a document signed by Travolta refusing his consent for Jett to be taken to a local hospital.
Travolta said he signed the document because he had initially wanted Jett flown to Florida for treatment rather than being hospitalized in the Bahamas.
However, the trial had to be aborted in October 2009 when a Bahamian lawmaker suggested the still-deliberating jury had acquitted one of the suspects.
Travolta initially said he was willing to take the stand again for a retrial, but in September 2010 the family announced it was not proceeding with the charges.
‘The Travolta family has said that this matter has caused them unbelievable stress and pain and they wish to put this whole thing behind them,’ a prosecuting lawyer said at the time.
John Travolta said in a statement that his co-operation in the legal case had come at ‘great emotional cost to my family’.
‘The long-pending status of this matter continued to take a heavy emotional toll on my family, causing us to conclude that it was finally time to put this matter behind us,’ he said.
‘Therefore, after much reflection I concluded that it was in my family’s best interest for me not to voluntarily return to The Bahamas to testify a second time at trial.’
Kelly Preston’s final post to Instagram was one to celebrate Father’s Day in June. The picture is thought to have been taken the previous year
Kelly Preston and John Travolta in the 1989 movie The Experts – the film which led to their romance and eventual marriage
Bridgewater maintained her innocence while saying that ‘I am deeply saddened that the Travoltas had to endure the pain at the loss of their son’.
‘It is my prayer that they will be able to bring closure to this sad chapter in their lives and open a brand new one, filled with joy and peace,’ she said.
But Lightbourne said he wanted a trial to prove his innocence. ‘I’m not totally satisfied,’ he said. ‘I wanted to have my name cleared.’
Last year, 10 years after Jett’s death, Kelly Preston shared an emotional tribute to her ‘sweet love’ Jett on Instagram, saying he was ‘in our hearts forever’.
‘I send love to all of the beautiful autistic children and the wonderful people who love them. May we all shine and grant love and respect to children with special needs,’ she said in April 2019.
The same month, John Travolta marked what would have been Jett’s 27th birthday by sharing a painting of his son and saying: ‘Happy birthday my son I love you’.
In an interview with Us Weekly last January to mark the 10-year anniversary of Jett’s death, Travolta said the Church of Scientology had helped the couple through the dark times.
‘The church never left our sides for two years. I don’t know if I would have made it through without their support,’ he said.
‘It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened in my life,’ he said. ‘The truth is, I didn’t know if I was going to make it.’
In 2015, Travolta came to the defense of Scientology after the release of the critical documentary Going Clear, which was critical of Travolta for being a public face for the organization.
The church mounted a considerable campaign against the film, including full-page ads in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.
Pictured left: Kelly Preston and John Travolta in The Experts – the 1988 production on which they first met. Pictured right, Preston as Avery Bishop in the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Travolta said he would not see the documentary and said he ‘could not imagine’ attacking the church.
‘I’ve been so happy with my experience in the last 40 years that I really don’t have anything to say that would shed light on [a film] so decidedly negative,’ he said.
‘I’ve been brought through storms that were insurmountable, and [Scientology has] been so beautiful for me, that I can’t even imagine attacking it.’
In 2000, Travolta and Preston both starred in the futuristic movie Battlefield Earth, based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
Travolta put up money of his own towards the production, but it flopped at the box office and is often ranked among the worst movies of the decade.
Travolta and Preston had two other children, daughter Ella Bleu in 2000 and son Benjamin in 2010.
Tributes have been pouring in for Preston today after Travolta announced last night that she had died of breast cancer after a two-year ordeal.
Preston died on Sunday morning having ‘fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many’, Travolta said as he revealed his wife’s two-year cancer ordeal for the first time.
Travolta had previously lost his girlfriend Diana Hyland to breast cancer in 1977 after the couple had met on the set The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, in which the 40-year-old Hyland played the 22-year-old Travolta’s mother.
In an interview with People magazine after Hyland died in his arms, Travolta said he had ‘never been more in love with anyone in my life’.
‘I thought I was in love before, but I wasn’t. From the moment I met her I was attracted,’ he recalled. ‘I had more fun with Diana than I ever had in my life.’
Director Randal Kleiser would later claim that Travolta frequently fluffed his lines during the filming of Grease because of his grief over Diana’s death.
Travolta met Kelly Preston while making the 1987 movie The Experts and while Preston was still married to actor Kevin Gage. They divorced later that year.
Preston then got engaged to Travolta in 1991 in Gstaad, Switzerland. Preston and Travolta were married at a midnight ceremony in Paris later that year while the couple were expecting Jett.
John confirmed Kelly’s death in an Instagram post last night, writing: ‘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.’
Their daughter Ella, now 20, said she had ‘never met anyone as courageous’ as her mother.