Dedicated to the memorable movie that forever has the song, “You’re The One That I Want” perpetually stuck in our heads, Grease is a high school musical that will long live within our hearts, even if it’s been close to four decades since it first hit theatre screens. But even though the singing and dancing movie that showed us that love and friendship can exist among teens of various personalities was released in the late 70’s, we’ll know that its iconic plot will remain a classic long after we’ve forgotten the words to “Summer Nights”.
We can hardly believe that this movie – that has been recreated by thousands of high schools across the nation, producers, and directors in a wide range of adaptations – is close to forty years old. With all its success and continued popularity, it hardly seems as if the movie’s stars would be well past retirement (or worse) by now.
Looking back on the “teens” who made up the hormonal, singing seniors of Rydell High School (who were actually played by adults in their twenties and thirties!), we can’t help but think that there may be some truth to the ominous Grease “Curse” that many people are talking about.
Between failed careers, addictions, bad aging, disease, death, and other personal struggles, most of the cast has seen their fair share of trouble since the film skyrocketed to fame. For many, it seems as if Grease was the pinnacle of their lives.
While we still love them, we can’t help but feel sorry for the former cast of one of our most beloved high school movies.
16. Stockard Channing – Rizzo
When Stockard Channing first hit it big in the film industry, it was Grease that helped set off her career. At the age of thirty-three, Stockard played the rebellious high school student – and the Pink Ladies leader – Betty Rizzo. She was the fierce and misunderstood “bad gal” that often set out to start trouble. Fast-forward forty years and Stockard is now seventy-three years old and we can see that her age has caught up with her. After a recent guest appearance on the UK show, Lorraine, concerned fans took to Twitter to complain about her unrecognizable appearance. While many claimed she had awful plastic surgery done, some defended her and said that she’s just getting old. Even though Stockard is most known for her role as Rizzo, many fans can’t forget about her more recent work on The West Wing and when she played the lovable aunt (and witch) in Practical Magic, opposite Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman.
15. Jeff Conaway – Kenickie
In the high school musical, Jeff Conaway played the part of Kenickie; the oafish jock, T-Bird’s second-in-command, and Rizzo’s part-time lover. He memorably gnawed on greasy burgers in the film, as if to solidify his affiliation to the greaser gang, and said, “A hickie from Kenickie is like a Hallmark card!” Throughout the film, he acted as Danny’s pal and confidante, but in the long-running Broadway production that ran before the film’s release, he played the role of Danny. After the film’s production, Jeff went on to play roles in the TV show Taxi and Babylon 5. In the 80’s, he struggled with addiction to narcotics. In 2008, he appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and attributed his substance abuse to a back injury that he got while filming a dance scene in Grease. In 2011, Jeff died at the age of sixty due to pneumonia, which was not recognized or treated due to his continued use of narcotics.
14. Didi Conn – Frenchy
Often referred to as the ‘heart’ of the Pink Ladies, Frenchy was played by the equally sweet and memorable, Didi Conn. In the film, Didi harnessed her inner cosmetics queen to play the beauty school dropout and took to the role by accidentally stumbling upon a beauty parlour called “Frenchy’s” in Los Angeles. To prepare herself for the role, she asked for her hair to be dyed pink and she proceeded to ask the stylist many questions, like how she got into the biz. Now, Didi is sixty-six years old and is still keeping her youthful spirit alive. In the most recent adaptation of the film Grease: Live! – a live, celeb-filled musical – Didi played the role of Vi (the diner waitress), as Carly Rae Jepson played her iconic former character. During the time the two spent together, Didi gifted Carly Rae with a locket and the original peach-coloured shirt that Frenchy wore in the film (the one that had milkshake spilled on it!). Carly Rae posted the thoughtful gift to her Instagram last year.
13. Barry Pearl – Doody
When it comes to loveable supporting characters, Barry Pearl aced his portrayal of the goofy T-Bird, Doody. When he took a newly-blonde Frenchy to the school dance, Doody said that she looked like a “beautiful blonde pineapple!” which won over her heart and the heart of female audiences everywhere. Since his heyday playing a high school rebel, Barry has been keeping quite busy in the entertainment industry in the last four decades. While he’s never had any significant roles, he has appeared in numerous television shows including ER, Baywatch, Even Stevens, Criminal Minds, and House. He was also asked to appear alongside his former co-star, Didi, in the Grease: Live! performance – taking on a new role of Mr. Stan Weaver, a TV producer – and acting as one of the only two original cast members to appear in the modern adaptation.
12. Kelly Ward – Roger, aka “Putzie”
At twenty-two years old, Kelly Ward was one of the youngest actors to play one of the singing high schoolers in the famous musical. His role took on the personality of a kind and unaware teen boy who was coupled up with Jan, and who also appreciated her for her curves and love of pie, telling her, “I think there’s more to you than just fat.” Awww! He also was oblivious to women, but in the most innocent of ways, by not being shy about his lack of carnal knowledge. Since Grease, this sixty-one year old is working in the animation industry as a voice director, often lending his talents to various cartoon characters, including notable ones for Disney. His acting may have stopped in the 80’s, but Kelly has since helped bring out the best in voice actors for shows like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and The Lion Guard.
11. Dinah Manoff – Marty
Playing the bright-eyed, bubblegum-chewing flirt who was after the much older television host, Vince Fontaine, at the Rydell High prom. She also had many suitors whom she wrote to on a regular basis, making sure to spritz every letter with a pretty scent to woo her male pen pals. She was twenty years old at the time she played the seventeen year old Pink Lady, making her the closest in age to her teenaged character. Dinah has continued to pursue her passion for acting, appearing in a few films, but has really stood out as a television actress, starring in old shows like Soap and Empty Nest, and even made guest appearances in more modern hits like Golden Girls and Touched By An Angel. She has evolved in the last decade to move into directing for TV.
10. Eddie Deezen – Eugene
Acting as the token nerd in the high school flick, Eddie Deezen was an easy choice to take on the tiny role of nasally Eugene. Even though the T-Birds often poke fun of him for his conservative appearance and geek-like nature, he can often be seen throughout the movie smiling and having a good time. Since Eddie’s voice is the most distinctive quality about him, his career took him in the direction of voice acting, allowing him to provide the recognizable “nerdy” voices of Mandark in Dexter’s Laboratory, Ned in Kim Possible, Know-It-All in Polar Express, and guest voicing in many other beloved cartoon shows since the 80’s. While he still does the occasional voice gig, he also acts as a contributor the website, Mental Floss, where he writes about pop culture trivia.
9. Jamie Donnelly – Jan
Jamie Donnelly was the only actress who played in the original Broadway production of Grease who later went on to play the exact same role, as Jan, five years later in the feature film. While most of the movie’s cast worked in the Broadway production at some point, none of them ended up playing the same character in the movie, except Jamie. She took on the role of the Pink Lady who sang the “brusha, brusha, brusha” song so well that she became a favourite and obvious choice for casting. Around the same time that Grease rose in popularity, she also had starred in the original Broadway show of Rocky Horror Show, opposite Tim Curry, acting as both Trixie and Magenta. Jamie has acted since taking on those infamous roles, but no characters have been as remarkable as those.
8. Michael Tucci – Sonny
Sonny famously doesn’t take “no crap from nobody” throughout the film, and is often the first one to stir up trouble by way of poking fun at people and trying to talk back to his superiors. As the most brash of the T-Birds, Michael Tucci portrays the Italian troublemaker who spikes the punch at the dance to a tee. But even though his character is well-known, Michael is keeping a low pro nowadays as a teacher of Fine Arts and Theatre Arts at a high school in California. And while he still takes on the odd acting role, including a most recent gig playing Melissa McCarthy’s father in The Heat, Micheal also has a love of Broadway. After Grease, he starred as Roxie Hart’s husband, Amos, in the musical Chicago for more than three years.
7. Annette Charles – Cha Cha
Since every teen movie must have some kind of drama, Annette Charles helped achieve the drams by playing ex-girlfriend of Danny, Cha Cha. She is often parading around with rival gang member, Leo, and also dances up a storm with Danny, making Sandy hella jealous as they win the dance competition at prom. Since famously playing the “best dancer at St. Bernadette” but “with the worst reputation”, Annette played several guest roles in television shows throughout the 70’s and 80’s, but chose to retire from acting and focus on education by becoming a speech professor at California State University. In 2011, Annette died from brain cancer, but was originally hospitalized due to pneumonia. She passed away just three months after her co-star, Jeff Conaway, died of the same ailment.
6. Sid Caesar – Coach Calhoun
As one of the most revered entertainers over the last several decades, Sid Caesar was an extremely famous comedian and television personality before he starred opposite John Travolta in the famous teen flick as the motivational Coach Calhoun. In Grease, he provided the hope for young Danny to win back Sandy in hopes of mastering a sport, as well as chaperoned the dance and senior carnival. Since Grease, Sid has pioneered many television series and worked with comedy writers such as Mel Brooks and Woody Allen. His accomplishments are numerous, spanning from work as an actor, writer, musician, and producer. At the age of ninety-one, Sid died in 2014 at his home. People in the biz went on to say that he was “the very best sketch artist and comedian that ever existed” and “the best comedian who ever practiced the trade”. His fans were many, but they even included big names like Albert Einstein and Alfred Hitchcock.
5. Susan Buckner – Patty Simcox
Acting as the high school’s “goody two-shoes”, Susan Buckner portrays the often humiliated and teased, Patty Simcox, who initially tries to befriend Sandy before the Pink Ladies take her under their wing. Patty is a smart cheerleader, but is often pranked by both the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies. At the age of sixty-four, Susan has aged very well. Throughout her short-lived acting career, Susan was often viewed as one of Hollywood’s most gorgeous women, and actually won the title of Miss Washington in 1971. Her good looks have kept up with her in the forty years since playing the perky teen who was a big fan of extracurriculars. While she has not been in the public eye for many years, Susan occasionally pops out of the dark to appear at Grease-themed events.
4. Frankie Avalon – The Teen Angel
At the time that the former teen heartthrob, Frankie Avalon, portrayed Frenchy’s dream boy in the diner hit, “Beauty School Dropout”, the crooner was already a super popular teen idol, which is most likely why the singer was chosen for this short cameo. As a young man, Frankie was beloved for his singing and acting talents, as well as his good looks. He can be compared as the Zayn Malik of our generation. Nowadays, Frankie is still looking pretty good for seventy-seven year old. While he does the occasional appearance on TV to both act and perform, he’s keeping busy with marketing, creating Frankie Avalon Products, which he promotes on the Home Shopping Network. In 2015, he released a cookbook titled, “Frankie Avalon’s Italian Family Cookbook”.
3. Eve Arden – Principal McGee
Before landing the role of the stern but forgiving high school principal and morning announcer, Principal McGee, Eve Arden had a career in Hollywood that began in the 30’s. She appeared in many movies and television shows and starred with other classic starlets like Katherine Hepburn and Lucille Ball, all before Grease was even written. Post-Grease, Eve was drawn to the stage and starred in shows on Broadway before writing an autobiography called The Three Phases Of Eve. In 1990, Eve died at the age of eighty-two due to heart complications. While many say that she had been struggling with cancer, her death certificate did not mention her having the disease. Five years later, she was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame for her contributions to the industry’s variety shows prior to Grease.
2. John Travolta – Danny Zuko
One of the most iconic characters to star in the hit film and the Broadway production, John Travolta portrayed the leader of the T-Bird’s and love interest of Sandy, Danny Zuko. John played the hunky and radical jock who fell in love the summer before his senior year – who had exceptional talent in dancing and singing – and struggled with wanting to be good to Sandy, while also maintaining his rebellious spirit with the rest of his boys. Since Grease, John’s career skyrocketed! He’s one of Hollywood’s most popular actors and has starred in blockbuster’s such as Staying Alive, Look Who’s Talking, Face/Off, Swordfish, Old Dogs, and the cult hit, Pulp Fiction. In 2009, John experienced tragedy when him and his wife, Kelly Preston, lost their son, Jett, at the age of sixteen. Nowadays, John is reportedly “trapped” by Scientology, divorcing Kelly, and battling allegations of groping and exposing himself by several men.
1. Olivia Newton-John – Sandy Olsson
As the fresh-faced and innocent cheerleader, Sandy Olsson, Olivia Newton-John played the Australian native whose family decided to move to America, which put Sandy at Rydell High with her summer love, Danny. Sandy was almost aggressively sweet throughout the film, until the end of the flick where she undergoes a dramatic transformation, much to the delight of Danny. Since this iconic role was mastered by Olivia, she has continued in both the singing and acting realm, bringing her talents to both film and the stage. She is one of the world’s best-selling musical artists of all time, with over two dozen recorded albums. At the age of sixty-nine, Olivia is still touring the world to perform and is also an activist for environmentalism and animal rights. She gives to and volunteers at numerous charities, including the Jett Travolta Foundation, and offers her support to many other fundraising initiatives. In 1991, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which she recovered from, but it has since returned in May of this year, targeting her lower back.
Credits: DailyMail.co.uk, Wikipedia.com, IMDB.com, HelloGiggles.com, ETOnline.com, VanityFair.com, Variety.com, Grease.Wikia.com, NYTimes.com, HollywoodReporter.com, MSN.com, Evoke.ie
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