In spite of his glorious success in Hollywood, John Travolta has faced tough challenges and endured tragic losses since the onset of his career. In 1977, breast cancer robbed him of his then- girlfriend, actress Diana Hyland, in 2009 his autistic son died following a seizure, in 2012 he was accused of sexually molesting a male MASSEUR, and more sexual allegations have been pelted at him since the 80’s, yet every time I encounter him, he is invariably beaming with smiles and projecting the image of a joyous man.
In a TV interview I conducted with the Hollywood star for my BBC’s Alternative Cinema show, he unlocks the mystery of his carefree demeanour, revealing that it was thanks to his religion, Scientology, which has equipped him with the required tools to deal with life’s challenges and overcome their detrimental impact on him, personally and professionally.
“I think it’s probably my nature to begin with,” the 60-year-old actor says. “I’ve always seen the glass as half full innately. I think that’s a fact. and of course since I have the pressures of fame, my religion has helped me keep positive because it helped combat the pressure of being famous.”
Travolta entered the public eye in his early twenties, after starring in two of the most commercially successful movies of the seventies: “Saturday Night Fever (1977)” and “Grease (1978)”. Barely 24 years old, he was nominated for an Oscar for inhabiting the role of Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever,” rendering him the youngest nominee ever until then. And in 1980, his performance in “Urban Cowboy” inspired a nationwide country music craze. By that time, he was considered Hollywood’s most famous star. But this fame was not without a price.
“I was a believer in Scientology before I became famous,” Travolta says. “But I didn’t realise how much it was going to help me. You live a very isolated life so there is a price you pay for isolation, and then when you go out to live a social life, you also have the stress of everyone knowing who you are, and then you have the media as well, which is something you learn early on to put in perspective and keep it at a distance because there is no way of controlling that, but the media has a variation of interpretation of what your movie is and your personal life is, so to try to control that is like a test in futility.”
Indeed, Travolta’s relationship with the media has been tumultuous. Ironically though, the media’s hostility towards him has been precipitated by his adherence to Scientology, which has been excoriated for its alleged shady activities and charged with using threats and extortion to subjugate its members to its will. Even Travolta himself has been subjected to threats, according to a 1991 Time Magazine article, in which the former executive manager of the church, William Frank, purported that the superstar was wary of leaving the faith, lest his sexual relationships with other men be exposed by the church’s leaders. Frank reiterated his claim in the recent Sundance documentary “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and Prison of Faith,” which urged Travolta to leave his church and expose the illicit activities of its leaders.
It seems that Travolta’s religion is the problem, not the solution when it comes to dealing with the media, for it attracts undue attention to his private life. Nonetheless, he insists that Scientology is the source of happiness and that he can’t live without it.