Grease truly is the word. The movie was a hit upon its release in June 1978. Since then, it has gone on to become a certified phenomenon, with legions of (hopelessly) devoted fans. Simply say the title to one of them and you’ll get an ecstatic reaction that hits as fast as, well, greased lightning. Thirty-eight years later, it still retains its immense popularity.
The reason for Grease‘s success is simple: everything worked. The story was great, the songs were catchy, and the direction was lively and energetic. Plus, it was extremely well cast. Despite being uniformly too old to play teenagers, all the actors were solid in their individual roles. More than that, they were able to generate a group chemistry that made everything else so alluring.
If you’ve ever been curious about what the film’s stars are up to these days, wonder no more. We’re about to tell you where the cast members of Grease are now.
12. Stockard Channing – Rizzo
Stockard Channing was the ideal choice to play Pink Ladies leader Rizzo. She brought to life the character’s sassy side, then pulled out an unexpectedly vulnerable quality when singing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” Rizzo’s show-stopping number about fearing that her classmates at Rydell High view her as promiscuous. Channing effectively showed how Rizzo uses her tough-girl image to hide self-doubt and insecurity. The role made her a star.
She got two self-titled, and short-lived, CBS sitcoms (Stockard Channing in Just Friends and The Stockard Channing Show) after Grease came out, but mostly continued to act in film and onstage. In 1985, she won a Tony Award for A Day in the Death of Joe Egg and an Obie Award for Six Degrees of Separation. Channing also had roles in movies as diverse as Heartburn (with Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep), Up Close & Personal, and To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Later, she returned to TV with a role as First Lady Abbey Bartlett on The West Wing.
Most recently, Channing had a recurring role on the CBS drama The Good Wife. She will next be seen in the TV movie Elizabeth, Michael and Marlon, in which she will play Elizabeth Taylor.
11. Jeff Conaway – Kenickie
Jeff Conaway had a history with Grease, having played the role of Danny Zuko in the Broadway version for over two years. Travolta, who played Doody in the same show, was a much bigger star by the time the movie rolled around, so Conaway was cast as another member of the T-Birds, Kenickie. The film came out a few months before Conaway’s TV series Taxi debuted, making 1978 a very good year for the actor. After Taxi ended, he acted consistently in TV (The Bold and the Beautiful, Babylon 5) and film (mostly low-budget stuff you’ve never heard of). Conaway, who was once married to Grease co-star Olivia Newton-John’s sister, even took a spin behind the camera, directing, co-writing, and acting in the 1992 comedy Bikini Summer 2. It starred Jessica Hahn, the former church secretary who became a media celebrity after accusing evangelist Jim Bakker of rape.
Conaway also developed a serious addiction to cocaine, alcohol, and painkillers that was fueled by a back injury he suffered on the set of Grease. He bravely decided to publicly address his struggles as a member of the VH1 reality series Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew in 2008. Presumably, he hoped to share his eventual recovery with his fans, but things did not go according to plan. Often combative and angry, he became suicidal during the show’s run, disclosed that he’d been sexually abused as a child, and struggled with a toxic relationship with his girlfriend. Conaway showed the public what addiction really looks like in its most insidious form.
The future was not bright. On May 11, 2011, Jeff Conaway died from pneumonia and sepsis. According to Dr. Drew Pinsky, his long-time addiction to opiates was an indirect contributor, likely making him unaware of how sick he was.
10. Didi Conn – Frenchy
Didi Conn had perhaps the showiest role in Grease, playing Frenchy, the beauty school dropout who returns to high school after a visit from the Teen Angel. The Brooklyn-born actress reprised the role for the doomed 1982 sequel Grease 2. Ultimately, Conn found more success on TV, appearing on the hit ABC series Benson from 1981 to 1985, then starring as Stacy Jones on the childrens’ show Shining Time Station and its spinoffs, including the 2000 Thomas the Tank Engine movie Thomas and the Magic Railroad.
The parent of an autistic son, Conn was named celebrity spokesperson for the advocacy group Autism Speaks in 2008, and she remains active in autism-based causes. Most recently, she had a cameo on the popular Amazon series Transparent and played a waitress in Fox’s highly-rated broadcast of Grease Live! (Pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen played the role of Frenchy in this version.) The latter was a nice homecoming for an actress whose work remains one of the movie’s high points.
9. Barry Pearl – Doody
Barry Pearl, who played the T-Bird known as Doody, didn’t do a ton of film roles after Grease. In fact, he wouldn’t appear on the big screen again until 1984’s low-budget exploitation thriller Avenging Angel, the story of a former teen prostitute-turned-cop who returns to the streets to take down the guys who killed her police officer mentor. His only other notable film role was a small part in the 1999 comedy My Favorite Martian.
Nonetheless, Pearl stayed very busy, doing a lot of stage work in productions as wide-ranging as The Producers and Baby, It’s You. He also maintained an active television career, guest-starring on everything from Baywatch to Beverly Hills 90210 to House. Pearl additionally played “Professor Erasmus Q. Tinkerputt” in the TV movie Bedtime With Barney: Imagination Island, starring the famed purple dinosaur. A touring Barney stage show called Barney’s Big Surprise followed. Most recently, Barry Pearl returned to his roots, turning up on Fox’s Grease Live! You can keep up with all his current and future projects at his official website.
8. Michael Tucci – Sonny / Kelly Ward – Putzie
Born in New York City, actor Michael Tucci broke onto the scene playing the wisecracking Sonny. From there, he was continually employed on TV, co-starring in several popular series, including The Paper Chase, Diagnosis Murder, and the groundbreaking It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, where he played Shandling’s best friend Pete Schumaker. In recent years, Tucci was seen in the movies Blow (opposite Johnny Depp) and The Heat (with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy). Last year, he had a voice-only role playing Billy Crystal’s agent on the FX show The Comedians.
Kelly Ward has had one of the most interesting post-Grease careers. He took a few small film and television roles after playing Putzie, but largely left acting behind. Instead, he moved into the animation field, writing for cartoon shows such as Challenge of the GoBots and the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Ward has also worked as a dialogue director on multiple Disney programs, including those last two. He currently serves in that capacity for The 7D and The Lion Guard.
7. Jamie Donnelly – Jan / Dinah Manoff – Marty
Jamie Donnelly played the goofy Pink Lady Jan to perfection, winning audiences over with an appealingly quirky sense of comic timing. It’s a role she played on Broadway before getting cast in the film version. Interestingly, she didn’t appear on the big screen again for another twenty years, when she had a role in the ill-fated childrens’ film Slappy and the Stinkers. Roles in Can’t Hardly Wait and Cyrus followed. Donnelly has had some high-profile projects of late. She appeared as Peggy Shaugnessy on Showtime’s Ray Donovan, and had a supporting role as Mrs. Cody in Black Mass.
Dinah Manoff (a.k.a. Marty) got some notable movie roles in the years following Grease, including the Oscar-winning Ordinary People and the classic ’80s slasher Child’s Play. Most people probably remember her from TV, though. Manoff was a regular cast member on several popular shows, including Soap and the long-running Empty Nest, where she played Carol Weston. Today, she is generally retired from acting. Her last screen performance was in the 2008 indie Bart Got a Room.
6. Eve Arden – Principal McGee / Sid Caesar – Coach Calhoun
Eve Arden and Sid Caesar were Hollywood royalty when they were cast in Grease. Putting authentic ’50s TV stars in supporting roles was one of the film’s most endearing traits, and the inclusion of these veterans was particularly inspired. Arden starred in the classic sitcom Our Miss Brooks, while Caesar was beloved for his innovative comedic work on the legendary Your Show of Shows.
Arden, who received an Academy Award nomination for 1945’s Mildred Pierce, remained an in-demand actress after Grease, appearing in the 1981 Chevy Chase comedy Under the Rainbow, along with TV appearances on The Love Boat, Hart to Hart, and Falcon Crest. She also reprised her role as the hapless Principal McGee in Grease 2. Her autobiography, The Three Phases of Eve, was published in 1985. Arden died on November 12, 1990 from colorectal cancer and heart disease.
Caesar, who played Coach Calhoun, also came back for Grease 2. He later appeared in Mel Brooks’ History of the World: Part I, Cannonball Run II, and, in 1997, Vegas Vacation. Like Arden, he wrote an autobiography. Where Have I Been? recounted his addiction to alcohol and sleeping pills. The actor — whose work influenced generations of screen comedians, including many on Saturday Night Live, which he hosted in 1983 — passed away on February 12, 2014, at the ripe old age of 91.
5. Lorenzo Lamas – Tom Chisum
Lorenzo Lamas played Tom Chisum, the handsome, all-American athlete who dates Sandy and makes Danny feel insecure. The actor came from a Hollywood background. His parents, Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl, were both actors, as was his stepmother, Esther Williams. Grease marked his first significant motion picture role.
In the intervening years, Lamas has maintained a steady presence in the entertainment business. Following guest-starring appearances on The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, he got one of his most high-profile roles in the ’80s prime-time soap opera Falcon Crest. He later made a series of low-budget action pictures, including Gladiator Cop, CIA Code Name: Alexa, and Midnight Man. From 2004-2006, he was a cast member of The Bold and the Beautiful, and he later had his own reality show, the short-lived Leave It to Lamas. Lately, he’s been appearing in faith-based films (Prayer Never Fails, God’s Club). Last year, Lamas played Sgt. Rock in Sharknado 3.
4. Frankie Avalon – Teen Angel / Edd Byrnes – Vince Fontaine
Frankie Avalon only has one scene in Grease, but it’s a doozy. The actor, who was a teen heartthrob during the 1960s, played Teen Angel, who appears before Frenchy and convinces her to leave beauty school and go back to Rydell High. His “beach blanket” movies with Annette Funicello made him a household name, and the role of Teen Angel intentionally called his image in those pictures to mind. Avalon made only sporadic screen appearances following Grease, 1987’s Back to the Beach and Martin Scorsese’s 1995 Casino chief among them. He instead continued performing as a singer, while also launching his own line of health and cosmetic products. He and his wife Kathryn raised eight children and now have multiple grandchildren.
Edd “Kookie” Byrnes gained fame as the star of the TV show 77 Sunset Strip, which ran from 1958 to 1963. He is perhaps even more associated with the hit song Kookie Kookie — Lend Me Your Comb, which hit #4 on the pop charts in 1959. In Grease, he played Vince Fontaine, the host of a televised dance competition. The character was based on noted disc jockey Alan Freed. Byrnes was a fixture of TV in the post-Grease years, doing cameos and even trying his hand as a game show host. He retired from show biz after co-starring in the 1999 TV movie Shake, Rattle & Roll: An American Love Story.
3. Annette Charles – Cha Cha / Eddie Deezen – Eugene
Annette Charles was a little-known TV actress prior to her role as the sultry Cha Cha in Grease. Although the character is memorable and appears in two prominent sequences (the dance-off and the car race), the film didn’t do much for her career. Only a few paltry screen credits followed, such as an episode of Magnum P.I. and the 2009 horror spoof Transylmania. Instead, she went on to work as a speech professor at California State University, Northridge. Charles passed away in August 2011 from cancer.
Eddie Deezen played nerd Eugene, and it was perfect casting. The actor had a lovable doofus quality that made you root for Eugene when the T-Birds picked on him. In fact, Deezen was so good playing a nerd that he more or less continued to do so, taking similar parts in 1941, Wargames, and Zapped! among others. These days, Deezen does a lot of voice work. His recent credits include the Disney Channel show Kim Possible and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. He is an occasional contributor to the website Mental Floss. You can say hi to him — or give him money (yes, really) — at his personal website.
2. Olivia Newton-John – Sandy
Olivia Newton-John didn’t just play Sandy, she was Sandy. Just as her goody-goody character learns to loosen up and embrace her naughty side, the singer started off with wholesome hit songs like Have You Never Been Mellow before embracing her sex appeal with edgier tunes such as Physical and Make a Move on Me. Over the years, she has maintained a close friendship with John Travolta, with whom she shared so much chemistry. They re-teamed for the atrocious 1983 comedy Two of a Kind and, in 2012, released This Christmas, a wonderfully cheesy collection of holiday songs.
Newton-John also starred in the 1980 cult favorite Xanadu and had a small role in Grease director Randal Kleiser’s 1996 AIDS drama It’s My Party. Her most recent film was the 2011 Australian comedy A Few Best Men, alongside Rebel Wilson. She maintains an active recording career, her latest release being 2015’s Two Strong Hearts Live. Newton-John, a breast cancer survivor, has worked to help cancer-related charities and a number of other humanitarian causes. She continues to perform live on a regular basis, often singing the hits made popular by Grease.
1. John Travolta – Danny Zuko
We’ll start with the cast member who remains most visible. John Travolta has had one of the most erratic, but amazing careers in the history of show biz. After becoming a star on the sitcom Welcome Back Kotter, he moved to the big screen, starring in two of the most iconic movies of the 1970s: Saturday Night Fever and, of course, Grease. Urban Cowboy, released in 1980, was also a big hit. A series of flops followed, including Perfect, Two of a Kind, and The Experts. The once red-hot star, it seemed, was washed up.
Then a young filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino came along and gave Travolta a career-reviving role in 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Suddenly, he was on a roll again. More hits — Get Shorty, Michael, and Face/Off, to name just three — followed. A few years later, it was all over again. Travolta was relegated to appearing in high-profile flops like Old Dogs or generic low-budget action junk like The Forger and Killing Season.
If history has taught us anything, it’s to never count John Travolta out. Recently, he received praise for his role as attorney Robert Shapiro in the hit TV series American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson. With any luck, this will be the start of yet another new phase of his career. In the meantime, the actor has remained involved with the controversial Scientology religion, as well as spending time with wife Kelly Preston and their children.
Who was your favorite Grease cast member? Which song do you like the best? Let us know all your thoughts on this musical classic in the comments.
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