Actress Jennifer Grey played one of the most iconic roles of the ’80s in hit movie Dirty Dancing. Indeed, she even earned a prestigious award nomination for her performance as Frances “Baby” Houseman. But whereas her face was once instantly recognizable, few would know what she’s doing now. Indeed, she described the exact reason her career took such a dramatic turn.
Hollywood can sometimes be a fickle beast. Indeed, actors can be shining stars one minute, riding the crest of a wave. But a bad choice of role or critical panning can be their undoing. However, it wasn’t the cutthroat nature of the movie industry that so adversely affected Jennifer Grey’s career.
Grey made a startling revelation in 2012, when Dirty Dancing turned 25 years old. During an interview at an event celebrating the classic movie’s milestone anniversary, the actress explained how a decision that she made had badly affected her career. She described how she felt no one knew who she was anymore.
Indeed, it’s a shocking claim for an actress who was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the classic 1987 movie. Although Grey continued to work throughout the ’90s, ’00s and ’10s, the acclaim never followed. The huge roles that the actress proved herself capable of simply were not available to her anymore.
Acting was perhaps in Grey’s blood. Indeed, her family’s history in the entertainment industry dates back to around the 1930s. Her grandfather was Mickey Katz, a comedian who performed musical parodies that drew heavily from both American culture and his family’s Jewish heritage. The entertainer’s work was widely recognized.
Katz appeared, with his band, in the 1967 movie Thoroughly Modern Millie, backing Julie Andrews singing a traditional Jewish song at a wedding. Several compilation CDs of his music have been collated, while fellow musicians have paid tribute to the jazz-klezmer artist. His talents even eventually made it to the small screen.
In 1962 Katz provided the voice for Hop-a-Long Catskill from the animated series Beany and Cecil. The cartoon was one of the first three, alongside The Flintstones and The Jetsons, to be broadcast in color. Katz’s talents in entertainment, then, quickly rubbed off on his son, reputable actor Joel Grey.
Grey’s career began around the age of ten, appearing in productions at a children’s theater in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Before he turned 30, his work had begun in television, with roles in the series Maverick, Bronco and Lawman. But it’s on the stage that Grey senior’s work is perhaps most notable.
In 1966 Joel Grey won a Tony Award for his part in the Broadway musical Cabaret. He played the Master of Ceremonies, a character that he originated. Other notable Broadway appearances for the actor include Stop The World – I Want To Get Off, Half A Sixpence, The Grand Tour, Chicago, Wicked and Anything Goes.
Grey senior reprised the role of Master of Ceremonies role for the 1972 big-screen adaptation of Cabaret. Again his talents were recognized when he picked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance. The actor also received Golden Globe and Saturn Award nominations for his part in 1985’s Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
Grey came out as gay in 2015, and touched on his struggles as such in his Master of Ceremonies memoir the next year. However, the actor was married to fellow entertainer Jo Wilder for 24 years. Together they had two children: James, who would grow up to become a chef, and, of course, Jennifer.
Jennifer Grey, then, was born in New York on March 26, 1960. In 1978 she graduated from the Dalton School, which specializes in acting and dance. The budding actress consequently attended the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre while working as a waitress, waiting for her break into the acting world.
Aged 19, Grey’s first appearance was in a Dr. Pepper commercial. However, it would be several years before the serious acting roles came her way. But when they did, it wouldn’t take long for the young actress’ career to soar. Her first big screen role, then came in 1984.
Although it was only a small part, Grey’s first movie was in the romantic drama Reckless when she was just 24 years old. She played a character called Cathy Bennario alongside Aidan Quinn and Daryl Hannah. It may not have been a major role, but it opened the door to bigger things.
Grey followed Reckless with the John Milius-directed Red Dawn. Although the movie performed well at the box office, it wasn’t without controversy, with the Guinness Book Of Records at the time naming it the most violent movie ever made. However, it would be the first time Grey performed with both Charlie Sheen and Patrick Swayze.
Later in 1984, Grey appeared in The Cotton Club, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Although it was a smaller role, the crime drama hosted an array of big names, including Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, Bob Hoskins and Nicholas Cage. The acclaimed movie earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, assuring Grey’s star was on the ascent.
After the next year’s American Flyers, Grey was cast in as the title character’s uptight sister, Jeanie, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The actress again worked with Charlie Sheen in a memorable scene where she meets the drugged-up Sheen in a police station after she’s arrested for making a fake phone call to the police.
Although Grey and Sheen’s characters wind up making out in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, it would be lead actor, Matthew Broderick, whom the actress ended up dating. However, their relationship hit difficulties. And the troubles that arose affected Grey’s enjoyment of her next and most famous role and its subsequent success.
Indeed, the couple’s relationship only became public knowledge while they were on vacation in Northern Ireland shortly after Grey wrapped on Dirty Dancing. Broderick was driving the couple through Enniskillen when his car veered onto the wrong side of the road. They collided with an oncoming vehicle, with tragic consequences.
It’s believed that Grey incurred serious whiplash, with Broderick reportedly sustaining cuts and a severely broken leg. But for the driver and passenger of the other vehicle, the outcome was devastating. The car’s occupants were 63-year-old Margaret Doherty and her daughter, 28-year-old Anna Gallagher. The collision was so severe that they were both killed on impact.
The tragedy occurred just weeks before the release of Dirty Dancing, Grey’s most famous role. The actress rescinded on promotional duties for the movie, opting instead to stay by Broderick’s hospital bedside. The actor faced charges of causing death by dangerous driving and five years behind bars. However, he eventually received a punishment of careless driving and a $175 fine.
Grey spoke of the collision to lifestyle magazine People in October 2010. As she described, “One minute we’re going down the road and music is playing, and the next minute… it’s all different. I couldn’t be fearless after that,” The actress further recalled, “I became America’s sweetheart within five days of the accident.”
Indeed, in Dirty Dancing, Grey played 17-year-old Frances “Baby” Houseman, who finds love while vacationing with her family at an upscale holiday resort. Baby is a daddy’s girl, torn between loyalty to her father and coming into her own as a woman with a man who is everything her father disapproves of.
In turn, Patrick Swayze played dance instructor Johnny Castle, with whom Baby fell in love. Equally, he was seduced by a young woman who learned to have the courage of her convictions, whatever the price, and someone who believed in him. In Grey’s portrayal of Baby, generations of women found a new style of leading lady.
However, under the circumstances of the accident, Grey was in no mood to celebrate her new-found success. She told People, “The juxtaposition of that deep sorrow, the survivor’s guilt… and then being celebrated as the new big thing just didn’t jibe. It didn’t feel good to be the toast of the town.”
Dirty Dancing slowly became a huge hit. But Grey was not in a place to appreciate its popularity. She explained, “The impact [of the crash] was emotional and physical. My body was never the same, my head was never the same, my ambition was never the same.” It affected every part of her life.
With Grey’s profile suddenly escalating, Grey’s head wasn’t in the right place to handle it. As she confessed, she made, “a lot of choices most ambitious people would not have made.” Indeed, one of those choices, she later admitted at Dirty Dancing‘s anniversary event, negatively affected her entire career.
Within two years of Dirty Dancing‘s release, Grey had cosmetic surgery on her characteristic nose. She recalled, “I went into the operating room a ¬celebrity and came out anonymous. It was the nose job from hell. I’ll always be this once-famous actress nobody recognises because of a nose job.”
In fact, Grey would ultimately undergo two rhinoplasty surgeries. You see, a second was required when problems arose from the first operation. Moreover, the correction caused such a dramatic change to the actress’ face that friends and family struggled to identify her. She believes that the surgery is precisely why her career spectacularly derailed.
But then Grey’s priorities changed. The actress no longer yearned for the limelight. Instead, she described to People, “I really felt like I wanted to be a wife and mom.” However, despite having been romantically linked to actors Johnny Depp and Michael J. Fox, as well as political journalist George Stephanopoulos, love took a while to find Grey.
Grey eventually met actor and director Clark Gregg. Many will recognize him as Agent Coulson in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and its associated Marvel movies like Iron Man and The Avengers. The couple married in 2001, with their daughter, Stella, arriving shortly after, keeping Grey busy at home. Nevertheless, the effects of the 1987 car crash persisted.
As it happened, Grey tore some ligaments in the accident. Left untreated, her physical well-being deteriorated over the years, causing severe “headaches that lasted for days.” The actress’ only relief came from ice packs and Advil due to her strong anti-drugs stance after a reckless youth. It took Grey a leap of faith to seek corrective surgery.
For years Grey turned down invitations to appear on celebrity dancing competition Dancing With The Stars. You see, the actress, for a long time, suffered from anxiety on top of her injuries from the car crash. She explained, “I was an actress playing someone who had never danced before, but I became this iconic dance person.”
Indeed, Grey’s fear was a paralyzing one. She further revealed, “I was so afraid of what people would think, I wouldn’t even dance at weddings with my husband.” However, when her Dirty Dancing co-star, Patrick Swayze, passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2009, the actress’ mind set shifted.
As Grey recalled, “Patrick had an enormous impact on me; he was so fearless. I thought, ‘What if I did take more risks?’” So the actress finally agreed to appear on Dancing With The Stars. But then a thorough physical examination revealed the extent of her injuries from the car crash.
Grey thought her physical for the show was routine. However, her checkup revealed a compressed spinal cord that had caused so much pain for nearly 15 years. As her surgeon revealed, “One slip, one fall, one minor rear-end… that’s how close she was to paralysis.” Then, through two corrective surgeries, doctors discovered something else.
Doctors found a lump in Grey’s neck that caused concern. They discovered that a previously benign growth had developed into full-on thyroid cancer. After two surgeries to remove the mass, the actress was deemed lucky to have caught the aggressive tumor when she did. Indeed, then approaching her 50th birthday, Grey was full of gratitude.
Having survived cancer as well as a car crash, Grey faced her fears. As she recalled, “I met an old part of myself I had forgotten about. I thought, ‘What if I dared to do something that really, really scared me more than anything?’” The actress then went all in on Dancing With The Stars.
As Grey revealed to ABC News in August 2012, “I decided to do Dancing With The Stars because [Swayze] had just passed and I had just had thyroid cancer. All of a sudden [I realized] ‘Why am I not dancing? Why am I letting anything stand in [the] way of my joy?’”
Grey emerged the overall winner of that year’s Dancing With The Stars. Through dealing with her injuries and fears, as well as the loss of her friend Swayze, the actress found a new zest for life. As the now-59-year-old explained at Dirty Dancing‘s anniversary bash, “I am happy and I am grateful to be alive. Because we don’t know how long we’ve got, right? So grab as much joy as possible.”