While never the most prominent actress in Hollywood Kelly Preston carved out a successful career on the big and small screen earning her place in the industry even before her relationship with husband John Travolta made her a household name. A veteran of over sixty TV shows and movies, Preston’s career spanned four decades up to her unfortunate passing on July 12, 2020 at the age of 57 following a battle with breast cancer. Preston often appeared in films alongside her husband but also took on roles in lesser known family pictures, comedies and dramas drawing a fanbase all her own. So in honor of the late actress today I’m going to take a closer look at her career and her contributions to the film industry. This is In Memorium: Kelly Preston.
Born Kelly Kamalelehua Smith in Honolulu, Hawaii, Kelly Preston lost her father at a young age due to drowning and was subsequently adopted by her stepfather after her mother remarried. During her childhood Preston moved around a lot spending part of her youth in Iraq, Australia and Honolulu eventually studying drama and theater at the University of Southern California. During her early years she adopted her stepfather’s last name, Palzis, as her stage name. It was during her time in Australia where she was first discovered at the age of 16 by a fashion photographer who helped her earn her first jobs in commercials. Her film career official began with her first audition for the film “Blue Lagoon” in 1980 which she lost to Brooke Shields. She then changed her stage name again to Kelly Preston which she would carry through her career.
Preston officially broke through a few years later in the 1980s debuting in three films in 1983: “10 to Midnight”, “Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn” and “Christine”. Her roles in 1985 further pushed her to prominence, the teen comedy “Mischief” and “Secret Admirer”, which helped her find work in the industry for the next four years. In 1986 she appeared in “SpaceCamp” and “52 Pick-Up” and added six more films in the 80s to her record including the Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito comedy “Twins”. The decade also saw her debut on the small screen, which came prior to her introduction in film. Fittingly enough her first true acting role was in an episode of “Hawaii Five-O” in 1980. Throughout the decade she’d appear in episodes of “CHiPs”, “Blue Thunder” and “For Love and Honor” which saw her longest single stint on a series with 12 episodes. She concluded the decade with the 1989 film “The Experts” where she collaborated with soon-to-be husband John Travolta for the first time.
The 90s was Preston’s busiest decade on the big screen. During that ten-year span she appeared in fifteen films starting with “Run” in 1991. During the first half of the decade she added “Only You”, “Double Cross” and “Love is a Gun” to her filmography while the year 1990 also added her only notable small screen performance of the decade, a one episode appearance on “Tales from the Crypt”. The second half of the 90s brought some of Preston’s more notable roles to the big screen. Probably the most famous movie she’s ever appeared in was 1996’s “Jerry Maguire” as the fiancé to Tom Cruise’s titular character. That same year she also had a minor appearance in “From Dusk till Dawn” and a role in the black comedy “Curdled” where she played the same character in both movies, Kelly Hogue, becoming one of the few actresses in modern day Hollywood to portray the same character in subsequent films in the same calendar year. A year later she added “Holy Man” and “Jack Frost” and finally ended the decade with 1999’s “For Love of the Game” alongside Kevin Costner.
Sadly, the year 2000 would cement Preston in cinema history for the wrong reason. By this time her husband, John Travolta, had decided to make a film that would go down as one of the worst movies of all time, “Battlefield Earth”. Released in 2000, the picture was one of the most critically reviled films of the year and has since earned even more infamy as its legacy has grown. Preston appeared as a female alien named Chirk which would earn her the first, and only, award of her film career…a Golden Raspberry for Worst Supporting Actress. This didn’t keep Preston from appearing in rolls almost the entire decade though. The following year she was part of the star-studded dramedy “Daddy and Them” followed by “View from the Top”, “What a Girl Wants” and “The Cat in the Hat” in 2003. She appeared in Maroon 5’s music video for “She Will be Loved” in 2004 as well as the films “Eulogy” and “Return to Sender”. Preston added at least one film per year to her credit throughout the rest of the decade and in 2010 including “Sky High”, “Broken Bridges”, “Death Sentence”, “Struck”, “The Last Song”, “Casino Jack” and “Old Dogs”, another collaboration with Travolta that earned her a second Worst Supporting Actress Razzy nomination. During this decade she also appeared in shows like “Fear Factor”, “Joey” and “Medium” as well as the Lifetime TV film “The Tenth Circle”. Preston looked as if she disappeared from the spotlight after 2010 until she returned to the big screen playing, again, alongside Travolta in “Gotti” in 2018 largely considered one of the worst films of the decade. This would be her final film role before her death.
John Travolta wasn’t the only celebrity Preston was connected to romantically. Prior to marrying Travolta in 1991, Preston also had relationships with George Clooney and Charlie Sheen who she was briefly engaged to before calling off the wedding following an infamous TMZ article. Both Travolta and Preston identified themselves as Scientologists. The duo had three children, Jett, Ella Bleu and Benjamin. Jett sadly passed away in 2009 after suffering a seizure during a family vacation in the Bahamas. The young man had been diagnosed with Kawasaki disease as an infant and in 2009 the couple revealed that Jett also had autism which resulted in seizures throughout his life. Jett’s death set off a firestorm of media attention when less than a month later three individuals were arrested on charges of extortion against the couple involving the circumstances of Jett’s death. After a mistrial the couple decided to drop the charges against the suspects. Preston made her final red-carpet appearance in 2018, the same year she received her breast cancer diagnosis, and passed away in Texas after being treated at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Kelly Preston didn’t have the flashiest career and one could argue much of her fame from the 90s onward was thanks to her famous marriage to Travolta, but her smile and charm lit up every film she took part in as well as every red carpet she walked. During her career she worked with some pretty big names in multiple genres and while she may be more well known for the train wrecks she starred in during the 2000s I personally will always remember her as a part of “Jerry Maguire”, “Twins” and “SpaceCamp” all of which were staples of my childhood. My condolences go out to her fans and her family on their loss. She may have been a relatively small name in the industry, but she was much beloved nonetheless.