‘Dirty Dancing’ Star Disappeared After Accident — 20 Years Later Jennifer Grey Returns To Open Up

Jun 04, 2021 by apost team

"Dirty Dancing" was one of the biggest surprise film hits of the 1980s and it catapulted its two stars — Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey — into the limelight. But while Swayze went on to have an illustrious career after, Grey receded from the spotlight. The film's incredible success was unexpected, which made their instant fame trickier to navigate. Regardless, the movie lives on as one of Hollywood's standout hits from the '80s and continues to be a fan favorite. 

The movie propelled Swayze to fame, who continued his meteoric rise by starring in other classics of the era including "Road House," "Ghost," and "Point Break." He became a household name and one of Hollywood's leading heartthrobs. He continued to work all through the '90s and '00s until sadly he succumbed to liver cancer in 2009.

Meanwhile, Grey left the spotlight in the decade following the film's release. She didn't open up about why that was the case until much later. After more than three decades after "Dirty Dancing" came out, Grey opened up about a tragic car accident that changed the course of her life. Taking the time she needed to heal and find her passion for acting again, she did eventually get back out in the spotlight. She began to act once more and even appeared on "Dancing With the Stars," which she actually won. Since then, she's continued to act in television and movies. Knowing that her journey was not an easy one, makes her return to acting all the more touching. 

Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze (GAMMAGamma-Rapho/Getty Images)

It was August 1987 when "Dirty Dancing" would be released to audiences and become a surprise hit. The movie didn't feature any big stars nor did it have a well-known director. It also wasn't planned to be a big release, rather it was meant to have a one-week theater release and go direct to video. 

"Dirty Dancing" was such a success that it became the first movie to sell more than one million VHS copies. Meanwhile, the film's soundtrack, a major part of its appeal, was also incredibly successful, with the movie's main song "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" winning both Golden Globe and Academy Awards for Best Original Song, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Duet. 

Patrick Swayze also earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, having been able to showcase his formal dance training in the movie. As well as acting and dancing in the film, Swayze co-wrote and performed a song from the film's album, "She's Like the Wind," which became a top 10 hit and showed off his vocal talents.

With such success, Swayze became a regular Hollywood player, starring in movies such as "Road House," "Ghost," and "Point Break." He earned three Golden Globe nominations during his career, as well as numerous other awards, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1997. For the following few decades, Swayze was considered a true Hollywood heartthrob, who never lost his appeal to women, no matter his age. Tragically, his life was cut short when in 2009, at the age of 57, he died of liver cancer.

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Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey (1987), (Hulton Archive Moviepix/Getty Images)

But what about Baby? The actress who played the female lead character, Jennifer Grey, was also projected to become a star but she didn't have the career Swayze went on to have. Unfortunately, her rise to fame was cut short following unfortunate events that took place just before "Dirty Dancing" was released, and would haunt her for a few decades. During this time she receded from the public eye and even had a period of a couple of years right after "Dirty Dancing"'s release in which she didn't act. 

This doesn’t mean that Grey has not found her way to fame once again. After appearing in the show "Dancing with the Stars" and winning her season in 2010, Grey was finally having the appreciation and acknowledgment that she wasn't able to enjoy when she was younger. Since then, she's taken on more acting roles including on the TV shows "Red Oaks" and "Grey's Anatomy."  

However, even with the roles she currently has, she remains her character Baby in Hollywood’s hallowed hallways. "Dirty Dancing"'s intense fame has, in some ways, frozen her image as the spunky Frances Houseman who defied her father as she danced her way into everyone’s hearts. The final dance number from the movie choreographed to "(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life," is widely regarded as one of the most famous dance scenes of all time, according to "Hollywood Reporter." It is no wonder that a movie as iconic as "Dirty Dancing" continues to make an impact in popular culture even today. 

Jennifer Grey (1980s), (Peter Carrette Archive/Getty Images)

Grey and Swayze's performances were electrifying, and they clearly had excellent on-screen chemistry, but interestingly, it wasn't the first movie they acted in together. They actually appeared in the 1984 action film "Red Dawn" together before. During an interview with "Glamour Magazine" in 2015, while talking about her role in "Red Oaks," Grey was asked whether she knew she had chemistry with Swayze in "Dirty Dancing" right away:

“I did 'Red Dawn' with him before, but no, I didn't. I was cast before he was. He came in [to test] along with a bunch of other guys. I didn't think we had chemistry. But you either do or you don't. It's a weird thing, though. It doesn't have to do with whether you like someone or not. It's just you either have it or you don't,” she responded.  

Speaking to "The Hollywood Reporter" about the '80s in 2016 in another interview, Grey said, “the '80s were great. When they were talking about it being sucky, they clearly weren't having the same '80s I was having; I was having the time of my life!” She gave a nod to her iconic role here and continued: 

“I was big in the '80s, so that was good! I thought the '80s was a very exciting time. At the time, it felt like it was a loss of innocence but looking back now, it just looks like preschool compared to where we are now in terms of innocence. I think it was a really exciting time. The fashion was terrible, the hair was terrible, but the music was great.”

Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze (1987), (Ron Galella, Ltd.Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Those of us who have lived through the '80s can certainly vouch for this. Grey also spoke about working with Swayze, whose role in the movie became the catalyst that propelled him into a significant Hollywood career. “He smelled really good, his skin was really nice. He was really strong and he was very protective and his heart was very much in it,” Grey said in the same interview with the "Hollywood Reporter." She went on:

“It was our second movie we'd done together within a short time — we did 'Red Dawn' first and then 'Dirty Dancing.' He was a great dancer and he was fearless. His fearlessness with my fearfulness . . . together was like a marriage where you have two opposites. He'd do anything and I'd be scared to do anything.”

Opposites attract and create the best chemistry; more than just a trite phrase in this case. With the wind in her wings, Grey was on a fast-track lane to fame and a Hollywood career just as distinguished as Swayze after the movie’s release. There may have been high hopes for her, but a series of unfortunate events compounded and ultimately damaged her chances of a massive Hollywood career.

For one, she had problems with a botched rhinoplasty that dramatically changed her face, which led to an overnight change in how the industry viewed her. She no longer resembled the Baby Houseman that people had seen on screen and that hurt her career. In the end, her recognizable and lovable face was but a distant memory.   

Jennifer Grey (1993), (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

Grey had two rhinoplasties altogether — the second to correct problems from the first — and they rendered her unrecognizable. She underwent rhinoplasty just before she appeared on the hit show "Friends" in 1995. Since people couldn't recognize her from her '80s roles, she had no luck landing major parts. She even considered changing her name to start her career anew but decided against it.

Speaking of the botched surgeries in 2012, she said, “I went in the operating theater a celebrity and came out anonymous.” She joked, “It was like being in a witness protection program or being invisible.” Though she could joke about it decades later, she recognized the reality of what happened to her following the surgeries when she stated, “It was the nose job from hell. I’ll always be this once-famous actress nobody ­recognises because of a nose job.”

Hollywood is well known for altering the looks of its stars, but Grey's story is an example of how outside pressure to conform to society's — and Hollywood's — expectations, can have major consequences. Grey is still an incredibly attractive woman, but the features that made her unique were stripped from her face, and ultimately played a part in stalling her career progression. If there is anything to learn from her story, it's that the features we're born with make us unique and whether we like them or not, they're actually what sets us apart from the rest — which incidentally, is exactly what Hollywood wants, a true and unique star. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only setback she encountered that pushed her away from the spotlight.

Jennifer Grey (1997), (Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

However, the most significant event that led Grey to recede from the spotlight happened around the time of "Dirty Dancing"'s release. Grey was involved in a tragic accident that would change the trajectory of her life and contribute to her never becoming the star she could have been.

On Aug. 5, 1987 — the same month "Dirty Dancing" was released — Grey was holidaying in Ireland with her then-boyfriend, none other than Matthew Broderick. The couple wasn't yet public with their relationship, having met on the set of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." 

In a horrible turn of events, Broderick had been driving their rental car on the wrong side of the road, when they collided head-on with another vehicle. The mother and daughter in the other car were instantly killed, while Broderick fractured his leg and ribs and Grey walked away with minor injuries. Broderick was charged with dangerous driving but eventually convicted of the lesser sentence, careless driving, and paid a small fine, but the damage was done.

The incident outed them as a couple and mere weeks later, "Dirty Dancing" was released to the world, propelling Grey into the spotlight. Decades later she spoke of the incident with "People," as reported by "Irish Central." She said: 

"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 unlucky timing of the horrific car accident with the release of "Dirty Dancing" played a huge role in the way Grey navigated fame afterward. 

Jennifer Grey (2001), (Nick Elgar/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the same interview, Grey went on to discuss her newfound fame and how it conflicted with the guilt of what she'd been through:

"I became America's sweetheart within five days of the accident. 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."

Grey explains her ambition was never the same after the tragic accident, and she stepped out of the spotlight. But finally in 2010, Grey would have her return to the spotlight, taking on new roles and opportunities that showcase her inherent talent. 

Interviews with Grey have illuminated that — even years later — the accident had an impact on how she sees herself and her current career trajectory. Speaking to "People" in November 2020, she said, “I think one of the things I’ve understood as I’ve gotten older is how little I care what other people think of me. What I’m mostly concerned about is how I feel about myself.”

"Your self-esteem shouldn’t be attached to being perfect or judged," she said, recalling what she had learned with age. "What if we all just did what makes us happy?"

We're so happy to see that Jennifer Grey is in a much better place emotionally and that she's been able to finally savor some of the well-deserved fame she earned with her early acting roles. While she can never get back those years that she lost, she has made up for some of the time, and most importantly, the world has been blessed with witnessing her talent once more. 

Jennifer Grey (2019), (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

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