How The Cast Of Grease Have Changed 45 Years On

It's been 45 years since the release of Grease — and its fans are still hopelessly devoted. And as this classic movie musical is re-released in theaters to celebrate its major milestone, we thought we'd check in on the surviving cast. Of course, Grease fans the world over went into mourning with the passing of Olivia Newton-John in August 2022. But many of the other stars are still with us, still working, and still looking like greased lightning. You could even say they go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.

10. Frankie Avalon (the Teen Angel)

To play the role of the Teen Angel, the Grease producers needed someone who was instantly recognizable as a symbol of teen culture in the 1950s. Elvis Presley was considered for the part, but the King died during the production of Grease. Frankie Valli was another option before he opted to sing the title song instead. In the end, the part went to actor, singer, and one-time teen idol Frankie Avalon — and it would come to define his entire career.

Avalon has enjoyed a lifetime of success

Grease is the most successful thing I’ve ever been part of,” he told Playbill in 2003. “It spans generations. If I go to a restaurant or if I’m at an airport and people recognize me, it amazes me that most of them know me from Grease.” He was appearing in the stage version of Grease at that time and commented, "The film meant so much to so many people." The ex-Teen Angel, now in his eighties, is still performing today, too. You may have even seen him singing on Dancing with the Stars back in 2021.

9. Kelly Ward (Putzie)

If you've ever seen or read the original stage play of Grease, you'll know that there is a character called Roger in the T-Birds. He has a couple of big numbers, too, with the songs "Mooning" and "Rock'n'Roll Party Queen." This character is nowhere to be seen in the movie, though. Instead, the film kind of replaces him with the character Putzie — who doesn't appear in the stage play at all! Kelly Ward got the role of Putzie, having already worked with star John Travolta and director Randal Kleiser in The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

Kelly Ward stayed connected to Grease for years

In 2013 Ward would go on to choreograph a stage production of Grease that was directed by his co-star Barry Pearl, who played fellow T-Bird Doody. "There's such a camaraderie among old greasers," Ward told the Ventura County Star. "Barry and Michael Tucci [who played Sonny in the film] and I try to catch a meal together as often as we can." He added, "I was 20 years old, so it was seismic in my life. Grease has brought me full circle in terms of meeting people, launching my career, and giving me a whole family of colleagues that have remained in my life and supportive."

8. Stockard Channing (Betty Rizzo)

Stockard Channing was actually 33 years old during filming — but she evidently managed to pass the director's "crow's feet test" for her audition. “High-school kids could not have crow's feet," the director told Vanity Fair in 2016. Still, producer Allan Carr seemingly wasn't satisfied. "Allan showed up on the set with a brown pencil and started dotting freckles on my nose so I would look younger," Channing said. "I said, 'I don't look younger! I just look dirtier!'" Channing’s performance as Grease’s tough-but-vulnerable Rizzo won her a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress in 1979. 

There are worse things she could do...

Channing has been acting consistently, more or less, ever since Grease. In fact, she’s picked up plenty more awards in her time, too, including two Emmys in 2002 for her work on The West Wing and The Matthew Shepard Story. She added a Daytime Emmy to her awards roster in 2005, and she was even nominated for an Oscar for 1993's Six Degrees of Separation. She also appeared on The Good Wife from 2012 to 2016, and in 2023 she had a prominent role in British drama Maryland.

7. Didi Conn (Frenchy)

Didi Conn played the adorable Frenchy — although initially, she thought Rizzo was the bigger and better role. "I was told we had to come dressed as the character we were auditioning for," she told Hello Giggles in 2018. "And (I swear to god) I had lived in LA for a couple of years by then and I was driving a way I hadn’t gone before, and there was ‘Frenchy’s Beauty Parlor.’ I went in, and I didn’t tell her what I was doing, but she had a pink hairdo, and I said, 'Oh I love the way your hair is, can you do mine like that?'" A few years later, she was one of a handful of cast members to return for Grease 2.

Not a drop-out anymore

Unfortunately, Grease 2 was a huge flop, and it never led to the big franchise the producers had hoped for. Luckily, however, Conn’s career escaped intact. You could argue, in fact, that people should know Conn from two TV shows instead of Grease. After all, the actress starred in 72 episodes of Benson between 1981 and 1984 and 65 episodes of Shining Time Station between 1989 and 1993. But in 2016 she made a cameo as the waitress Vi in the highly anticipated Grease Live.

6. Barry Pearl (Doody)

Barry Pearl actually started out playing Sonny in the original Grease musical, but for the movie, he took on the role of Doody. And although it was a big boost to his career, in 2023 he told Woman's Day magazine that he was never able to reach those heights again. “Though I may have had some secret hopes of continued fame, I was never so deluded to think that it was definitely going to be that sort of reality for me,” he said.

Living a good life

Yet throughout the 21st century, Pearl has continued to get a steady stream of stage and TV work. In 2016 he appeared alongside Didi Conn to represent the old Grease cast in Grease Live. That same year, he also wed his partner of 15 years. "The role may have pigeonholed me as a clown, but no major damage was done," he told Woman's Day. "As the years have passed and as the film continues its upward climb to the most successful film musical of all time, I take the ride with pride and gratitude."

5. Michael Tucci (Sonny)

Michael Tucci gave up a career in law to pursue his acting dreams, and that led him to the role of the lovable T-Bird Sonny in Grease. In turn, Grease catapulted him onto other work and made him a popular TV actor. For instance, he starred in 36 episodes of The Paper Chase between 1983 and 1986, 85 episodes of Diagnosis Murder between 1993 and 1997, and 71 episodes of It's Garry Shandling's Show between 1986 and 1990. He’s been a busy guy!

Blessed to be part of Grease

Tucci's film and TV credits in the 21st century are not as consistent — though you may have seen him in the 2013 Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy buddy comedy The Heat. But Tucci is still popular on the convention scene, no doubt thrilling Grease fans with his stories wherever he goes. In fact, in 2022, Comic-Con Liverpool managed to book Tucci as well as most of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies for a panel to reminisce about their shared experiences.

4. Jamie Donnelly (Jan)

There was only one obstacle to Jamie Donnelly getting the role of teenager Jan — the fact that she had already started to go gray. And so the actress, who was 31 years old when the movie came out, dyed her locks and had to keep dying them on set because her hair grew so fast. In the end, Donnelly had to actually shade over her roots every single day with a black crayon. But it all paid off: Jan was one of the most endearing Pink Ladies.

She's embraced the gray now

"I always felt Jan was the person most like the audience," Donnelly told People in 1998. "She wasn't as cool as the other ones." Donnelly stopped acting for a bit after Grease, working as an acting coach instead and only returning to the scene in 1998. The Teaneck, New Jersey, native now has semi-regular TV roles and comic-con appearances — as well as being a mother to two kids and a wife to husband Stephen H. Foreman.

3. Dinah Manoff (Marty)

Dinah Manoff, daughter of actress Lee Grant and screenwriter Arnold Manoff, never understood how she bagged the role of Marty in Grease... because she couldn’t actually sing or dance! “I don’t know why they cast me!” she told the Seattle Times in 2010. “I was sure they wouldn’t.” But luckily, they did. One of her highlights was getting to see John Travolta in the prime of his life. “There was an energy surrounding him unlike anything I had ever experienced,” Manoff told Vanity Fair in 2016, adding, “I had never been around a charisma that was at its peak that way.”

Manoff about town

Manoff soon learned the ins and outs of the industry, and in 1980 she had picked up a Tony Award for her Broadway debut in I Ought to Be in Pictures. She has appeared in multiple films and TV shows — and actually has a few other claims to fame aside from Grease. She was, for example, the first character to get killed by Chucky in the first Child’s Play movie. Manoff also starred in an incredible 170 episodes of the Golden Girls spin-off Empty Nest. She also appeared in 38 episodes of State of Grace in 2002.

2. Lorenzo Lamas (Tom)

President Gerald Ford’s actor son Steven Ford was actually up for the role of Tom, Sandy’s boyfriend. But when he stepped out, Lorenzo Lamas stepped in. And he was incredibly excited about his big break. “I was going to have some scenes with Olivia — the goddess!” he told People in 1998. But Lamas is actually one of the few people in the cast who is probably not immediately associated with Grease upon the mere mention of their name. After all, the actor went onto claim further renown for a different role.

Soap opera king

Even so, Lamas now credits Grease with kick-starting his whole career, and he’s very grateful for it. Since 1978, in fact, he’s been racking up an impressive number of acting credits in film and TV: IMDb has the total number at 121! But that's only the start of it. Lamas appeared in 227 episodes of Falcon Crest over the entire decade of the 1980s — and then still had time for 110 episodes of Renegade in the mid-1990s and 191 episodes of The Bold and the Beautiful in the mid-2000s!

1. John Travolta (Danny Zuko)

Did you know that the Fonz himself, Henry Winkler, was considered for the role of Danny Zuko? Winkler turned it down, however, and so John Travolta — fresh off 1977 hit Saturday Night Fever — took on the role instead. He had played Doody in the stage play of Grease, but his iconic performance in the movie made Travolta into one of the biggest stars of the ’70s. He enjoyed the time on set, too. "In a musical, if it's not fun, it's not going to work,” Travolta told Vanity Fair. "The spirit of a musical is about play." We now can’t imagine anyone else playing that role.

A yo-yo career

Even fans of Travolta would probably admit that he hasn’t always been great at picking movies. He had a notorious career slump in the early 1990s and was rescued only by Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in 1994. The actor then had a scorching end to the 1990s before 2000's Battlefield Earth got some people's backs up. His work in the 21st century has been inconsistent, too, but The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story saw him nominated for several awards. Fans have never lost faith in him, either.

Olivia Newton-John (Sandy Olsson)

Olivia Newton-John is no longer with us, but it would seem remiss not to include her in any discussion of Grease. She was, after all, one of the biggest stars in the movie, and her legacy and Grease will always be intertwined. The singer already had several music hits by the time Grease was released, but it was her portrayal of Sandy Olsson that made her an icon. Ironically, however, Newton-John originally thought she was too old for the part, being 29 years old at the time. Obviously, fans are very pleased indeed that she changed her mind!

Gone but not forgotten

Other Grease stars who have passed away include Edd Byrnes (Vic Fontaine), Jeff Conaway (Kenickie), Annette Charles (Cha Cha DiGregorio), Dennis Stewart (Leo Craterface Balmudo), Eve Arden (Principal McGee), and Dody Goodman (Blanche Hodel). After Newton-John passed away in 2022, Didi Conn — Frenchy — wrote a touching tribute to the star in The Guardian. She wrote, "In Grease, Frenchy wants Sandy to be a Pink Lady, and Rizzo says: 'She looks too pure to be pink.' And that purity, that sweetness, that beauty, I saw that the very first moment I met her. That was the story of our friendship: pure heart, pure love."

Not so hopeless

One of Olivia Newton-John’s most iconic moments in Grease is undoubtedly her performance of the song "Hopelessly Devoted To You." But while this track is very much a fan favorite, it actually wasn't written or shot until after the film was pretty much wrapped. This last-minute addition was clearly a worthwhile one, as it was the only song from the movie to be nominated for an Oscar! The track hit number two in Australia and made it to number three on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Olivia Newton-John was stitched into her pants

Olivia Newton-John’s iconic transformation at the end of Grease is one of the most recognizable scenes in movie history. But have you ever thought that her tight-fitting leather outfit looked just a tad uncomfortable? Well, that’s because it was. At the time of filming, the pants were 25 years old. So when the zipper on them inevitably broke, wardrobe literally had to take a needle and thread and stitch the actress back in.

100,000 pieces of gum

Bubble gum features prominently in Grease, with practically every high school character chewing a mouthful of the sticky stuff at some point in the movie. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the cast got through no less than 100,000 pieces of bubble gum during production! And to make sure fans were chomping too, Grease bubble gum packs, complete with free photo cards, were also manufactured to promote the film. Iconic.

“Greased Lightnin’” changed drastically

John Travolta’s involvement in Grease came with a few conditions: he wanted Elvis-style “blue-black hair,” and he wanted to sing “Greased Lightnin’” – despite the fact that it was Kenickie who belted it out in the original stage production. Jeff Conaway, who played Kenickie, was understandably miffed that the iconic song was taken away from him. “I have to be completely honest with you,” Travolta told Vanity Fair. “I wanted the number. And because I had clout, I could get the number.”

Tough times for Kenickie

Things didn't get any better for Conaway when, during the song, he injured his back after being dropped by his fellow cast members. This incident marked the beginning of his addiction to painkillers, which reportedly contributed to his untimely death in 2011. The claim was made in a 2019 documentary called Autopsy: The Last Hours Of… “This incredibly high consumption [of prescription drugs] inevitably led to a myriad of overlapping health problems,” Dr. Michael Hunter said in the documentary.

John Travolta’s sister

Did you know that Ellen Travolta, the big sister of John, made a cameo in Grease as a waitress? You might not know her name as much as you know John's, but the actress actually went on to appear in some popular TV shows for the next four decades. She featured in 17 episodes of Joanie Loves Chachi and 70 episodes of Charles in Charge. But in Grease she had just one line: “Oh, there’s Danny and Sandy!”

There was romance on set

Just like his character Kenickie, Jeff Conaway liked the ladies and reportedly seduced many extras during filming. “He was really feeling his oats,” Channing told Vanity Fair. “We used to joke all the time, because his trailer at lunchtime was really rocking.” As it turns out, the actor also had a big crush on Olivia Newton-John! Funnily enough, Conaway eventually ended up marrying Newton-John's sister, Rona. They were together for five years before divorcing in 1985.

Annette Charles could have died

Annette Charles played sultry dancer Cha Cha, and she had some of the best moves in the film. But if you watch her closely during the drag racing scene, you’ll see the actress looks anything but fit and healthy. In fact, she has to use the vehicles as support just to stay standing. That’s because Charles was actually in a lot of pain at the time; she suffered an ectopic pregnancy and was rushed to the hospital right after the scene was finished.

Rizzo’s hickeys were the real deal

Rumor has it that Jeff Conaway wanted Rizzo’s “hickeys from Kenickie” to look authentic… and so he gave actress Stockard Channing actual love bites in between takes. Now that’s taking method acting to a whole new level! Channing has also given Conaway credit for helping her out by appearing in the background of her number, "There Are Worse Things I Could Do." "He went in the back, and it was the most beautiful thing for him to do," she told Broadway World. "He's working on his car with the hood up, and she's relating to him. It was so dear of him to do it."

Not their first choice

Olivia Newton-John actually wasn't the producers' first choice for the soft-spoken Sandy. Carrie Fisher, Susan Dey, and Marie Osmond were all considered better fits, and Osmond was even the frontrunner for the part until Sandy's "good girl to bad girl" transformation scared her off. Director Randal Kleiser told Vanity Fair. “I remember meeting [Newton-John] for the first time at that party and thinking, 'Well. ‘Have You Never Been Mellow?’' How is that going to work? How is she going to become this slut?”

Marie Osmond was nearly Sandy

Marie Osmond was offered the part of Sandy, but she said no because she disagreed with the script on a moral level. The singer told Tarts in 2016, “Initially the script came to me, and the script was much edgier then what Olivia came up with. But I was at a place in my life where I wanted to have children, and I didn’t like the fact that the girl had to turn bad to get the guy. I think the guy has to work hard to get the girl; that’s what I believe.”

Grease could have been an animation

Can you imagine Grease being a cartoon? Well, it might have happened. Steve Krantz and Ralph Bakshi owned the rights to Grease first, and they thought it would work well as an animated musical. Bakshi was actually the first person to own the movie rights for Grease, but he wasn't able to get the project going before the rights lapsed. Thankfully, then, the only cartoon jivers we see are in the opening credits.

Stay out of the river!

The drag racing scene sure is a fun one, but it came with some not-so-fun side effects. Allegedly, cast members actually fell ill while filming the scene thanks to the dirty L.A. River water. Director Randal Kleiser even developed a foot infection because of it! Luckily, Kleiser was only struck down for a day and filming didn't suffer too much as a result of his health troubles.

Scientology had a presence on set

John Travolta joined the Church of Scientology in 1975, and he made no secret of his religious beliefs on the set of Grease. In fact, when director Randal Kleiser’s foot became infected from the dirty water at the drag racing scene, Travolta claimed that he’d healed him with a Scientology “touch assist.” Yes, really. Kleiser said to Vanity Fair, “I was lying there with this fever and he’s poking me and poking me and poking me and I’m like, ‘Yes, I feel it.’ ‘Thank you.’ Then he left. The next day I was better, and of course he claimed it was because of the touch assist.”

The movie had a nod to Rebel Without a Cause

Many years before Grease, James Dean starred as the ultimate rebellious teenager in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause. And because Dean’s red windbreaker is so iconic in that film, John Travolta’s Danny got his own blue breaker to wear in Grease. James Dean typified the greaser in the movie, after all, and the characters in Grease are all teenagers rebelling against the boxes that society has placed them in. Makes sense!

All the Coca-Cola logos had to be removed

The filmmakers brokered a promotional deal with Pepsi just before Grease came out. This caused one slight problem: logos for its competitor, Coca-Cola, could be seen throughout the film. Reshooting the scenes would have cost far too much time and money, however, and so all the Coca-Cola logos had to be removed or disguised with optical mattes. Although if you look hard enough, you’ll see that one Coca-Cola sign was left in, by accident or design...

Danny almost had a different job

The Grease kids spend a lot of time dancing, singing, and jumping on cars, but very little time doing things that actual high schoolers did. This almost wasn't the case, though. At one point, producer Allan Carr pushed for Danny to have a part-time job as a busboy or even a gas station attendant. He even submitted a proposal to the studio that involved Danny performing a song called “Gas Pump Jockey.”

A particular word is never spoken in the film

The movie’s famous slogan is “Grease is the word” — pretty ironic, because the word “grease” isn’t spoken once in the whole film. Yes, while the word obviously appears in a slightly different form in the lyrics to the song “Greased Lightnin’”, the scriptwriters obviously decided that grease wasn’t the word they were looking for after all.

The real "Beauty School Dropout"

While the catchy tune "Beauty School Dropout" may feel like a lighthearted and comically pointed song, its origins delve into darker territory. Surprisingly, the song's inspiration derived from a news report that captured the writers' attention — an account detailing a teenager who dropped out of beauty school only to become a murderer. However, rather than dwelling on the grim aspects, the writers saw the potential for a great song title, and thus "Beauty School Dropout" was born!

An eerie Elvis coincidence

During the filming of "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee," one of the original lyrics was changed to something a little more suggestive: "Elvis, Elvis, let me be! Keep that pelvis far from me!" Remarkably, this song was reportedly filmed on the same day that Elvis Presley died. Grease’s eirector, Randall Kleiser, commented on this coincidence, saying: “It was very eerie.” In another twist, the song’s lyrics experienced yet another revision for the live adaptation, Grease Live, where the original line "Hey fongul!" was replaced with the more contemporary phrase, "Hey, be cool!"

The week-long dance contest

It took a week to film the entire dance contest scene, which was shot at Huntington Park High School in Los Angeles. Temperatures in the gym reached up to 116 degrees while filming, and some extras even got mildly ill because of the heat. “We were dying,” Didi Conn, who played Frenchie, told Vanity Fair. “It was my birthday that week, and they got me a cake, and it was melting.”

Sandy wasn’t always an Aussie

Anyone who has ever watched even ten minutes of Grease will realize that the female lead is Australian. But did you know that Sandy was a totally different nationality in the original musical? On Broadway, Sandy was actually an all-American sweetheart with the last name “Dumbrowski.” Olivia Newton-John’s casting put an end to that, though, and the character was also given the much simpler surname of “Olsen.”

The other Rizzo

Lucie Arnaz, daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, was originally considered for the role of Rizzo, but she was ultimately dropped in favor of Stockard Channing. One story floating around the internet has it that Lucille made her daughter refuse to take a screen test. Ball reportedly told producers, "I used to own that studio; my daughter’s not doing a screen test!" But a 2016 report in Vanity Fair merely stated that Lucie read for the part and didn't get it.

"Very freeing"

As it turns out, Marie Osmond wasn't the only one with reservations about Sandy's makeover. Olivia Newton-John actually had to be talked into Sandy's big transition by John Travolta. "That was such a stretch and something I was really worried about," Newton-John recalled. "But when it happened, it was just this amazing feeling. It was very freeing."