Then & Now

Jennifer Grey, actor


Jennifer Grey, actor

SHE WAS THE star of one of the most successful movies of the 1980s, but, following a serious car crash in Northern Ireland, her career took a nosedive – and a botched nose job in the early 1990s put the kibosh on her chances of a comeback.

New Yorker Jennifer Grey found worldwide fame as teen rebel "Baby" Houseman in the 1987 smash hit Dirty Dancing,playing opposite Patrick Swayze. The iconic image of Grey and Swayze dancing to the strains of (I've Had) The Time of My Lifeis burned in the memory of everyone who was a teenager in 1987, as is the famous line, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Swayze went on to star in such hit films as Ghostand Point Break, but for Grey, Dirty Dancingwas the high point of her Hollywood career. But although she never troubled the box office again, she did dance her way back into the limelight when she won the American version of Dancing with the Starslast year.

Jennifer Grey was born into a showbiz dynasty. Her dad is stage and screen star Joel Grey, who won a Tony award for his role in the Broadway production of Cabaret, and an Oscar for his role in the movie version starring Liza Minnelli. Her grandfather was musician and comedian Mickey Katz.

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After appearing in the obligatory soft-drink commercial, Grey found roles in the teen movies that were popping up in the early to mid-1980s. She was in teen war movie Red Dawn, which also starred Patrick Swayze, and played Matthew Broderick's sister in the hit comedy Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

She had an off-screen romance with Broderick, and in 1987 the couple took a fateful vacation in Ireland just weeks before Dirty Dancing was due to be released. While driving on the wrong side of the road in Enniskillen, Broderick crashed into another car, killing its occupants, mother and daughter Margaret Doherty, 63, and Anna Gallagher, 30. Broderick was badly injured in the crash, and Grey suffered whiplash and a compressed spinal cord. There was anger when Broderick was fined a paltry £100 after pleading guilty to dangerous driving.

Grey was so traumatised by the accident, she found it difficult to embrace her new-found fame. “It was so shocking to my psyche to survive a crash where a mother and daughter were killed, I felt like my ambition just shut down,” she told ABC News last year. Her ambition was further dulled by a nose job that went wrong, requiring further surgery to put right. She married actor/director Clark Gregg in 2001, and her daughter Stella was born the same year.

She continued to live with chronic neck pain for years after the car crash, and when she signed up for Dancing with the Starsin 2010, she was examined by a specialist to check if she was fit to dance. He discovered severe damage around her spinal cord, and she was fitted with a titanium plate. He also found a cancerous growth on her thyroid, which was successfully removed. Dancing made her a star – this time round, it probably saved her life.

Last month, Hollywood was abuzz with the news that a Dirty Dancingremake is in the offing, directed by Kenny Ortega, who choreographed the original film. Fans were aghast, saying no one could recreate the chemistry between Grey and Patrick Swayze, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. Grey, however, has put her stamp of approval on the project. "I love @Kennyortega and trust that he will do something special #DirtyDancingRemake," she tweeted.