Kelly Preston, actress and wife of John Travolta, had been fighting a battle with breast cancer that the wider world didn’t know about. And tragically the illness killed her. After her passing, her family revealed what had happened and posted tributes on Instagram. But it was her 20-year-old daughter Ella who wrote a particularly beautiful one.
Now, few knew that Preston had been diagnosed with cancer, but she’d been fighting it for a long time. Then, on July 13, 2020, a representative for the family told People magazine, “On the morning of July 12, 2020, Kelly Preston, adored wife and mother, passed away following a two-year battle with breast cancer.”
The rep went on, “Choosing to keep her fight private, she had been undergoing medical treatment for some time, supported by her closest family and friends. She was a bright, beautiful and loving soul who cared deeply about others and who brought life to everything she touched. Her family asks for your understanding of their need for privacy at this time.”
Although Preston had succeeded in keeping her cancer fight private, she hadn’t been seen in public for a while. In fact, the last big event she attended was the June 2018 premiere of the mobster movie Gotti, where she starred alongside her husband and played his onscreen wife.
And Travolta released his own statement on Instagram the day after Preston’s death. He told his followers, “It is with a very heavy heart that I inform you that my beautiful wife Kelly has lost her two-year battle with breast cancer. She fought a courageous fight with the love and support of so many.”
The actor went on to praise Preston’s medical care workers, saying “My family and I will forever be grateful to her doctors and nurses at MD Anderson Cancer Center, all the medical centers that have helped, as well as her many friends and loved ones who have been by her side. Kelly’s love and life will always be remembered.”
Travolta concluded, “I will be taking some time to be there for my children who have lost their mother, so forgive me in advance if you don’t hear from us for a while. But please know that I will feel your outpouring of love in the weeks and months ahead as we heal.” He signed his message “All my love, JT.”
Touchingly, fans left condolences for Travolta and his family in the comments’ section. One person wrote, “So sorry for your loss. She is an amazing and beautiful soul. Sending healing and love to you and your family.” Another said, “So sorry. May her light shine bright in the hearts of her loved ones.”
Rare for Hollywood, Preston and Travolta had been together for the long haul. You see, they’d been married since September 1991 and maintained their relationship from then on. At the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 Preston told the media, “Marriage doesn’t just happen on its own, you have to keep creating love.”
Indeed, and the couple’s first child, Jett, came along in 1992. He was followed by younger sister Ella. But unfortunately, the family would suffer a terrible tragedy in 2009. You see, Jett, who had autism and suffered from seizures, died while the Travoltas were on vacation in the Bahamas. Suddenly Travolta and Preston had to weather the loss of a child.
Needless to say, it was an incredibly difficult time for the couple. And they decided to try and have another child, and succeeded. In 2010 a baby boy named Benjamin was born. In August the following year, Preston told Health magazine, “When I found out I was pregnant, I was floored. I’d snuck out of bed and then came back and woke Johnny up in bed. We both started crying. It was wonderful.”
In the same interview Preston spoke about Ella, then 11 years old. She told the magazine, “I’m just in a good place, and am able to really be with my kids… I absolutely adore my kids. Johnny and I love them up constantly. Ella’s like, ‘Mom, ugh! Thank God you had Ben because now he can take some of the kisses.’”
Both parents spoke a lot about Jett and the pain of losing a child as the years went on. For instance, in February 2014 Travolta told an audience at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane that after Jett’s death, “The truth is, I didn’t know if I was going to make it. Life was no longer interesting to me, so it took a lot to get me better.”
And Preston herself felt the same. In 2012 she was finally able to talk publicly about her son’s death, and the health issues he’d had beforehand. Yes, in May of that year she appeared on Amanda de Cadenet’s The Conversation and said, “Nobody should have to lose a child. It’s unfathomable. But I’m here to say that you can get through it. You can live again. You can want to live again.”
So the marriage between Preston and Travolta continued to be a strong one. When appearing on Watch What Happens Live! in June 2018, host Andy Cohen asked Preston what the best part of being married to Travolta was. She answered, “There’s too many best things. His lips, dancing, fun, laughing. [We dance] all the time, all the time. The kids dance with us, we go out dancing. We love it.”
As time went on Ella began exploring the world of Hollywood, just like her parents. And in 2019 she took a role in the movie The Poison Rose, which starred both her father and Morgan Freeman. It was the second time she’d acted – her first role was in the movie Old Dogs alongside both her parents.
Now, Ella, who was 19 at the time, told People magazine all about her burgeoning career in May 2019. She said, “It helped so much having my dad there. It was so comforting and he’s the best mentor ever. When I have any questions, my mom and dad have the best advice, and that’s amazing… I love that it’s sort of the family business!”
Upon People’s request, Ella listed her favorite movies of her parents: From Paris with Love and Grease for her father, and The Cat in the Hat and What A Girl Wants for her mother. She also said, “Oh my gosh, all of them are absolutely amazing, so that’s really hard.”
Furthermore, Ella said that her famous parents wouldn’t have minded at all if she’d embarked on a career other than acting. She told the magazine, “Whatever I would have chosen to do they would have supported me. But they’re really proud of me for [acting]…and that makes me proud too!”
And indeed they were very proud. In fact, Preston posted an Instagram message in May 2019 as Ella promoted The Poison Rose. It read, “Still in absolute awe of my stunning daughter… I just re-watched all of her interviews this past week doing press for #thepoisonrose and she has jumped into ‘the family business’ as an absolute natural.”
Preston went on, “It floored me how poised, confident, elegant, sweet, gorgeous (I don’t think there are actually enough adjectives in the English language for me to properly articulate how perfectly she held her own). I am beyond proud of her and all of her accomplishments, but most of all I am proud and honored to have her as my daughter.”
The star ended her post by writing to Ella, “I love you and congratulations.” And Ella responded in kind, writing in the comments’ section to her mother, “Awww… thank you so much mama! I love you.” The relationship between the two actresses was an absolutely adorable one.
And Travolta also gave an interview to People magazine that year where he talked about how proud he was of Ella. He said in August, “[Ella] is her own person. She is gracious, generous, poised, graceful and gorgeous. I don’t know how she came to be, and I don’t take any credit other than just adoring her. And maybe that’s a valid contribution.”
Off the back of praising Ella, Travolta spoke of the wider importance of letting young people express themselves. He said, “I really do believe that children have rights. Just because they are little bodies doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a say-so. I find when you consult them, they can come up with much better ideas than yours.”
Anyway, Preston and Ella seemed to have an ideal mother-daughter relationship. When Ella turned 20 in April 2020, Preston wrote on Instagram, “To the sweetest girl in the world. You are magical in all that you do. I love you so so much and I hope you have the greatest 20th birthday!”
Tragically, that would be one of Preston’s last Instagram posts. A few months later she was dead, and people wrote condolences and messages of sadness on the birthday post to Ella, too. One message read, “This is so incredibly powerful to read at this moment in time.”
But of course, it was Ella’s own tribute to mom Preston which was the most powerful of all. Yes, on July 13, the same day the news broke, she posted a message on Instagram in the form of a letter to her mother. It began, “I have never met anyone as courageous, strong, beautiful and loving as you.”
Ella’s message went on, “Anyone who is lucky enough to have known you or to have ever been in your presence will agree that you have a glow and a light that never ceases to shine and that makes anyone around you feel instantly happy. Thank you for being there for me no matter what.”
And the bereaved daughter ended the post with the touching words to her mom, “Thank you for your love. Thank you for your help and thank you for making this world a better place. You have made life so beautiful and I know you will continue to do so always. I love you so much mama.”
With that, fellow actresses who had known Preston commented on Ella’s post. Yes, Reese Witherspoon wrote, “I’m so sorry for your loss. Your mother was one of the kindest , most thoughtful souls.” And Selma Blair said, “Sending you love, Ella. Your mother was one of the sweetest. As I am sure you are too. Her goodness. Her beauty. It hurts. I am so sorry.”
Others who knew Preston or the Travolta family also took to social media to pay tribute. Producer Maria Shriver wrote online, “Shocked by this sad news. Kelly was such a bright loving soul, a talented actress, and a loving mom and wife. My heart breaks for her family who have already known such sadness and grief. Join me in sending them love and strength.”
Meanwhile, actor Alec Baldwin wrote, “How tragic and sad about Kelly Preston. I shot Cat in the Hat with her some years back. She remains one of the loveliest people I ever worked with. Funny. Kind. My heart goes out to John and their family.” And another of her co-stars, Danny DeVito, wrote that she always had “the sweetest brightest energy.”
And Lost actor Daniel Dae Kim wrote of an interaction he once had with Preston. He tweeted, “I was lucky enough to work with her on one of my very first films, For Love of The Game. We were shooting on cold days in Colorado, but she couldn’t have been warmer or kinder to a young, nervous actor trying to make good. I’ll never forget that.”
In fact, many people spoke about Preston’s personality and kindness in their online tributes to her. Actress Chloe Bennet wrote on her Twitter account, “Kelly Preston was enormously kind and unbelievably lovely. Can’t believe this. My thoughts are with her sweet Ella and the rest of her incredible family.”
Interestingly, “hard-man” A-lister Russell Crowe wrote about the impression Preston had once left on him. He tweeted, “Such a lovely person. In 1995 we auditioned together for Breaking Up, Salma Hayek got that gig. I haven’t seen her much, but when I did, she was always the same sparkly eyed gem.”
Then on July 15, Preston’s half-brother Chris Palzis gave an exclusive interview to the Daily Mail about the circumstances of his sister’s death. He said that the whole of Preston’s family, including Travolta, had been by her bedside when she passed on. And of course, all of them were devastated.
And Palzis, who works as a realtor in Los Angeles, told the newspaper, “We’re still really grieving so I don’t have anything eloquent to say right now. We’re just all very gutted over this, if I had to say something that would pretty much summarize it.” Palzis was born to Preston’s widowed mother and her new husband when Preston was three years old.
Of his famous sister’s life and death Palzis said, “She was a light and she was a warrior and she’ll always be remembered for how she brought out the best in people.” He went on, “It’s heartbreaking. We just got back from her bedside in Florida. We were all together in Florida.”
So it’s clear that family was the most important thing to Preston. And her last ever message on Instagram, a month before her death, was a message to her husband which read, “Happy Father’s Day to the best one I know, we love you.” Travolta had posted a response saying, “I love you all so much.”
Preston’s death is clearly a blow to everyone who knew her. But she will be in one more film, the already completed Off the Rails, which in a sad coincidence concerns four people attempting to fulfil the dying wish of their friend. After that film is released, perhaps Ella will carry on her mom’s acting legacy.