Kelly Preston’s death from breast cancer Sunday was a tragic end to her 29-year marriage to John Travolta, which bore three children: Ella Bleu, Benjamin and the late Jett, who died in 2009 of a seizure.
Preston’s passing at 57 is, sadly, not the first time 66-year-old Travolta has lost a significant other to breast cancer.
In 1977, actress Diana Hyland, who the actor had been seriously dating for a year, died of the very same cause. At 41, she was 18 years older than 23-year-old Travolta, and somewhat scandalously played his mother in the TV movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.”
As soon as the cameras rolled, Travolta was smitten.
“I thought I was in love before — but I wasn’t,” Travolta told People magazine in 1977. “From the moment I met her, I was attracted. We were like two maniacs talking all the time on the set of ‘Bubble’. After a month it became romantic.”
Hyland never had the career her young superstar boyfriend would go on to enjoy. Already the star of TV’s “Welcome Back, Kotter,” Travolta would make “Saturday Night Fever” in 1977 and the iconic movie-musical “Grease” in 1978 — a stretch of extreme success he’d never again repeat.
At the time of her death, Hyland was mostly known for TV roles such as “Peyton Place” and “Eight is Enough.” She also had one significant Broadway part, playing Heavenly in Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” opposite Paul Newman. Still, she was a well-regarded actress that many believe would’ve done great things.
Hyland was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1977, and despite undergoing a mastectomy, her prognosis got worse. Dedicated til the end, Travolta was with Hyland when she died, telling People he “felt the breath go out of her.”
The actor never thought of his early romance as a fling.
“I picked out a house, and Diana and I were planning on moving in right after this movie,” he told People. “If she was alive, it is very possible I would have married her.”