Previously Known For: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Dirty Dancing
|Currently Known For: Dancing with the Stars, Red Oaks, and Untogether|
“Now I’ve had the time of my life. No, I never felt like this before. Yes, I swear, it’s the truth and I owe it all to you...” Getting a seemingly late start to her career in her 20s when she made her debut in a television commercial for Dr. Pepper, Jennifer Grey never imagined just how far stardom could truly take her as the now 57-year-old actress is keen to look back on the most iconic role of her career. Best remembered for her sultry dance moves opposite Patrick Swayze in the 1987 classic, Dirty Dancing, Grey has spent the last four decades in and out of the spotlight offering her fans glimpses of her life as she danced her way to victory in Dancing with the Stars, bared it all in the 2014 film Red Oaks, and recently signed on for the 2017 film, Untogether. So, what keeps the New York native coming back for more?
The granddaughter of comedian and musician Mickey Katz and the daughter of the Academy Award-winning actor Joel Grey and actress Jo Wilder, Jennifer Grey was truly destined for greatness when she came into this world on March 26, 1960 in Manhattan, New York. With her family well-versed in the business, Grey wasn't in a big hurry to get her start as an actress and studied acting and dancing at the prestigious Dalton School before enrolling at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in 1978. Over the next two years, she perfected her talents and made her television debut in a commercial for Dr. Pepper while spending the rest of her time waitressing in local restaurants and bars just to pay the bills.
After a few years of “paying her dues” in New York City, Grey finally caught a break in 1984 when she made her silver screen debut in Reckless starring Daryl Hannah and then appeared in The Cotton Club before she joined a young Patrick Swayze in Red Dawn. Little did Grey realize that Red Dawn wouldn’t be the last time she worked with Swayze as she made waves for her performance opposite Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in 1986. Because of the film’s success and Grey’s blossoming romance with Broderick, it was only a matter of time before she became one of Hollywood’s favorite young stars as she auditioned for the part of Frances “Baby” Houseman in a new coming-of-age film called Dirty Dancing.
Winning the part of Baby, Grey was almost certain that Billy Zane would be cast as her dance partner, Johnny Castle, but everything changed when she took the stage with Patrick Swayze. “Billy was one of my partners, and I thought he was going to get it because he was very much like Marlon Brandon and his dancing was pretty good,” Grey recalled. “But then I remember Patrick and I dancing together, and all of a sudden it was very easy…” Their chemistry was undeniable as the two were opposites both on and off the stage as Grey later admitted, “His fearlessness with my fearfulness—it was like a marriage where you have two opposites. He would do anything and I would be scared to do anything. But he was really strong and very protective of me.”
Dirty Dancing was a surprise hit and sold over a million copies on video as Grey was nominated for her first Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. During this time, her relationship with Broderick blossomed but a tragic car accident in Northern Ireland in 1987 took the young actress suddenly out of the spotlight. With Broderick crashing into a car and killing a mother and daughter, Broderick was later convicted of careless driving as Grey fell deeper into grief with survivor’s guilt that overshadowed her good fortune in Hollywood. “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,” she said later.
Taking a few years off, the early 1990s weren’t very kind to Grey who opted for a rhinoplasty and came out of the hospital completely unrecognizable. Eventually opting for a second surgery to correct the first, Grey finally looked more like herself and returned to television in the late 1990s as herself in the ABC sitcom, It’s Like, You Know. She then appeared alongside Liza Minnelli, Kathy Bates and Shirley MacLaine in The West Side Waltz with cameos in Friends, Bounce, John from Cincinnati and House. Then, in 2010, she surprised her loyal fans when she put on her dancing shoes a second time and partnered up with Derek Hough to win the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars. By then, she’d rekindled her early fame as “Baby” in Dirty Dancing and even let fans in on a little secret about her iconic lift. “Never rehearsed it, never done it since,” she said. “I don’t know how all these people who reenact it have the guts to throw themselves into the arms of anyone other than Patrick Swayze. It’s insane!”
In the years since Dancing with the Stars, Grey has found her second wind in Hollywood, so to speak, with credits in The Bling Ring, Strictly Come Dancing and The Wind Rises. In 2014, she turned heads when she starred as Judy in Red Oaks and, for the first time in her career, bared it all in a nude scene. “The truth is, it’s kind of upsetting to be my age and finally be nude in something because there was a lot of years there I was looking pretty good,” Grey joked. “You look at pictures of yourself when you were younger and when you thought you weren’t pretty or were fat and realize, ‘I was so beautiful, how could I not have noticed?’ Then you realize, ‘I’m going to look back on today and think the same thing.’ The fact that we can’t know in the moment that we’re enough and as we’re supposed to be… you have to love the body you’re in.”
Still as sultry and as sexy as ever at 57 years old, Grey’s upcoming credits include the 2017 film, Untogether, but she says nothing compares to spending time at home with her husband, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and The Avengers star Clark Gregg, and their daughter, Stella. With an exquisite home in Venice Beach and a beautiful family, we can’t say we blame her!