Travoltas Turn to Scientology, Hometown in Trying Times

Fellow Scientologist Lisa Marie Presley defends Travoltas and the faith.

ByABC News
January 2, 2009, 5:51 PM

Jan. 7, 2009— -- As John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, prepare to say goodbye to their 16-year-old son Jett Travolta, it's likely they'll draw on support from Scientology, the religion that has seen them through tragedies in the past, as well as residents in their current hometown of Ocala, Fla.

TMZ is reporting that a small family-and-close-friends-only memorial service will likely take place tomorrow at the star couple's Ocala home. It's likely to reflect the parents' Scientology faith.

Lisa Marie Presley, a follower of the religion, defended Scientology in a blog while expressing condolences over Jett's death.

"I am writing this because I have noticed that for the most part, people and the media have been very sympathetic and respectful, but there are those certain ones that want to use this horrible tragedy as an opportunity to once again, blame and-or attack Scientology."

She called the belief that scientologists don't allow medical care "garbage" and said Travolta and his wife were on a "tireless, never ending quest to get and provide him (Jett) with the absolute best care anyone could ever ask for and need."

Travolta was introduced to Scientology by actress Joan Prather in 1975, according to Travolta biographer Douglas Thompson.

"I was 21 when I first heard about [Scientology]," Travolta told ABC News' "20/20" in 1998. "And someone introduced it to me and they were so certain and happy, and I wasn't used to people being certain and happy. I was used to people being insecure and unhappy. I took a course and my life has never been the same."

He leaned heavily on his faith when his Diana Hyland, his girlfriend and co-star in "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976. She died the following year at age 41 and Travolta turned to Scientology to cope.

"He turned down the Richard Gere role in 'American Gigolo' and found himself more and more drawn to the Scientology movement," Thompson recently told The New York Daily News.

In 2001, Travolta told CNN's Larry King that he used Scientology to deal with the deaths of Hyland and later, his parents.

"Life is overwhelming. Life is not easy. Life is tough," he said. "And you need something that really works and helps you actually, not promises to help you, then fail. And that's why I've always loved Scientology, because it offers help, and it works."

Preston, who has been married to Travolta since 1991, adopted Scientology before meeting the actor. In 2006, Rolling Stone magazine reported that Preston was introduced to the faith in 1985 by acting coach Milton Katselas.

She met Travolta in 1987 while filming "The Experts," and, according to a 1998 interview with Redbook magazine, was pleased to learn he was also a follower. Her devotion to Scientology grew stronger as she and Travolta grew closer.

"It's very much a spiritual science," Preston told People magazine in 1997. "It creates ways to handle everything, whether it's in your love life or in your work."

Nestled in Florida's Marion County, north of Orlando, comparatively rural Ocala offers the Travoltas a respite from the hectic pace of Hollywood. Travolta built the family's home there and, according to a 2004 Los Angeles Times interview, keeps two planes parked on his property. Travolta is a licensed jet pilot.

The Travolta family has been living there since 2002, save brief stints in Los Angeles.

According to Ocala Mayor Randy Ewers, Travolta and Preston are active and loved members of the community.

"We called and reached out to the family," Ewers told "It's a very sad time for them. If they need anything from us we have offered that. We're just trying to help during this time and help them through this tragedy."

"They frequent the restaurants. John worked out in the local gym. They attended school here, go to the mall," he said. "Any fans that came up to them, they would spend time with them. But people let them live a normal life for the most part."

While it's suspected the Travoltas are planning a funeral service for later this week, Ewers said he was unaware of specific arrangements.

"I don't know of any public memorial planned," he said. "We're trying to respect their privacy as much as possible and help them through this process. They are our friends and neighbors and a fantastic family. It's very tragic."

Marion County residents have left flowers and signs outside the gated entrance to the Travolta family's Jumbolair Aviation Estates neighborhood. Neighbor Rich Koepsel told the local Ocala Star-Banner, "We consider them just normal neighbors. John and Kelly just want to be treated as another family."

He also described a close relationship between the parents and their children. "You could see the love in his parents' eyes," Koepsel told the paper. "You could look in [Jett's] eyes and feel the love there."

He described Jett as a fun-loving kid who enjoyed the outdoors, either riding around in a golf cart, pedaling his three-wheeled bicycled or going for a ride with his father in one of Travolta's antique cars or his ultra-light airplane.

In 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported that Jett and his younger sister Ella were home-schooled in Ocala to keep their education on par with the one they'd received at a Scientology-based school in Los Angeles, where they spent three months of the year.

The Times also said one of the reasons the Travoltas live in Ocala is to be close to the Flag Service Organization in Clearwater, Fla., the spiritual headquarters of Scientology.