Upon hearing of the out-of-nowhere death from breast cancer of Kelly Preston, 57, the wife of superstar John Travolta, 66, I immediately thought of the late actress Diana Hyland.
Hyland made her TV debut in 1955, going on to appear in a wide variety of series, in films and on the stage. She originated the role of Heavenly in Sweet Bird of Youth (1959) on Broadway, was in the classic Twilight Zone episode Spur of the Moment (1964), appeared in the movie The Chase (1966) and was a regular on Peyton Place (1968-1969).
Married to Joe Goodson from 1969-1974, she was single when filming the TV movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), which is when she met teen heartthrob Travolta, who was playing her son. The two fell in love, causing gossip mags to flip out over their age difference.
Interestingly, her next role was as an older woman Fonzie falls for on Happy Days (1977). She was only 10 years older than Fonzie's Henry Winkler (b. 1945), but over 18 years older than Travolta.
Hyland's final performances were in four episodes of Eight Is Enough (1977), as matriarch Joan Bradford, during which she was already very ill. (Mark Hamill was on the pilot.)
Having been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1975, Hyland had undergone a mastectomy. However, the cancer had spread, and in 1977 her health deteriorated rapidly. While Travolta — then just 23 — was filming his iconic role in Saturday Night Fever (1977), Hyland realized she would not survive. She died, just 41, in his arms.
Travolta told People in 1977:
He finished Saturday Night Fever, took a mere 10 days off, then went to work on Grease (1978).
On September 11, 1977, Hyland posthumously won the Emmy for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. Travolta brought the audience to tears with his acceptance speech, saying, "Wherever you are, Diana, I love you. You did it, baby."
Watch The Boy in the Plastic Bubble: