Hollywood Scandal

John Travolta’s Masseur Lawsuits Part of a Long History of Gay Rumors

Marlow Stern on the two lawsuits filed against John Travolta and the years of stories about the star.

Larry Busacca / Getty Images

News of an incredibly graphic $2 million lawsuit by a “John Doe” masseur against John Travolta, which broke Monday, may have come as a surprise to some fans of the actor, who projects an image of a smiling heartthrob on-screen and an adoring family man off.

In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, an unnamed male masseur accuses the 58-year-old Pulp Fiction star of sexual assault, sexual battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, saying Travolta came on to him several times during a massage session at the Beverly Hills Hotel in January. And on Tuesday, a second “John Doe” masseur, represented by the same attorney, filed another $2 million sexual-assault suit against Travolta, claiming “substantial documentation and numerous witnesses regarding the substance of Travolta’s actions.” Travolta’s lawyer has denied both men’s accusations, saying of the new suit, “This second ‘anonymous’ claim is just as absurd and ridiculous as the first one.”

For anyone who’s been following Travolta’s life off-screen, however, rumors of a sexual preference for men have persisted for years.

On May 8, 1990, The National Enquirer ran a cover story describing an alleged affair between Travolta and Paul Barresi, a gay-porn producer. According to Barresi, the two met in 1982, after the actor allegedly followed him into the shower room of a Los Angeles health club, and the relationship lasted for two years. Barresi reportedly received $100,000 from the Enquirer for his Travolta story, but retracted it several months later under what he later alleged was legal pressure from Travolta’s attorneys. While Barresi is not the most credible of witnesses, having inserted himself into several high-profile celebrity scandals over the years, he did snag a speaking role in the 1985 Travolta film Perfect.

Travolta married actress Kelly Preston in 1991. The wedding came just a year after Barresi’s claims against Travolta, as well as the news that Preston had broken off her engagement to Charlie Sheen when he accidentally shot her in the arm. Despite Travolta’s newlywed status—and the birth of their first son, Jett, in 1992—the spa allegations persisted in the tabloids. According to a story published by Yahoo! News, Travolta was banned from a Los Angeles country club and a major hotel chain in the early ’90s over his alleged penchant for hitting on men in shower rooms.

Since 1975, Travolta has been a practitioner of Scientology. In 1950, Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard published a book called Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, which classified homosexuals as “the sexual pervert.” The following year, Hubbard’s 1951 Handbook for Preclears delivers instructions to Dianeticists on how to “cure” homosexuality by breaking the subject’s mental fixation on a dominant parent of the opposite sex. In a New Yorker profile of director and former Scientologist Paul Haggis published last year, Haggis spoke about his decision to leave the church after 35 years, blaming its support of Prop 8 in California, as well as the heckling his gay daughter received by fellow members.

In 1998 a Beverly Hills artist named Michael Pattinson filed a 166-page complaint against Travolta and the Church of Scientology, alleging the actor helped the church deceive him into thinking it could turn him straight. Pattinson alleged that he “reasonably relied upon” Travolta’s marriage to Preston as evidence that “Scientology processing and courses would ‘handle’ my own homosexuality,” the New York Daily News reported.

The rumors surrounding Travolta seemed to die down around the time his and Preston’s daughter, Ella Bleu, was born in 2000. Then, in 2006, The National Enquirer published a picture of Travolta embracing and kissing a man on the mouth as the two descended the steps of his private jet. The man was later identified as Jeff Kathrein, one of the Travolta family’s two nannies who, in 2009, would be the one to discover the body of Travolta’s son, Jett, after he died from a seizure.

Actress Carrie Fisher, who doesn’t pull too many punches, said of Travolta in a 2010 interview with The Advocate: “I mean, my feeling about John has always been that we know and we don’t care. Look, I’m sorry that he’s uncomfortable with it, and that’s all I can say. It only draws more attention to it when you make that kind of legal fuss. Just leave it be.”

Later that year, author Robert Randolph spoke to The National Enquirer and Star about his upcoming self-published book, You’ll Never Spa in This Town Again, which was eventually released on Feb. 18, 2012. Randolph, an interior designer, claimed to have visited Los Angeles’s City Spa since 1995 and witnessed Travolta engaged in various sex acts with men. Randolph also told the magazines that Travolta’s “preference is Middle Eastern” and that he’d cruise in spas several times a week.

As far as the recent allegations by two masseurs against Travolta are concerned, they remain just that—allegations. Unlike Tom Cruise, another Hollywood heavyweight-cum-Scientology practitioner who’s fended off his fair share of gay accusations over the years, Travolta hasn’t been very litigious in the past. However, according to a statement released to the media by Travolta’s representative about the first lawsuit, he may sue his new accusers. “This lawsuit is complete fiction and fabrication,” the statement reads. “None of the events claimed in the suit ever occurred. The plaintiff, who refuses to give their name, knows that the suit is a baseless lie.”

Last year, The Wall Street Journal ran an odd story under the headline “John Travolta Was Here.” The piece was a profile of Spa Castle, a 60,000-square-foot Korean spa-complex in Queens. When the reporter asked the customer-service manager about the clientele that frequents the $500 a person “Avenue S” VIP private spa, she responded, “John Travolta was here.” She said it twice.