Fame and riches can protect you from some of life’s harsher edges, but they can’t protect you from loss and pain. Despite a great career that includes a Golden Globe Award, two Oscar nominations, and a fortune estimated at £150 million last year, John Travolta has had more than his fair share of both.

Of course, there is no such thing as fair when it comes to losing loved ones, so keep that in mind.

The Pulp Fiction actor announced Monday that his wife of nearly 29 years, Kelly Preston, had died following a two-year battle with breast cancer. The 57-year-old actress has avoided the spotlight since the couple co-starred in the mafia film Gotti in 2018, keeping her sickness a secret. Preston’s most recent Instagram image, which was all smiles and was posted on Father’s Day, gave the impression that all was great in their Hollywood world.

However, Travolta’s longtime partner of three decades died less than a month later. Even before her death, he referred to his life as “a life riddled with variations of loss” since “marriage doesn’t just happen on its own,” Preston remarked at the Cannes Film Festival when promoting Gotti.

In 2009, he and Preston experienced every parent’s worst fear when their 16-year-old son, Jett, died unexpectedly after having a seizure and slamming his head on a bathtub while on a family trip to the Bahamas for Christmas.

Jett Travolta’s parents announced after his death that their son, who had suffered from seizures since infancy, had also been diagnosed with autism.

Fewer people know that Travolta, aged 23, lost his first love to the same sickness that would eventually kill his wife, at the start of his career. While filming the television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, he fell in love with his on-screen mother, Emmy-winning actress Diana Hyland, who was 18 years older.

“I have never been more in love with someone in my life,” he later reflected.

“My coworker and I were talking like maniacs on the Bubble set. After a month, it became romantic.”

However, tragic events occurred shortly afterward. Travolta sat at Hyland’s bedside as she died of breast cancer in the same year that Saturday Night Fever made him global fame and sex icon as Tony Manero, the cleft-chinned, white-suited disco king.”

This gave him his first Oscar nomination. Her son Zachary later said that his mother died in Travolta’s arms.

Travolta told this newspaper in 2014 that such an encounter so early in his adult life had “removed the edge of death” and left him with a certain strength. “Because so many people close to me have died before their time, and because I believe that if they can do it, then I can do it too,” he said, “I’m probably less terrified of death than the average person these days.  When others overcome their concerns, I feel obligated to do the same.”

He was talking about how he managed Jett’s death at the time. A local ambulance driver and his lawyer allegedly sought to extort $25 million from the couple by threatening to divulge confidential information regarding Jett’s death.

They had a younger daughter, Ella Bleu, at the time, and Preston gave birth to a son, Benjamin, the following year when she was 47. Travolta testified in a well-known criminal trial before dropping the case owing to the huge hardship it placed on his family.

Travolta acknowledged to Celia Walden of the Telegraph that he was so overtaken by grief that he considered quitting acting. Instead, in 2014, he took on the challenge of The Forger. This thriller reflected his recent experiences: he played a convicted felon who was granted early release from jail to care for his little son, who had an incurable brain tumor and was on the verge of dying.

He also expressed gratitude to his fellow Church of Scientology members for assisting him in regaining his natural state as “a glass half full man” and “an optimist by nature.”

In our secular, skeptic western society, however, trust in a larger force or higher purpose still has a profound resonance when it comes to suffering grief and loss. Some people take peace in Buddhism’s reincarnation teachings or Christianity’s promise of a heavenly afterlife.

As the youngest of six children, actor John Travolta has previously described how he still hangs onto some of the principles he learnt as a young child growing up in a New York suburb with his Italian American father and Irish mother. In the 2014 interview, he claimed that he still believes in the traditional Catholic concept that “a person’s soul lives on forever.”

He had, however, spent more than four decades as a member of the disputed Church of Scientology. Following Jett’s death, it proved to be Travolta’s salvation. Preston was also a member, and the two starred in the critically panned 2000 film rendition of founding member L.Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth.

“I don’t know what I would have done if Scientology hadn’t helped me,” he stated.

“I don’t think I’d have made it. They were there for me every day after Jett died. They even accompanied me when I needed to go. That’s how it proceeded for the next two years: they were there every day.”

He claimed that Scientology “really does provide a mechanism that helps you face terrible disasters.” In contrast to reincarnation, which involves some sort of judgment for previous lifetimes, Hubbard once remarked that his vision encompassed “just living time after time, obtaining a new body, eventually losing it and getting a new one.”

Travolta originally joined Scientology on the set of The Devil’s Rain in Mexico in 1975, after being introduced to it by Joan Prather. He later explained, “I wasn’t feeling well, and she gave me what’s known as an assist.  Following that, I recovered extremely rapidly, like 30 minutes later.”

He has emphasized numerous times that Scientology provides not only ideas but also useful tools – “workable technology,” as he calls it – to relieve pain. “I believe L Ron Hubbard resolved the human mind, and in resolving it, he also resolved human pain—really, that’s what I think has happened here,” he said in 2013.

Travolta will need every resource at his disposal to deal with this horrific loss, regardless of how good or bad his religion is. “Please excuse me in advance if we remain silent for a bit,” he wrote in an Instagram post announcing his wife’s death. “I’ll be spending some time with my children who have lost their mother. Please be mindful, however, that I will feel your love in the coming weeks and months as we heal.”

As Travolta knows all too well, illness is not always something that can be battled and won, and grief is not always something that can be conquered by sheer effort. But, perhaps, he is more conscious than others that time can be somewhat restorative.