Travolta's son dies while on vacation

Published: Saturday, January 3, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 10:04 p.m.

NASSAU, Bahamas - John Travolta's teenage son, Jett, died in the Bahamas after apparently suffering a seizure and hitting his head at his family's vacation home, authorities said Friday.

A house caretaker found Jett, 16, unconscious in a bathroom late Friday morning. He was taken by ambulance to a Freeport hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to a statement from police Superintendent Basil Rahming.

The Travoltas, who live in Jumbolair Estates in northern Marion County, had arrived in the Bahamas on a private plane Tuesday and had been vacationing at their home in the Old Bahama Bay resort community.

Jett had last been seen going into the bathroom on Thursday and had a history of seizures, according to the statement. Police said they are planning an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Another police spokeswoman, Loretta Mackey, said Jett apparently hit his head on the bathtub.

A spokeswoman for Rand Memorial Hospital in Freeport said she could not release any information because of privacy concerns.

Jett was the oldest child of Travolta, 54, and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, 46, who also have an 8-year-old daughter, Ella.

Preston has said that Jett became very sick when he was 2 years old and was diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, an illness that leads to inflammation of the blood vessels in young children. She blamed household cleaners and fertilizers, and said that a detoxification program based on teachings from the Church of Scientology helped improve his health, according to People magazine.

It is unclear whether Jett was taking any medications for his seizures.

The Scientology Celebrity Center in Los Angeles declined to comment. Both Travolta and Preston are practicing Scientologists.

"The Travolta family has become like family to us at Old Bahama Bay and we extend our deepest sympathies to them," said Robert Gidel, president of Ginn Resorts, the property's owner.

"He's broken up. He just had to tell Ella a minute ago," family friend and Tampa-based attorney Michael McDermott said Friday.

McDermott had just arrived in the Bahamas, where he had planned to join the Travoltas and a small group of their close friends to celebrate the new year. He did not know about the incident until he arrived that afternoon.

His voice cracking with emotion, McDermott called it a tough scene and noted "Kelly's very quiet."

"Just say a prayer for them," he added. "That's all you can do at this point."

McDermott said Friday one of Travolta's close associates was "making funeral arrangements in Ocala."

Travolta, who gained fame as Vinnie Barbarino on the 1970s television show "Welcome Back, Kotter" and in the 1977 film "Saturday Night Fever," went on to become one of Hollywood's biggest names. He married Preston in 1991.

A television actress, Preston appeared with Travolta in the 2000 film "Battlefield Earth," based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The Travoltas became part of the fabric of the Ocala community more than five years ago when they moved into their home in the exclusive Jumbolair fly-in community north of town.

John Travolta at first maintained a low profile in his adopted community, preferring to venture out to shop and eat late at night when he wouldn't be mobbed by crowds of adoring fans.

In recent years, Travolta adopted a more public role, holding screenings for his films "Wild Hogs" and "Bolt" to benefit local causes.

All the time, however, Travolta and Preston shielded Jett and Ella from public view.

Jeremy Thayer, developer of Jumbolair, said he and wife Terri learned about the tragedy via phone earlier in the day.

"It breaks Terri's and my heart," Thayer said. "He was just such a handsome, handsome, beautiful boy."

Thayer described Jett as a friendly teen who loved the outdoors and could often be seen riding his bike or a golf cart around Jumbolair.

The news also came as a blow to Mary Acevedo, a shift manager with Denny's in Silver Springs. The Travolta family eats at the restaurant often, she said, and "are truly the nicest people."

She called Jett a "good kid" and said the entire family was a joy to have in the restaurant.

"The whole family is just so down to earth," Acevedo said. "(John) just acts like one of us. Half the time, people don't even realize they're there. But when people notice them, he's willing to sign autographs."

The Travoltas also frequented Tony's Sushi in Ocala.

Contacted late Friday afternoon, owner Tony Li said he was a bit shaken as he had just seen the news on TV. He said he last saw the Travolta family, including Jett, at the restaurant about two months ago.

"Terrible accident," he said. "He was really nice. He liked to eat. He liked to eat."

Li said the staff always made Jett's favorite, fried rice and shrimp tempura, just the way he liked it - the tempura not too crunchy.

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