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John Travolta's 'Urban Cowboy' Turns 40: Inside the Film That Rescued His Imperiled Career

Bettina Dizon
Jun 06, 2020
11:00 A.M.

John Travolta’s comeback film “Urban Cowboy” premiered two years after his hit musical films, where he showcased his incredible dance moves and skilled acting.

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John Travolta was only 26-years-old when he needed a comeback film, following the flop of 1978’s “Moment by Moment.”

The movie didn’t give the same satisfaction as his back-to-back hits, “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease,” which gave viewers; hence, his downtime for a while.

John Travolta smiles in a photograph for "Welcome Back Knotter," late 1970s. | Source: Getty Images

John Travolta smiles in a photograph for "Welcome Back Knotter," late 1970s. | Source: Getty Images

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However, “Urban Cowboy” came along and gave the actor the perfect opportunity to redeem himself in the industry. It has been 40 since the film’s premiere; here’s a look back.

GETTING BACK ON TOP

“Urban Cowboy,” released in 1979, put the actor back in the game as he played a refinery construction worker named Bud Davis, who showcased his moves inside the Gilley’s Club after work.

ohn Travolta attends a press conference during the IIFA Awards week at Hilton Tampa Downtown on April 26, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. | Source: Getty Images

ohn Travolta attends a press conference during the IIFA Awards week at Hilton Tampa Downtown on April 26, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. | Source: Getty Images

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The film centers on his relationship with a feisty woman, played by Debra Winger, at the joint who joins in on the dancefloor madness.

The famous Gilley Club boasts of hit songs that added to the movie’s success, including “Stand By Me,” “Lookin’ for Love,” “Look What You’ve Done to Me,” “Love the World Away,” and “All Night Long.”

John Travolta and Debra Winger smile on set of the Paramount Pictures movie 'Urban Cowboy" circa 1980. | Source: Getty Images

John Travolta and Debra Winger smile on set of the Paramount Pictures movie 'Urban Cowboy" circa 1980. | Source: Getty Images

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Before he passed in 1993, director James Bridges claimed that “Urban Cowboy” was a modern-day West with Travolta posting like a Marlboro man on the poster.

Winger also landed leading roles in the decades after, including “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Black Widow,” “Forget Paris,” “Radio,” and in this year’s “Kajilionaire.”

LOOKING BACK

Country entertainer Mickey Gilley, who owned the real-like Gilley’s Club, recently looked back at the film’s success.

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“They sent me out to Hollywood and gave me a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” he said. “All this happened because of the film ‘Urban Cowboy.’”

Gilley was launching his musical career in the ‘70s when he decided to have his own nightclub, where he was able to perform with Conway Twitty.

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“I never dreamed they would do it, but we signed off for them to use the club,” he added. “It launched me and Johnny Lee into the stratosphere as far as my career was concerned.”

“URBAN COWBOY” CAST

“Urban Cowboy” had a set of great actors and actresses who continued their careers in the industry. Travolta starred in “Pulp Fiction” a few years later, and recently in “The Fanatic.”

John Travolta arrives at the Ed Sullivan Theater for a taping of the David Letterman Show August 28, 2002 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

John Travolta arrives at the Ed Sullivan Theater for a taping of the David Letterman Show August 28, 2002 in New York City. | Source: Getty Images

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Winger also landed leading roles in the decades after, including “An Officer and a Gentleman,” “Black Widow,” “Forget Paris,” “Radio,” and in this year’s “Kajilionaire.”

Scott Glenn, who took on the role of Wes Hightower also appeared in several films such as “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Training Day,” “Sucker Punch,” and in the 2018 television series “Castle Rock.”

Among the cast, Barry Corbin has had a successful streak in the past two decades. From 1990 to 1995, he starred in the series “Northern Exposure,” followed by “One Tree Hill” from 2003 to 2009, and “The Ranch” in 2016 until 2020.

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