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'Cabaret' Star Joel Grey Welcomed 3 Kids with Actress Jo Wilder but Came Out as Gay at 82

Manuela Cardiga
Apr 12, 2021
05:00 A.M.
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Joel Grey welcomed three beautiful children, including Jennifer Grey, with actress Jo Wilder. However, at the old age of 82, he decided to stay true to himself by coming out as gay. 

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Academy Award-winning actor, singer, dancer, and director Joel Grey, is now living life peacefully at 89 years old. He has traveled a tortuous road of self-acceptance in terms of who he is and whom he loves – and it took him most of his long and eventful life.

Born Joel David Katz in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932, Grey was born to a family of performers. His father, Mickey Katz, was an actor, instrumentalist, and director. 

Joel Grey with his Academy Award in 1972 | Photo: Getty Images

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HIS EARLY LIFE

He would go on to study high school in Los Angeles before heading to the east coast to pursue a career in theater. A year after graduating, he debuted under the stage name Joel Kaye in the musical "Borscht Capades," which was directed by his father. 

Five years later, he changed his stage name to Joel Grey and starred in "The Littlest Revue," a musical by Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash that also featured Larry Storch and Tammy Grimes. 

Jo Wilder, Jennifer Grey, and Joel Grey at the premiere of "Dirty Dancing" in 1987 in New York | Source: Getty Images

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HIS CLAIM TO FAME

Following his Broadway debut, he would appear on the likes of "Come Blow Your Horn," "Stop the World – I Want to Get Off," and "Sixpence." However, it was in 1966 that he finally landed a role that made him unforgettable to many. 

He starred as the Master of Ceremonies on "Cabaret," the hit show that starred Lotte Lenya and bagged multiple Tony Awards. Grey himself won a Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. 

Joel Grey at the Art Students League's 2019 Gala in 2019 in New York | Source: Getty Images

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CROSSING OVER TO FILM

Due to "Cabaret" being a crowd favorite, it was turned into a movie, with Grey reprising his role. He performed alongside Liza Minnelli, and he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1972 for the film. 

A couple of years later, Grey once again earned a Tony nomination for "Goodtime Charley," before starring on "The Grand Tour." His most recent Broadway role was on "Wicked" back in 2003. 

Jennifer Grey and Joel Grey at the "Red Oaks" series premiere in 2015 in New York City | Source: Getty Images

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HIS PERSONAL LIFE

While Grey worked as an actor on Broadway and guested on some of the popular TV shows of the time, including "Maverick," and "Bronco," something extraordinary happened.

He met lovely actress Jo Wilder and fell deeply in love. At the time, he found himself rethinking his sexuality. Jo offered him the possibility of a normal life, and the family he'd always longed for.

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HIS MARRIAGE

Three weeks after they started dating Joel proposed and in 1958 they married. Joel had "decided" to be heterosexual to dodge the dread fate of being "a freak, a fairy."

Being married to Wilder was the first step, and two years later, he joyfully welcomed his first child, Jennifer. The couple welcomed a second child, James, and it seemed that their happiness was complete.

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HIS SUCCESS

Grey's career was booming at the time, which included his work on "Cabaret." But even though he loved his wife and children, found himself seeking relationships with men, and had affairs.

The actor would tell himself he wasn't cheating, he was seeking "the safe haven of men.” He also realized how homosexuality was not accepted, it was vilified. If Grey chose to live according to his inclination life would be difficult, his dreams out of reach.

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HIDING HIS HEART

Despite falling in love with Wilder, he also discovered that falling in love as an adolescent meant being attracted to men, not pretty girls. Grey started pretending, hiding away his true feelings and his true self. Decades later, he confessed:

”Making love to a man felt right to me, but I knew it would get me into big trouble.”

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HIS BEST-KEPT SECRET

Grey was born and raised in an era where homosexuality wasn't just socially unacceptable, it was a crime. Early on, he realized that he was different and that the people he was attracted to were of the same sex.

Grey revealed in his book "Master of Ceremonies: A Memoir" that his awareness that he was a homosexual crystalized at the age of 10 when he realized he was in love with an older boy.

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DEVASTATING DIVORCE

In the late 1970s, Grey decided that it was time to be honest with Wilder about his sexuality. He opened up about his sporadic affairs with men.

Unfortunately for Grey, Wilder's reaction was not what he had hoped. She openly showed him that she was both horrified and disgusted. 

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LIVING SEPARATE LIVES

Not long after the revelation, Wilder initiated divorce proceedings and Grey was stripped of what he most treasured: his family. After the divorce, he fell into a depression and became ill.

Although his ex-wife and his closest friends knew he was homosexual, it would take Grey another three decades to come out to the world. The AIDS epidemic terrified him, but starring in the play "The Normal Heart" was a revelation.

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LIVING AS HIMSELF

The play "The Normal Heart" offered Joel the opportunity to speak the words "I'm gay" for the first time, and he found the experience liberating. In 2014, at the age of 82, Joel revealed that he was indeed, gay.

By his side, as his unconditional supporter was his daughter, "Dirty Dancing" star Jennifer Grey and her family. Today, Grey, a best-selling author, a gifted photographer, and an award-winning director is finally happy. He is himself.

Just this month, Grey was announced as the chosen host of the 50th annual Theater Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement in the American Theater induction ceremony. The ceremony took place on November 15 at Gershwin Theatre. 

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