John Travolta Faced $25m Extortion Attempt after Son’s Death Turned New Year Celebration into a Nightmare

Bettina Dizon
Dec 27, 2021
06:20 P.M.
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After John Travolta's 16-year-old son died during a family vacation, people threatened to publish papers of him being behind the teen's death. Among them was the paramedic transporting Travolta and his son to the hospital.

What should have been a wonderful New Year's vacation in the Bahamas turned into John Travolta's worst nightmare when his 16-year-old son, Jett, was found unconscious in a bathroom. The boy had a seizure and hit his head in a bathtub that day, leading to his death.

Jett was the only son of the "Grease" star and his wife, Kelly Preston. The couple also shares a daughter, Ella Bleu, who was eight years old at that time.

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John Travolta looking sad during an interview. | Source: Getty Images

In his testimony, Travolta narrated that he and Preston were woken up by the nanny at around 10:15 in the morning. "I ran downstairs with my wife to help my son," he said, as told by ABC News. He got downstairs only to find another caretaker doing chest compressions on a lifeless Jett.

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The father-of-two stepped in and began performing CPR on his son, but unfortunately, Jett did not make it. He was declared dead at Rand Memorial Hospital. The tragic incident undoubtedly devastated the actor, who loved Jett unconditionally. In an interview, Travolta said:

"I can't imagine what life would be like without Jett. After he was born and cleaned up, I held him for hours while Kelly slept. When they came to take him away for various tests, I said, 'No, you can't see him today.'"

John Travolta during the premiere of "FX's "American Crime Story - The People V. O.J. Simpson" held at Westwood Village Theatre on January 27, 2016 in Westwood, California. | Source: Getty Images

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JETT'S UNDERLYING CONDITIONS

After Jett's demise, Preston opened up about her son's underlying conditions. "[He] was autistic. He had seizures, and when he was very young, he had Kawasaki syndrome," she revealed on an episode of "The Doctors," as told by Daily News.

At the age of two, Jett became ill with flu-like symptoms before the doctor's diagnosed him with Kawasaki disease. The rare autoimmune disorder causes the inflammation of blood vessels and usually attacks young kids. 

Earlier this year, Travolta shared an Instagram photo of his late son on what would have been his 29th birthday.

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Meanwhile, different factors may have contributed to Jett's autism, such as Preston's antibiotic usage while breastfeeding him and her quick yet difficult labor with Jett. According to Preston, Kawasaki syndrome may have also contributed to her son's autism.

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Jett also suffered from seizures every five to ten days, of which each lasted 45 seconds to a minute. Despite using medications for the seizure, the boy would continue to experience episodes. Usually, he would fall asleep for 12 hours after each seizure. Preston recalled:

"We would try all different things, and I felt when we were able to keep certain things at a bare minimum and do as healthy as possible, he did so much better. He was coming out of the autism."

Prior to admitting Jett's conditions, the family only disclosed their son having Kawasaki disease and nothing else. According to critics, the Travolta family hid their son's autism due to their Scientology belief.

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TRAVOLTA RECEIVES BLACKMAILS AND EXTORTION

In the months following Jett's death, a former Bahamas senator and one of the paramedics at the scene allegedly tried to blackmail the "Pulp Fiction" star using private information as leverage. The two planned to release confidential information about the couple signing a refusal for emergency services for Jett.

It turned out that there was no such document signed. The paramedic, Tarino Lightbourne, had a testimony of what happened during Travolta's last moments with his son: "I'll never forget this day. I saw him lean over and hug his son and kiss his son and tell him he loved him, and I did everything I could." He added:

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"I saw love in his eyes. I saw love. [Travolta] hugged him, and put his arm around him, kissed him on the forehead and the cheek, and told him he loved him. He then turned to me and gave me a hug."

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Travolta told the paramedic, "You guys did a wonderful job." Lightbourne was later arrested and charged with conspiracy to extort along with Senator Pleasant Bridgewater. Lightborne reportedly asked for $25 million from the actor in exchange for his silence.

However, the Travolta family decided to drop the charges just as the retrial was about to begin for the two. According to Prosecutor Neil Braithwaite:

"The Travolta family has said that this matter has caused them unbelievable stress and pain, and they wish to put this whole thing behind them."

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COPING WITH GRIEF

Facing such a legal battle publicly was no easy feat for the actor who was, at the same time, grieving his son's death. At first, the actor revealed that he was unsure how to come to terms with Jett's passing, saying:

"It's the worst thing that's ever happened in my life. The truth is, I didn't know if I was going to make it."

Fortunately, he was able to do so with help from the Church of Scientology. "The church never left our sides for two years," he said. "I don't know if I would have made it through without their support." 

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Another thing that helped the actor was the birth of his son, Benjamin, in 2010, over a year after Jett's death. Benjamin gave the couple a new purpose and brought their family closer to each other.

Although it has been years since his demise, Travolta continues to honor his son and keeps Jett's memory alive and strong. Earlier this year, Travolta shared an Instagram photo of his late son on what would have been his 29th birthday.

The black and white photo featured a smiling Jett and Travolta looking at his boy with a grin. The proud father need not say how much he loves his late son in public, but his small actions show that he was a good dad and one who misses Jett terribly.

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