Dirty Dancing and Years of Suffering: Jennifer Grey’s Story

Jennifer Grey will always be remembered for playing Baby in Dirty Dancing and Jeanie in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But what happened to her after the ‘80s? She practically fell off the face of the earth, or so we thought. After a devastating car crash and nose job, her career seemed to be over.

Jennifer Grey / Jennifer Grey / Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey / Johnny Depp, Jennifer Grey, Michael J. Fox, Jennifer Grey.
Source: Getty Images

Grey suffered from years of chronic pain, went through a divorce, and only now is she getting back to her normal life. The actress was destined for stardom, but most people can’t name one project she has done recently. Find out how Jennifer Grey went from a star to fading into the background.

Born to Dance

Long before she appeared on our screens, Grey was born in New York City to Academy Award-winning actor Joel Grey and actress/singer Jo Wilder. Her grandfather was also a comedian and musician, so entertainment and talent ran in her blood. She was born to be in front of an audience.

A still of Jennifer dancing in a scene from Dirty Dancing.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Vestron

Grey started studying dance and acting at the Dalton School in Manhattan. After graduating in 1978, she continued her acting training at Manhattan’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. Like many actresses, she worked as a waitress to support herself in between auditions. Grey got her first job before finishing her studies.

Natural Talent

While still in school, Grey got her first job appearing in a 1979 Dr. Pepper commercial. The 19-year-old made a brief appearance in the advertisement. She went on to graduate from the Neighborhood Playhouse in 1980 and landed a big-screen role four years later in the romantic drama Reckless.

A dated studio portrait of Jennifer Grey.
Source: Getty Images

Though she was only 23, Grey had the talent to take her all the way. The early role was small, but she graduated to bigger parts in The Cotton Club and as Toni in the dystopian teen hit Red Dawn. It didn’t take long for her career to really take off.

John Hughes Put Her Name on the Map

She might be known for Dirty Dancing, but Grey’s first major role was in John Hughes’ Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with Matthew Broderick. Although she plays his tattle-tale sister in the film, Grey and Broderick were dating at the time. It must have been strange to play her boyfriend’s sister.

A still of Grey in a scene from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Paramount Pictures

Ferris Bueller was a huge success, and Grey’s performance helped her land the role of Baby the following year. People recognized her wherever she went, but Grey never expected how successful her next film would become. She wasn’t a professional dancer, but director Emile Ardolino thought she was perfect.

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

Ferris Bueller made Grey an A-list celebrity and a name to be reckoned with. When she landed the role of Baby, it was her second time working with Patrick Swayze. They co-starred in 1894’s Red Dawn but didn’t have a good relationship. She wasn’t happy that he was cast alongside her.

Grey and Swayze pose for the press at the film premiere.
Photo by Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Grey accepted the producer’s choice to cast Swayze after the dance tests in New York. Unfortunately, their cooperation faded, and reports surfaced that Grey and Swayze would argue between scenes. Despite their animosity, the low-budget film turned into a surprise hit. The film defined Grey’s career, and she received a Golden Globe nomination.

Two Left Feet

While it might be hard to believe, Grey struggled with the dance moves while filming Dirty Dancing. Swayze was a pro, but it took her several takes to get the scenes right. According to producer Linda Gottlieb, Grey would do something different for each take.

Grey and Swayze are in a scene from the film.
Source: MovieStillsDB.com / Copyright: Vestron Pictures

Meanwhile, Swayze would deliver the same thing repeatedly, waiting for Grey to get it right. He would make fun of her, and Grey cried easily. They didn’t have a good relationship behind the scenes but made it look like they were in love for the cameras.

Bad Blood

Dirty Dancing wasn’t the first time Grey and Swayze butted heads. They first worked together in 1984’s Red Dawn, a WWIII film. The filmmakers sent the cast to an eight-week military training program to get into character, but Swayze took it too far.

A still from the film Red Dawn.
Source: YouTube

He was the group leader, so during the training, Swayze got into his character and didn’t break from it for eight weeks. It didn’t sit well with Grey, and she got annoyed that Swayze started ordering her around. She didn’t want to be around him.

A Devastating Accident

Nine days before the Dirty Dancing premiere, Grey was involved in a devastating head-on car accident while vacationing in Ireland with her then-boyfriend Matthew Broderick. The occupants of the other car were killed, and she felt lucky to survive despite her painful neck injury.

A photo of Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey attending an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Broderick accidentally drifted into the wrong lane, and he was convicted of careless driving and fined $175. Grey did not face legal repercussions for the accident, but she had whiplash that ripped several ligaments in her neck. She got immediate medical attention, but it didn’t help.

She Needed a Break

Dirty Dancing catapulted Grey to fame, but her grief and survivor’s guilt from the accident prevented her from enjoying the film’s success. Grey also experienced persistent headaches and spasms in her neck when she moved her shoulders due to her injuries.

A still of Grey during an interview.
Source: YouTube

The events led Grey to withdraw from acting for some time. Her neck became severely compressed, and she needed a break. In the following years, she had a few more roles that weren’t noteworthy, including Lovey Lou in Bloodhounds of Broadway (1989) and Kelly Carter in If the Shoe Fits (1990).

New Romances

After her breakup from Broderick, Grey was linked to a few famous men in Hollywood. She was reportedly romantically involved with Michael J. Fox, George Stephanopoulos, and Johnny Depp. Grey and Depp were reportedly engaged in 1989, but it didn’t work out.

A picture of Grey and Depp at the airport / A photo of Grey and Michael J. Fox attending an event.
Photo by Vinnie Zuffante, Getty Images / Ron Galella, Ron Galella Collection, Getty Images

Grey is not one of Depp’s most well-known exes, but there were many rumors about their relationship at the time. Grey was not present when many of Depp’s exes came to his defense in court in his case against Amber Heard. Their romance mustn’t have ended well.


Sadly, 1987 proved to be the peak of Grey’s career, with a group of flop films following and sinking without a trace. In the early ‘90s, Grey made the biggest mistake of her career by getting a nose job. It was an ill-advised decision.

A portrait of Grey after the surgery.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

Grey needed a second surgery to correct the first, and it made her unrecognizable. Even close friends who had known her for years didn’t recognize her. The major change in her appearance negatively affected her career because directors didn’t hire her.

Major Regrets

Grey later said, “I went in the operating room a celebrity and came out anonymous. It was like being in a witness protection program or being invisible.” She regretted it and thought about changing her name to restart her career but decided against it.

Grey attends an event.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Her acting career never fully recovered after the procedures because it took away her uniqueness. Grey had to take undesirable roles because that was all she could get. The tabloids also ragged on her continuously for the nose job. Grey couldn’t escape the disaster.

She Got in on the Joke

The ‘90s were a less than significant decade for Grey. She was in movies that no one remembers and guest-starred on a few episodes of Friends. No one realized it was her because of her nose job. In 1999, she finally got in on the joke.

A still of Jennifer Aniston and Jennifer Grey in a scene from Friends.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: The WB Television Network

She starred as herself in ABC’s It’s Like, You Know…, satirizing her much-publicized plastic surgery as a running joke. Grey knew it would be better to laugh at herself instead of letting everyone else rag on her. The show proved to be funny and successful.

Real Love

Grey had a few romances after Broderick, but none of them were too serious. In the summer of 2000, she started dating Clark Gregg, and their relationship was the real deal. Many people recognize him from the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Agent Phil Coulson.

A picture of Grey and Gregg.
Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage/Getty Images

Grey and Gregg dated for a year before tying the knot on Martha’s Vineyard in 2001. A month later, they welcomed their daughter Stella. The two shared many passions and found ways to combine their relationship and their love of acting.

Love and Acting

Some actors steer clear of working with their partners on screen because work and relationships don’t always mix. But Grey and Gregg weren’t worried about that when they co-starred in the 2006 Lifetime movie The Road to Christmas. They played cliché love interests.

A promotional still of Grey and Gregg for the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Lifetime Television

It was not a notable film for either of them, but it was a feel-good Christmas film. It was one of the few projects Grey worked on during the decade. The TV movie didn’t get great reviews, but it was nice to see them together.

Making a Comeback

Throughout the 2000s, Grey was only in a handful of projects. She mainly stayed out of the spotlight for the entire decade. But when 2010 rolled around, Grey was ready to take her career back. She ironically appeared on Dancing With the Stars despite not being the best dancer.

Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough pose at the Dancing with the Stars Season 11 Premiere.
Photo by Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Grey was partnered with professional dancer Derek Hough, so she was in good hands. She came out of the gates strong, frequently topping the leader board. Grey was looking like she could take home the mirror ball trophy.

A Big Win

In Season 11 of DWTS, Grey started to fall behind due to injuries, stress, and exhaustion. She had started strong, but it almost looked like she would be eliminated from the competition. However, in week seven, Grey and Hough made a big comeback.

Grey and Hough visit Good Morning America.
Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

She tied with the frontrunner, Brandy Norwood, and reclaimed her place at the top of the competition. Grey and Hough went on to win Season 11. It was a huge win for Grey as she needed the win to get her name back on the map in Hollywood.

She Gushed Over Swayze

Swayze passed away a year before Grey’s DWTS appearance, and during her time on the show, there were many comparisons to Dirty Dancing. Although they never had a great relationship, Grey said she missed dancing with Swayze during the show.

A still of Grey and Swayze dancing in the forest in a scene from Dirty Dancing.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Vestron

Despite their complicated relationship, Swayze and Grey always respected each other in the press. While she had a challenging experience during Dirty Dancing, Grey would never have said a bad thing about Swayze, only speaking about him positively. She called him “fearless” when referring to their famous lift.

Health Scare

Before competing on Dancing With the Stars, Grey had an in-depth and potentially life-saving medical examination. An MRI showed a cancerous nodule on her thyroid, which was caught and removed before it metastasized. However, that wasn’t the only procedure she had that year.

A picture of Gregg and Grey during an event.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Due to the accident, she had in 1987, Grey’s spinal cord was compressed. She spent years in constant pain, trying everything that could offer relief. In 2009, Grey needed emergency surgery to remove a disc in her spine and straighten her neck alignment.

She Could Have Been Paralyzed

When celebrities are chosen for Dancing With the Stars, they need medical clearance to compete. It’s a good thing that this is required because Grey’s spine injury was much worse than she thought. The doctor found that there was no fluid around her spinal cord.

Jennifer Grey, Stella Gregg, and Clark Gregg pose for the press.
Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

If Grey hadn’t had the emergency spine surgery, she could have gotten seriously injured on the show. Grey could have been paralyzed if she fell, slipped, or experienced a sudden head movement. She was told not to dance, work out, or drive a car until it was fixed.

Pain Became Her “New Normal”

Grey admitted that she had been suffering for so long and didn’t realize how the pain had taken control of her life. She stopped doing things she loved, like dancing, because it worsened the pain. Grey slowly isolated herself from the world.

A portrait of Jennifer Grey.
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Grey had seen many doctors over the years but never fully acknowledged the seriousness of her condition. She said, “In retrospect, I was in denial.” Doctors suggested surgery long before 2009, but the long recovery scared Grey, so she convinced herself that the pain wasn’t that bad.

A Second Surgery

The first surgery was a success, but Grey needed a second surgery to relieve the long-term effects of trauma caused by the car accident. Grey had spurs removed from her neck to relieve the rest of the pain. She then underwent physical therapy.

Grey speaks on stage during a conference.
Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images

After years of being in constant pain, Grey finally got her life back. She was on the move again and prepared to open a dance studio. Grey said, “I finally got to the point where I wanted my life back. Everyone deserves to enjoy a life without pain.”

Her Career Never Recovered

Although DWTS was a big moment for Grey, her career never fully recovered. She played Iris Garvey in the Lifetime movie Bling Ring. Grey also stood in for the head judge on BBC’s competition show, Strictly Come Dancing. However, she didn’t have any prominent roles.

A still of Grey in a scene from the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: A24

Despite her efforts, Grey’s career never fully recovered. In 2014, she starred in the Amazon series Red Oaks and had a three-episode guest role on Grey’s Anatomy. She was also in 2019’s Bittersweet Symphony, in which she played Eleanor Roberts.

She Didn’t Want to Dance

For many years, Grey refused to dance. Besides the pain, Grey didn’t want to because if she didn’t look impressive doing it, she didn’t want to dance at all. But when she became a mother, Grey realized she didn’t want Stella to be like that.

Grey attends an event.
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/WireImage/Getty Images

Grey wanted her daughter to do things for the love of doing them, not because she knew she would be good at them. Grey said, “It’s cool to do it wrong because that’s how you get better.” She said your soul wants you to try new things.

An Unfortunate Split

After almost two decades together, Grey and Gregg announced their split in 2020. Their statement said, “We separated in January, knowing we’d always be a family who loves, values, and cares for each other. We remain close and are deeply grateful for the life we’ve shared.”

A picture of Grey during an event.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

Grey and Gregg said their separation was amicable, and it took a year to finalize everything. They will always be in each other’s lives because they share a daughter, but the couple grew apart and wanted different things over the years.

She Kept Her Money

In her divorce settlement, Grey got to keep 100 percent of the earnings and residuals from Dirty Dancing. She also got to keep their family home in Los Angeles. However, in the settlement, she and Gregg will split the profits equally if she sells the house.

A dated photo of Grey and Gregg attending an event.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Gregg was not ordered to pay spousal support, but the two agreed to share the expenses for their daughter until she is 24. Grey will also receive a percentage of royalties and residuals from Gregg’s projects that he worked on while they were married.

She Has Many Passions

While Grey loves her work as an actress, she also has other passions outside the industry. In 2017, she participated in the Women’s March in Los Angeles. She spoke at the event and strongly supported women’s rights and other social issues.

A photo of Grey recording an audiobook.
Source: Instagram /@jennifer_grey

Grey was delighted to participate in the 2017 march because it was about more than just women’s rights. The protest was for taking a stand on human rights issues ranging from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, immigration, and healthcare. She was proud to speak about these issues.

Proud of Her Religion

When Grey was younger, she never cared about her Jewish heritage. But her opinion changed when she had Stella. She wanted to raise her daughter as a Jew, which reconnected Grey to her heritage. Grey took time to connect with her faith and community before Stella’s bat mitzvah.

A photo of Stella / A dated portrait of Grey.
Source: Instagram ,@jennifer_grey / Moviestillsdb.com, Copyright: Vestron

Her restored faith inspired Grey to take part in Amazon’s Red Oaks, a historical show based around a 1985 Jewish country club in New Jersey. Grey was joined by a cast mostly made up of Jewish actors, including Richard Kind and Paul Reiser.

Her Father’s Secret

For most of her life, Grey never knew that there was anything different about her father, Joel. The award-winning actor was an excellent father and always wanted children, but he didn’t always want to be with a woman. In 2015, he finally revealed his secret.

A picture of Jennifer Grey with her father.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

Grey’s father came out as gay publicly in 2015. Meanwhile, Grey had known about her father’s sexuality since she was 27. She supported his decision to announce himself as a gay man when he finally felt safe enough to do so.

Using Her Voice

Although Grey’s career on-screen was never as successful as it was in the’80s, she didn’t stop acting. Her nose job might have made it hard to get roles, but she used her talents to be a voice actor. Grey has voiced many animated characters over the years.

A promotional poster of the film.
Source: Moviestillsdb.com/ Copyright: Disney

Grey voiced many characters on Disney’s Phineas & Ferb. It must have been cool for her young daughter to see her mom working for Disney Channel. She also voiced a character in DreamWorks’ Duck Duck Goose in 2018. Her skills go beyond physical movements and traits.

Going Overseas

In 2013, Grey got the opportunity to voice act in the Studio Ghibli film The Wind Rises. This might not seem like a big deal to most people, but Studio Ghibli is the most renowned animation studio in Japan and is highly regarded as one of the best by critics, creators, and fans.

A portrait of Jennifer Grey.
Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

Grey voiced Mrs. Kurokawa, who housed and helped take care of the main character’s wife while she was ill. Not many people knew Grey was in this film, but it was a big success overseas.

Only One Nomination

Many actors go through their careers receiving nominations for numerous awards, including Golden Globes, Emmys, or Academy Awards. However, Grey has only been nominated for one award in her entire career. In 1988, she got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress.

A photo of Grey and Swayze backstage at the Academy Awards.
Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

Her performance in Dirty Dancing earned her the solo nomination in the Motion Picture Comedy or Musical category. Unfortunately, Cher took home the award that year for Moonstruck. Grey hasn’t won or been nominated for any awards since 1988, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.

What Is Jennifer Grey’s Net Worth?

Grey has an estimated net worth of about $10 million. She has been working in Hollywood since the ‘80s but has only appeared in two hit films. She has appeared in several films and TV shows in the past decades, but they weren’t big projects.

A dated picture of Jennifer Grey arriving at an event.
Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Her work in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Dirty Dancing have made Grey most of her money due to residuals and royalties. Grey’s hard work has paid off because $10 million is still a lot more money than most people have.

How Old Is Jennifer Grey?

She may not look like she did at the peak of her career due to her nose job, but Grey is as beautiful as ever. At 62-years-old, the actress is still youthful and vibrant. She has overcome many things in her life, like cancer and a spine injury.

Grey takes a picture of herself at home.
Source: Instagram /@jennifer_grey

Grey works out regularly and has a regimented skincare routine. Grey might look different than most remember, but that hasn’t made her any less beautiful. She has some regrets about her looks, but she looks better than most people her age.

What Could Have Been

Grey would probably be a world-class actress had her career not suffered from the reaction to her nose job. It seems silly that the industry turned against her for going under the knife. In an industry that criticizes women for looking different, she did what anyone would do.

A dated portrait of Grey.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Grey has since made peace with her plastic surgery decision, but she must wonder what her life might have been like if she hadn’t done it. Grey said she eliminated people from her life who made her feel like she needed to change.

Reprising Her Role

It was announced that Grey would star and produce a new Dirty Dancing project. While few details have been released about the project, it will be the romantic, nostalgic movie that fans of the original film have been waiting for all these years.

A photo of Grey walking the street.
Photo by Hollywood To You/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images

Sadly, Swayze is not alive to be a part of the project, but Grey hopes to keep his memory alive. She was sad that she never got to work on a revival project with him. They might have had their differences, but they could’ve created something great.

It Will Be Different

When Grey spoke to People magazine about the upcoming Dirty Dancing revival, she said the new film won’t try to recapture the chemistry she had with Swayze. She said, “There is no replacing anyone who’s passed – you never try to repeat magic like that.”

A still from the film.
Source: YouTube

Grey said she is trying to go for something different while keeping the original film’s essence. It was about “innocence and the way innocence is lost and how people explode into different iterations of themselves.” That’s what Grey wants to bring to the new film.

She’s an Author

In 2022, Grey will release her memoir Out of the Corner. She shared that the book talks about how she reclaimed her sense of self. Grey shared that writing the book has been one of the most gratifying things she has ever done. It helped her work through many things.

Grey takes a picture of herself holding her memoir Out of the Corner.
Source: Instagram /@jennifer_grey

Grey said everyone should write the story of their lives, adding, “We’re all so busy telling everyone else’s story. Especially in Hollywood.” She felt empowered to take back the narrative of her life and share her side of the story.

No Regrets

Grey’s memoir is the first time she has reflected on her life to inspire others. Out of the Corner is about her never-ending personal evolution. She said it is a coming-of-age story for women of every age. Grey shared that she has no regrets about her past.

Grey takes a photo of herself for social media.
Source: Instagram /@jennifer_grey

Writing the book helped Grey overcome a lot of the things she was upset about in the past. She said, “Your self-esteem shouldn’t be attached to being perfect or judged. What if we all just did what makes us happy?”

She’s Learned a Lot

Grey shared that as she has gotten older, she stopped caring what other people thought about her. She learned many things as she aged, and things that used to concern her no longer occupy space in her mind. She started focusing on herself instead of negative people.

A picture of Grey with her puppies.
Source: Instagram /@jennifer_grey

Grey realized that people’s opinions could only affect her if she let them. While comments have gotten to her in the past, Grey doesn’t let those things bother her anymore. She surrounds herself with positivity and people who like her the way she is.

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