When it was announced that John Travolta would be be presenting at this year's Oscars on Sunday, March 27, people naturally wondered if he was going to make another reference to Adele Dazeem, the fictional actress who has stalked his career since he invoked her name at the 2014 Academy Awards. But that's only one of many times Travolta has been adjacent to madness at the telecast. Call it the John Travolta Oscars Chaos Theory: When he appears on the show, there's a high probability that hijinks will ensue.
Consider these examples:
Back in 1977, John Travolta was a brand new movie star. After shooting to teen idol fame on the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, he made the transition to big screen success with his legendary turn as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever. His sensational performance not only got him nominated for Best Actor, but also got him invited to present the award for Best Supporting Actress.
All seemed to be going as planned until Vanessa Redgrave took the trophy for her performance in Julia. In her acceptance speech, she referenced the controvery surrounding her support for a Palestinian state, which had sparked protests outside that evening's event. When she called her detractors "Zionist hoodlums," people in the audience gasped and booed. You could say that Travolta didn't have anything to do with this, but the chaos theory suggests his mere presence helped it happen.
In 1994, Travolta rode Pulp Fiction to a career renaissance. He'd spent the last few years in movies that either went straight to video or were part of the Look Who's Talking franchise, but thank to his turn in Quentin Tarantino's breakthrough film, he returned to A-lister status, starring in one blockbuster after another for the rest of the 90s. (Props to Phenomenon!)
After he got his second Oscar nomination for Pulp Fiction, it was a no-brainer to have him present an award with his co-star Samuel L. Jackson. But did they let the guys give out visual effects? Sound editing? No! They had them present the documentary awards. That year, the Best Documentary Feature lineup made a lot of people really mad because the nominating commitee didn't select Hoop Dreams, Steve James's fantastic film about inner-city kids who hope to become NBA players. The movie was so popular that it got a nomination for Best Editing, which almost never happens for a doc, so its failure to appear in its home category was considered a sign that the entire slate was bogus. And there was John Travolta, lording over the event. Was it a coincidence, or further proof that his chaotic power is strong?
By the 2008 ceremony, Travolta was one of the Academy's go-to guys, having shown up to present at nine of the previous 10 shows. Plus, he was still a bankable star, despite the debacle known as Battlefield Earth. When he appeared at this particular Oscars, he was coming off Hairspray and Wild Hogs, which both earned over $100 miillion dollars at the American box office.
None of his appearances since the Hoop Dreams year were connected to any particular controversy, so it seemed like he'd left the chaos behind. But the lack of chaos is an element of chaos itself. When we are waiting for disaster, there is nothing more disorienting than an easy ride.
And just when we were all comfortable again, Travolta presented Best Original Song to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová for "Falling Slowly," their beautiful ballad from Once. After Hansard spoke, the orchestra played the pair off stage before Irglová got to say a word. Host Jon Stewart was so ticked that he brought her back to complete her acceptance speech. It was wild. It was memorable. And it was no accident that Travolta was involved.
And then came this. At the 2014 ceremony, Travolta came out to introduce Idina Menzel's performance of "Let It Go," the megahit ballad from Frozen and that evening's winner for Best Original Song. You could feel the whirlwind brewing when he punched a joke about her being "wickedly talented," a nod to her work as Elphaba in Wicked. Travolta's delivery was staccato and weird, and it's possible he threw himself off and then got in his head about it. But whatever the reason, he then proceeded to refer to Idina Menzel as "Adele Dazeem."
Within seconds, the internet went crazy. There were "Adele Dazeem" name generators online. Jonathan Groff subtweeted Travolta in his own introduction of Menzel at that year's Tony Awards. And at the next year's Oscars, Menzel and Travolta gamely presented an award together, a cute little reference to the whole brouhaha.
It might be tempting to think this was the peak of Travolta's chaotic reign, but let's not be hasty. This year he could make Adele Dazeem seem like a mere opening act to the madness that he unleashes from the stage.
The 94th Academy Awards air Sunday, March 27 at 8:00 PM ET/5:00 PM PT on ABC.
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Mark Blankenship has been writing about arts and culture for twenty years, with bylines in The New York Times, Variety, Vulture, Fortune, and many others. You can hear him on the pop music podcast Mark and Sarah Talk About Songs.