You may have first seen her in Red Dawn or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but there’s no denying that Jennifer Grey’s most iconic role is Frances “Baby” Houseman in 1987’s Dirty Dancing. Now more than 30 years old, the beloved movie is a favorite of people of all ages and, despite its 1960s setting, somehow feels truly timeless. Although a 2017 television remake tried to capture some of that charm, it was ultimately a flop. While Abigail Breslin did her best to channel Baby, many were left wondering what happened to the original Baby after all these years. So just what has Jennifer Grey been up to since carrying that watermelon? We’ve got the answers!
She was in a car accident with Matthew Broderick
Even if you remember that Grey played Matthew Broderick’s sister in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you may not remember that she was also in a relationship with Broderick. Even more under the radar, then, is the fact that Grey and Broderick were in a serious car accident just before Dirty Dancing was released. While on vacation in Ireland, the pair were in a rented car when Broderick (who was driving) collided head on with another driver, killing two people.
While Grey only suffered bumps and bruises externally, the accident left her with emotional scars. “I became America’s sweetheart within five days of the accident,” she told People in 2010. “The juxtaposition of that deep sorrow, the survivor’s guilt … and then being celebrated as the new big thing just didn’t jibe. It didn’t feel good to be the toast of the town.”
So Grey didn’t relish her newfound fame like she likely would have otherwise, choosing instead to take a bit of a step back. “The impact was emotional and physical,” she said in the People interview. “My body was never the same, my head was never the same, my ambition was never the same.”
She was in Bloodhounds of Broadway with Madonna
While Grey didn’t embrace her Dirty Dancing fame the way she might have if not for the accident, she did take on another silver screen role when she starred alongside Madonna and Matt Dillon in Bloodhounds of Broadway in 1989. While Grey’s performance was met with mixed reviews (Variety said she did “a good job“), the film was met with overall negative reviews (with The New York Times noting that it “never gets going“). But if nothing else, Grey’s duet with Madonna showed audiences that not only could she dance, she could also sing.
She dated Johnny Depp
After her relationship with Matthew Broderick, Grey was linked to another Hollywood actor. After A Nightmare on Elm Street, but before Cry Baby and Edward Scissorhands, none other than Johnny Depp wooed Grey. While they were only together for a year, and famously only appeared in a single photograph together, the two were actually engaged during their short romance. Given the current state of Depp’s personal and financial life, we’d say the actress probably dodged a bullet. (Add that to things we never thought we’d say a couple of years ago.)
She got a nose job
While 1989 might have been the year she was in a movie with Madonna as well as the year she was engaged to Johnny Depp, it wasn’t all positive. It was also the year she got the nose job that changed everything. Well, sort of. It was 1989 when Grey got her first nose job, a decision that People notes was a choice that perhaps “most ambitious people would not have made” as it “radically altered her appearance” in the long run. But that could have been because fame wasn’t really what Grey was after, with the impact of the car accident with Broderick still lingering. “I really felt like I wanted to be a wife and a mom,” she told People, but her acting days were not yet over.
The era of TV movies
While Grey might not have thrived as a Hollywood starlet, that didn’t mean she had to give up acting. So she turned to TV movies. In 1990 she was in Murder in Mississippi, which recounted the murder of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964. In the film she played the wife of Mickey Schwerner, one of the murdered activists.
The same year she starred in Criminal Justice and If the Shoe Fits, where she played an attorney, and Rob Lowe’s dressing room assistant in a modern retelling of Cinderella, respectively. In 1991’s Eyes of a Witness she played a doctor in Kenya whose father is suspected of murder and in 1993 she once again played an attorney in A Case for Murder. If you don’t remember any of them, don’t worry — neither does anyone else.
She briefly did theater
With her career seemingly relegated to TV movies, Grey branched out into theater in 1993 with a role in The Twilight of the Golds. In it she played Suzanne, the pregnant wife of a doctor whose biotech research has discovered a way to detect chromosomal differences early in pregnancy. These very tests show that the couple’s healthy baby has a 90 percent chance of being gay. While the question of what this means for the couple (Suzanne’s brother is also gay) — and what this would mean for the audience members watching it — certainly brought contemporary issues to the forefront, the play was not exactly well-received otherwise. As of 2017, it’s Grey’s only run in theater.
Then she got another nose job
Around this time in the early ’90s, the recognizable face of Baby Houseman faded forever into distant memories and VHS replays when a piece of cartilage broke off from the first surgery and she underwent a second nose job. While the first may have drastically altered her appearance, the second made her virtually unrecognizable. According to the NY Daily News, while she was sedated, the doctor “decided to turn a minor change into a major change.” While her career seemed to be on a downswing already, Grey went from still being a known name (and face), to what she called “complete obscurity.”
She kept working, but nobody really knew who she was
To Grey’s credit, she didn’t let her second, appearance-altering nose job stop her from working. The thing is, you probably didn’t recognize her in anything you may have seen her in. Contact Music reports she said at the time of her nose job, “It was like being in a witness protection program or being invisible.”
From this point she started primarily working on low-budget movies or doing bit parts in television shows. She made a guest appearance on an episode of Friends in 1995 where she and Rachel, uh, shared similar tastes in men, along with an appearance on Fallen Angels where she played a would-be serial killer victim, and the 1995 romantic comedy Lover’s Knot. From there she picked up more forgettable roles in 1996’s Portraits of a Killer (another attorney role), both Red Meat and The Player in 1997, followed by Outrage and Since You’ve Been Gone in 1998, and Bounce in 2000.
She considered changing her name to Wanda West
As her parts got smaller and smaller, Grey started to realize just how much of an impact her drastically different appearance was having on her success. No longer did “Jennifer Grey” mean the same thing it meant in 1987 when she was coming off the high of Dirty Dancing. In fact, it was around this time that Grey considered changing her name altogether.
According to Newsweek, after the nose job incident Grey invented the monicker and personality Wanda West, reportedly named after Grey’s old street (Wanda) in Hollywood. The idea, as Grey told Newsweek, was that Wanda West could potentially get more roles than Grey herself was getting at the time. “I’ve got to tell you, I think it could have worked,” she said. “This town is so built on who’s the new face, and no one would have ever known it was me.” Ultimately she decided to stick with who she really was, telling Newsweek, “I guess it’s a lost opportunity now — I’m stuck with me.”
She played herself in a TV series
If you can only be you, the best way to do that is on a television show, right? So that’s exactly what Grey did. From 1999-2001 she played a “heightened reality version of herself” in the TV series It’s Like, You Know… on ABC. Throughout the series, Grey made fun of herself, including her nose jobs and her history of Hollywood relationships. “I decided to make fun of this, to make my fiasco become my reality. After all, it’s not cancer, and it’s absurd that just a nose job could wreak such havoc,” she told the Washington Post. Compared in multiple reviews to Seinfeld (but “sunnier”) the show never quite hit its stride and was canceled midway through its second season.
She married Clark Gregg in 2001
While her Hollywood relationships may have been fodder for tabloids and her ill-fated sitcom, Grey finally found true love in 2001 when she married Clark Gregg — who you may know from The New Adventures of Old Christine or, more recently, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D — on Martha’s Vineyard. The couple had only dated for about a year prior and were wed by Gregg’s father Robert, an Episcopal minister. The couple’s daughter Stella was born five months later and, as Grey told People, “it was very hard to get me out of the house because I didn’t want to miss any of it. It was all about family, friends.”
She turned to voice work
With more of a focus on family and her TV series canceled, Grey picked up a few more small parts between 2001-2008, including Ritual in 2002, The Road to Christmas alongside her husband in 2006, a three-episode arc on the show John from Cincinnati in 2007, and small parts in the movies Keith and Redbelt, both in 2008. It was around this time that she turned to something that didn’t require her face to be recognizable at all — voice work. So even if you weren’t seeing much of her, you (or your kids) probably heard her! Beginning in 2008 and continuing periodically through 2014, Grey voiced several characters on the Disney television show Phineas and Ferb, including Louisa Patel, the principal’s assistant Mrs. Pierpoint, and the villainous Dr. Gevaarlijk.
She underwent spinal surgeries and battled cancer
While Grey had continued to work in the years since her 1987 car accident, there were lingering injuries that only continued to worsen. In an interview with People, Grey described “headaches that lasted four days” due to the degenerated ligaments that had ripped in the accident. While Grey tried to get along with just Advil and ice packs, she was approached multiple times to do Dancing with the Stars. Although she had said no more than once, she finally agreed at the encouragement of friends Michael J. Fox and Jamie Lee Curtis. To do that, she needed a physical.
The doctors discovered she had a compressed spinal cord, which meant that all it would take to lead to paralysis was “one slip, one fall, one minor rear-end.” Grey’s doctor ordered two spinal surgeries. During these surgeries, her doctor became worried about a lump she had previously been told was a benign thyroid nodule. Turns out, it was full-blown thyroid cancer. This led to two more surgeries to have her thyroid removed entirely.
Luckily, Grey did not require chemotherapy or radiation and after those four surgeries she has a titanium plate in her neck and is cancer-free. With a relative clean bill of health, she decided it was time to finally tackle DWTS. Grey told Good Morning America, “I do feel that just the movement towards the joy, in spite of the fear, was a very important shift for me.”
She won Dancing with the Stars
And embrace that joy she did. When Grey joined the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars, it mean rehearsing seven days a week for six hours each day. But Grey told People that getting back to dancing, and the spotlight, was something she hadn’t even realized how much she missed from her life. “It’s like I’ve been starving myself because of what people might think of me,” she said. “This is like eating a delicious steak after 23 years of fasting.”
In that early interview she also wasn’t really looking to win. She said, “If my dancing is a disaster-it doesn’t define me as a person. The only reason I’m doing this is for myself.” Quickly, however, Grey became the season favorite. With the highest individual score for the Cha-cha-cha, Viennese Waltz, Rumba, Waltz, Tango, Paso doble, and Freestyle (and tying for the highest score for the Quickstep), Grey was on the top of the leaderboard more than any other contestant during the season.
After rupturing a disc in her spine the night before the finale, Grey still pulled it out for the win. She told People, “I didn’t even think about winning when I first started. This is so unbelievable. I feel so grateful, so blessed, that I had this opportunity to spend three months learning to dance and getting paid for it. I don’t know that there’s any experience that will ever be anything like this again.”
She starred in Amazon’s Red Oaks
Beginning in 2014, Grey found her way back to television by way of Amazon’s Red Oaks. Set in the 1980s, Grey plays the mother of university student David who just got a job as a tennis coach at the Red Oaks Country Club and is trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Grey’s character Judy is trying to figure things out herself, most notably, her sexual identity.
In a panel ahead of the second season (via After Ellen), Grey explained her character’s struggle of “not knowing if it’s just this marriage that she wasn’t into, or maybe it’s not maybe it’s not men, or maybe it’s just a different man, or maybe it’s a woman. And because it’s [the 1980s], not now, and because she came from a time when it wasn’t okay to be gay, and it’s just like it’s just so new, the idea of what that is, that’s nothing she has ever explored.”
She walked in the LA Women’s March
Not only did Grey attend the L.A. Women’s March in January 2017 along with thousands of other women and men, she wore what is certainly the most perfect shirt for the occasion. Captured in her Instagram photo before the march, the shirt addressed the leaked tape of President Donald Trump referring to grabbing women “by the p***y.” Grey’s shirt was the perfect blend of Dirty Dancing and feminism, stating, “Nobody puts p***y in a corner.” Lance Bass of ‘N Sync agreed, saying on Instagram that she won best shirt at the march.
She turned down a role in the Dirty Dancing remake
With the critically panned Dirty Dancing remake still fresh in a lot of people’s minds, you may be wondering why Grey wasn’t a part of it. It turns out she was asked, and she turned down a role. “I was asked to do something on that show and I was flattered because I always want to be asked because it’s nice to want to be included. But for me, it would be sacrosanct for me to do it because it didn’t feel appropriate to me,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “It feels like if you’re going to do your own thing, do your own thing. I wouldn’t say [what role was offered] but I will tell you, it wasn’t Baby!” Grey said before the remake was aired that she was excited to watch it and that she was “flattered and excited for people who are excited enough to put their stamp on it and see what they make of it and how they make it their own.”
Unfortunately, it just didn’t work for viewers. The Atlantic called it a “sad, strange production” while Entertainment Weekly said the remake itself “belongs in a corner.” Ouch. Looks like it probably would have been a lot better if Grey had stepped on board.
What’s next for Jennifer Grey?
By now it’s clear that nose job or not, Jennifer Grey has talent. From acting to dancing to voiceover work, she’s kept busy over the years (sometimes quietly, sometimes making a splash). So what’s next on the docket for the star? Deadline reported in January 2017 that Red Oaks has been renewed for a third and final season, so hopefully we can expect to see Grey bring her character Judy some closure. She’ll also be seen in the 2017 independent film Untogether alongside Billy Crystal, Jamie Dornan, Jemima Kirke, Lola Kirke, and Ben Mendelsohn, and will be providing the voice of Edna in 2018’s animated Duck Duck Goose.
While it’s unclear exactly what other projects Grey might line up in the next several years, she’s made one thing perfectly clear: she’s ready and willing to put in the hard work and we haven’t seen the last of her.