Travolta's career can overcome sex scandal

LOS ANGELES Fri May 11, 2012 5:22pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood actor John Travolta may be the subject of a $2 million assault and sexual battery lawsuit, but there is little likelihood the allegations will ruin his career, celebrity image experts said on Friday.

Travolta, 58, has battled negative headlines all week after the filing of a lawsuit by two unidentified male masseurs who claim the actor sexually assaulted them in two separate incidents during private massages.

A third man, cruise ship worker Fabian Zanzi, claimed on a Chilean TV show "Primer Plano" that the Hollywood star offered him $12,000 to have sex while on a cruise in 2009.

Travolta's lawyer has vehemently denied the claims from all three men as absurd and ridiculous, saying they were all trying to get their "15 minutes of fame."

On Friday, celebrity website Radaronline.com reported that the first accuser, known only as John Doe No. 1, now claims to have been wrong about the date, January 16, 2012, of his alleged unwanted encounter with Travolta. The lawyer for John Doe No. 1 said he no longer represents the man, although he is staying with the second accuser, John Doe No. 2.

The unproven claims have recalled memories of celebrity sex scandals from Tiger Woods' to Hugh Grant, Rob Lowe, Kim Kardashian and others, and as was the case with them, Travolta's career should survive, the experts said.

"People tend to bond and create a certain affinity with certain actors, and who they like and what they like is rarely related to the actor's tabloid images, it's related to their body of work and how cool their fans think they are," said Howard Bragman, a veteran celebrity publicist and vice president of Reputation.com.

Bragman, who represented Chaz Bono when the transgender son of Cher and the late Sonny Bono was competing on TV's "Dancing With the Stars," said Travolta and his representatives have done a good job of disproving and deflecting the claims.

"None of us were there and none of us know what happened, but I've seen a lot of phony lawsuits against celebrities ... so I look at these with a very cynical eye," Bragman said.

TEFLON JOHN?

Travolta, who shot to fame in the 1970s on TV show "Welcome Back Kotter" and with starring roles in movies "Saturday Night Fever" and "Grease," suffered a career lull in the late 1980s. But he bounced back with gritty roles in films such as 1994's "Pulp Fiction" and later, action adventure, "Face/Off."

Bragman noted he has faced adversity before and returned a winner, and Ian Drew, senior editor at celebrity magazine Us Weekly, said there has even been speculation about Travolta's sex life but it doesn't stick to the A-list movie star.

"(Travolta) has been through this so many times before ... he's been photographed kissing other men and for some reason, people just don't care," said Drew.

Travolta, who has been married to actress Kelly Preston since 1991, is most often portrayed as a loving family man and father of three. His oldest son, Jett, tragically died in 2009 at age 16 from a seizure, and the couple had a new baby in 2010.

Other high-profile stars have faced sex scandals and, although they hit rocky patches for various lengths of time, put their careers back on track.

Golfing champion Woods saw his marriage torn apart by a torrid sex scandal in 2009, which initially saw him lose up to $35 million in sponsorship revenue. He went to sex rehab and while his game is not in pre-scandal form, he remains among the United States' top pros and draws big crowds wherever he plays.

Grant, Lowe and Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) all saw their names splashed across headlines in various sex scandals and were able to return to the limelight. Then there's Kim Kardashian - little known until her sex tape surfaced. Now, she's a star.

Where Travolta is concerned, said Drew, "this is just one of those stories that the media is fascinated in but the general public doesn't really care."

(Reporting By Piya Sinha-Roy)

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