‘Grease’: Jeff Conaway’s Injury During Filming Ultimately Led to His Death

When production started on “Grease” back in 1977, none of the cast expected it to become one of the most iconic films of all time. The movie starred John Travolta (Danny Zuko), Olivia Newton-John (Sandy Olsson), and Jeff Conaway (Kenickie Murdoch), among others.

Some might know that Jeff Conaway died unexpectedly back in 2011, but it turns out an injury while filming “Grease” is what ultimately led to his death.

Jeff Conaway (Kenickie Murdoch)
Jeff Conaway (Kenickie Murdoch) | CBS/Getty Images

The ‘Grease’ cast never expected the movie to become what it did

When “Grease” began filming, the cast was unaware that it would be such an iconic film. Didi Conn, who played Frenchy, once told The Sun that nobody — not even the production company, Paramount — knew what to expect.

“[Paramount] said, ‘Oh this movie isn’t going to do anything, glad you guys are having a good time,” Conn said. She also added that the cast didn’t properly negotiate their salaries, as they were unaware that the film would still be popular more than 40 years after its release. “Believe me if I’d have known this was going to be such a big hit I would have negotiated for points, but no, one flat fee and that was it … [John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John] had different agents that kind of looked into the future,” Conn said, referring to why Travolta and Newton-John still get paid royalties.

The 'Grease' characters
The ‘Grease’ characters | CBS/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Grease’: These 2 Songs from the Movie Became No. 1 Hits

A ‘Grease’ dancing scene ultimately led to Jeff Conaway’s death

Of course, the movie starred Travolta and Newton-John, but there were various other important cast members, including Jeff Conaway, who played heartthrob Kenickie Murdoch. Conaway was a supporting actor in the movie, but “Grease” fans might not know that he actually went through a difficult back injury while filming a scene for the song “Grease Lightning.”

While dancing on top of the car, Conaway fell and injured his back. The injury resulted in him taking opioids to help with the pain, but he ended up developing an addiction. Conaway’s addiction to pills carried through the rest of his life. He ended up getting involved with other drugs as well, and ultimately, the drugs led to his death.

On May 11, 2011, Conaway was found unconscious; he was placed on life support but died less than two weeks later. The autopsy revealed that Conaway had died from pneumonia with sepsis. However, since Conaway was using drugs, it prevented him from recognizing he was sick. Conaway’s doctors attributed his cause of death to his drug addiction, though the death was ruled accidental, according to CNN.  

Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) and Didi Conn (Frenchy) in 2004
Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) and Didi Conn (Frenchy) in 2004 | Theo Wargo/WireImage for NBC Universal Photo Department

Conaway isn’t the only ‘Grease’ cast member who has died

Conaway’s death shocked everyone, as he was only 60. But he’s not the only “Grease” cast member to have died. The same year the world lost Conaway, Annette Charles, who played Cha Cha, also died. Charles had been battling lung cancer and died from complications after she was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

Back in 1993, Dennis Stewart, known for his role as Leo “Craterface” Balmudo, was diagnosed with HIV. He didn’t live long past the diagnosis; in 1994, he died from pneumonia as a result of AIDS complications.