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Marilu Henner on Dating John Travolta, Tony Danza and Finally Finding the Love of Her Life

Hollywood romances, helping her husband overcome cancer and true superpower!

With her signature red hair, bright blue eyes and impeccable comic timing, Marilu Henner, the 71-year-old actress best-known for her role as Elaine in the beloved workplace sitcom Taxi, has been charming audiences for more than four decades. But how Marilu Henner met her spouse — and the romantic, sometimes rocky, road she travelled to meet him — is one of the most compelling in Hollywood.

Henner’s post-Taxi career saw her acting in classic ’80s and ’90s movies like Johnny Dangerously, Perfect, L.A. Story and Noises Off…, and in recent years, she’s become a fixture of the Hallmark Channel with her role as Aida in the popular Aurora Teagarden Mysteries franchise. While you likely recognize Henner from her many varied roles, you might not realize that’s she led a fascinating life both on and off the screen, particularly in the area of romance. Here, get to know the actress a bit better and learn more about her greatest loves.

Actress Marilu Henner Portrait Session poses for a portrait in 1985 in Los Angeles, California.
Marilu Henner glamming it up in 1985Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Marilu Henner’s famous beaus

Henner got her start on the stage, and in 1971 she originated the role of Marty, one of the Pink Ladies in Grease. This original production was in Chicago, and Henner didn’t think it would be a hit, so she didn’t join the 1972 Broadway production right away. However, once she saw the musical on Broadway, it had been changed considerably, and she thought it was much better than the original.

She joined the touring show, where she met John Travolta and her future Taxi co-star Jeff Conaway. The trio eventually would perform in Grease on Broadway, and the show became a hit that would, of course, be adapted into a classic 1978 movie. While Henner didn’t act in the movie, it’s pretty cool that she was proud to be an original Pink Lady.

She also ended up dating John Travolta on and off for 13 years, and lived together at one point in their relationship. “He’s just a great guy. I adore him,” Henner said in an interview with KLTA. “Our families were very similar, and we connected right away because we both have three sisters and two brothers. His mother taught drama, my mother taught dance. His father sold tires, my father sold cars. So, we had a lot of commonality.”

John Travolta and Marilu Henner in 1978
Marilu Henner and John Travolta in 1978Tom Wargacki/WireImage/Getty Images

Henner also reportedly had a fling with her Taxi co-star Tony Danza while filming the show between 1978 and 1983. “Well, Marilu was my first girlfriend in Hollywood,” Danza said. “So it was more than a working relationship.” Most impressive of all? She’s stayed friends with both Danza and Travolta. Henner told People, “I never stopped caring about people I once loved.”

The cast of the TV series 'Taxi (clockwise from top: Tony Danza, Randall Carver, Andy Kaufman, Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway and Marilu Henner) poses for a portrait in 1979 in Los Angeles, California.
Marilu Henner with her Taxi castmates, 1979Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Marilu Henner spouse

The story of how Marilu Henner met her first husband, actor Frederic Forrest, is truly the stuff that dreams are made of. In 1980, the two actors met during a screen test for the movie Hammett. The tape included a kissing scene, and sparks flew instantly — as Henner recalled in an interview with the New York Times, “Someone almost had to throw cold water on us…the tape is pretty wild.” They would marry six months later and divorce in 1982. The marriage may have been short-lived, but the meet-cute story will last forever.

Frederic Forrest and wife Marilu Henner circa 1980 in New York City
Frederic Forrest and Marilu Henner in 1980Images Press/IMAGES/Getty Images

In 1990, Henner married director Robert Lieberman. Their marriage lasted 11 years. In 2006, she married Michael Brown, a publisher who she’s still happily partnered with today.

The story of Henner and Brown’s marriage is full of romance and preserverance against the odds. The couple first met back in college in 1970. They didn’t start dating until over 30 years later, in 2003, and two months into their relationship, Brown was diagnosed with cancer. In a blink of an eye, they went from being a happy new couple to finding themselves in the center of a traumatic situation, but Henner took on caregiving duties, telling Prevention the hardship “In many ways… intensified the relationship, and gave us both some clarity about how we felt about each other.”

She had an inspiring outlook, sharing, “The only thing that had to shift was taking on this additional role of caregiver, but the love that we had already made that easy.” Brown is now in remission, and Henner said, “For me and Michael, openness, humor, kindness, and listening were key in dealing with the disease.” The experience inspired them to co-author a book Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer.

Actress Marilu Henner (R) and her husband Michael Brown (L) attend the Women's Guild Cedars-Sinai Luncheon at Beverly Hills Hotel on April 22, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California
Michael Brown and Marilu Henner in 2014Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Marilu Henner possesses a rare gift

Did you know that Marilu Henner is basically a real-life superhero? The actress has an incredibly rare condition known as Hyperthymesia. Often referred to as Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, this ability means she can recall just about every day of her life with a stunning level of detail and accuracy. You can give Henner any random date, and she can tell you what she was doing, who she was with and even what she was wearing — which may be a good or bad trait to bring into a romance.

Henner has been regularly featured on news shows for this ability, and has used her platform for advocacy around brain health and research. She even served as a consultant and guest star on Unforgettable, a crime drama about a woman with the same condition, and in 2012, she wrote a book, Total Memory Makeover, to give memory-boosting tips for those of us who weren’t blessed with her superpower. It’s believed that less than 100 people worldwide have Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, so we’re glad one of them just so happens to be one of our favorite actresses.

Marilu Henner promotes the new book "Total Memory Makeover" at Bookends Bookstore on April 25, 2012 in Ridgewood, New Jersey
Marilu Henner promotes her book, Total Memory Makeover, in 2012Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

Marilu Henner has also used platform to advocate for living a healthy lifestyle, publishing Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover, a popular book about detoxing your body and eating organic food. The book won praise from actors like Fran Drescher and Carol Burnett.

The success spurred her to write more health books including The 30-Day Total Health Makeover and Healthy Life Kitchen. Her interest in healthy living is deeply personal. She sadly lost both of her parents at a young age and struggled to keep her weight down as a result of stress. Dealing with these hardships and wanting to make a change in her life led her to “eat up information and became a student of health,” as she described it in an interview.

What Marilu Henner is doing today

From talk show host to competing in reality shows like Dancing With the Stars and The Celebrity Apprentice, and has appeared on game shows like Match Game and Hollywood Squares, Marilu is always trying new things.

She’s shown no signs of slowing down over the years, and recently had a small role in the Disney movie Haunted Mansion (also featuring her former Taxi co-star Danny DeVito). She’s also shown up in many Hallmark holiday movies, including A Kismet Christmas, A Kiss Before Christmas and Love, Lights, Hanukkah! and her role as Aida Teagarden, the mother of the title character in the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries series, is a staple of the channel.

Marilu Henner in 'Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: Something New' 2023
Marilu Henner in Aurora Teagarden Mysteries: Something New, 2023Allister Foster/@2023 Hallmark

From the steamy story behind Marilu Henner and her first spouse to the weird but true news about her turbo-charged memory, there’s no denying that she’s one of the most interesting actresses around. We’re delighted that she’s still gracing our screens!

Learn about more of your favorite ’70s TV stars!

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