Stockard Channing: The star from ‘Grease’ is 80 & looks unrecognizable now

Over the years, Stockard Channing has undoubtedly been one of the most charismatic and relatable Rizzos in the history of entertainment.

Despite her exceptional artistry and fantastic singing in Grease, the iconic 80-year-old actress appears almost unrecognizable today.

My first encounter with Stockard Channing was through the movie The Big Bus, which I found hilariously entertaining. Little did I know that she would go on to have such an extraordinary career.

While Stockard Channing has continued to act in films and on Broadway, she is most widely recognized for her unforgettable portrayal of Betty Rizzo in Grease, the 1978 musical romantic comedy film. Many, including myself, consider her the ultimate Rizzo.

Channing’s fame extends to her role as First Lady Abbey Bartlet in the series The West Wing, where her instant chemistry with Martin Sheen earned widespread acclaim. Reflecting on their connection, she remarked to Entertainment Weekly in 2020, “It just worked. We had this chemistry from the beginning. I don’t know what it was, but we had it and it didn’t go away. It was a happy accident.”

Delving into the peak of Channing’s career, her iconic portrayal of bad girl Beth Rizzo in Grease stands out. Although she hasn’t been part of major motion pictures since then, she continues to act in various capacities.

Channing, a 13-time Emmy Award nominee and seven-time Tony Award nominee, embraces her association with Grease. However, she also points out her breakthrough in the TV-movie The Girl Most Likely to… in 1973, a black comedy about revenge. Channing recalls people stopping her in the street about that movie, emphasizing the impact of its theme of revenge.

While some may assume she only associates with Grease, Channing, in an interview with The Times in 2019, expressed pride in the film and dismissed her initial grumpiness about it. She admitted watching Grease only twice and acknowledged its significance in her career.

Playing the high school teenager Rizzo at the age of 33 presented challenges, but Channing, interested in acting from an early age, immersed herself in the complexities of adolescence and hormones. Despite feeling older than the character, she tapped into the emotions she experienced at a younger age, enhancing the isolation of Rizzo.

Channing’s performance in Grease catapulted her to stardom in the late 1970s, earning her a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Motion Picture Supporting Actress. However, subsequent sitcoms, Stockard Channing in Just Friends (1979) and The Stockard Channing Show (1980), didn’t achieve the same success, causing a pause in her career.

Undeterred, Channing, with her Elizabeth Taylor-like appearance and calm confidence, continued to work as an actress, participating in highly-praised movies and stage plays. Her most recent big-screen appearance was in Angry Neighbors, premiering in 2022.

In recent years, Channing has been actively involved in theater production in London, her current residence. Despite living alone during the pandemic, she navigated the experience alongside the rest of the country.

On a personal level, Channing maintains a low profile. Having been married and divorced four times, she has no children. In 2019, she relocated to London from Maine, where she lived with her partner of 25 years. Channing finds solace in her constant companion, her dog.

Channing’s changing appearance, particularly noted during a 2017 interview on the British breakfast television show Lorraine, sparked speculation about plastic surgery. While some criticized her changed look, others defended her, acknowledging the natural aging process.

In a 2011 interview with Out magazine, Channing expressed her commitment to staying in shape. Acknowledging the challenges of playing mothers in her later years, she humorously remarked, “Maybe if I had children I’d feel differently, but I really hate bumping up against all these guys’ memories of their mothers, which, trust me, aren’t so hot.”

Despite the passage of time, Stockard Channing retains the cool and sexy personality reminiscent of Rizzo. Her enduring legacy in Grease and beyond is a testament to her talent, resilience, and contribution to changing perceptions of women in the entertainment industry.