Whatever Happened To Rizzo From Grease?

Who could forget Betty Rizzo from Grease? You know, the foul-mouthed, punky chick who would rather smoke cigarettes with her Pink Ladies than win homecoming queenPortrayed by Stockard Channing — an award-winning actress known for her roles in Six Degrees of Separation, The West Wing, and Practical Magic — Rizzo is a crowd favorite of the film. She represented everything that Olivia Newton John's character was not, and their clashing ideals and lifestyles made for some serious entertainment. Rizzo was darker, meaner, and definitely tougher, which made her vulnerable solo "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" that much more impactful. 

It's been several decades since Grease, and the lesser successful Grease 2, came out, but Stockard Channing's career hasn't slowed down. Over the years, Channing has split her time between the silver screen and the Broadway stage (and she's won a handful of awards along the way). But, what exactly has the original Rizzo been up to since Grease? Allow us to fill you in.

Stockard Channing wasn't a teen when she starred as Rizzo in Grease

Iconic films like Grease come out once in a generation, but for Stockard Channing, playing Rizzo in Grease was nothing more than a "summer job," according to her interview in Variety. "I needed the gig," she explained. After the actress' initial success in the film industry with movies like The Fortune, work seemed to be drying up. 

Channing said that Allan Carr, the writer and co-producer of Grease, called her at "the midnight hour" to offer her the role of the 17-year-old Rizzo. "I was grateful just to pay my rent for a few months," she revealed on InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse. "I thought it was kind of a strange choice given my background, but I said, 'Well, it's a job like any other, and I'm gonna do it.'" 

Even with the film's major success, Channing said that she's only seen the iconic film twice — once at the premiere and once at the film's 20th-anniversary screening. She dropped this truth bomb after admitting she hadn't seen the film's sequel, Grease 2. "I've barely seen Grease 1, to be honest," she joked on Watch What Happens Live. When asked why, she quipped, "I have other things to do!"

After playing Rizzo in Grease, Stockard Channing had two of her own shows

After finding success as Rizzo in Grease, Stockard Channing went on to star in two television shows: Just Friends and The Stockard Channing Show. Just Friends, which was also billed as Stockard Channing in Just Friends, came out soon after Grease in 1979, and followed Channing's character Susan, a recent divorcée, as she moved from Boston to Los Angeles to rebuild her life.

The series was rebranded and recast the next season, resulting in The Stockard Channing Show, according to a 2015 interview with the actress. While there isn't much known about either of these shows, Channing did let fans know one thing: She did not want it to be named The Stockard Channing Show. She admitted in a Q&A with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation that the title "embarrassed" her. "I felt very uncomfortable about it," she continued.

Channing also noted that working on sitcoms like The Stockard Channing Show or Out of Practice — which she starred in many years later — came with their own struggles. She said that even though she worked on those shows decades apart, they always ran into the same issues when it came to dealing with network executives and industry politics. "I admire anybody who makes a sitcom work because it's so tough," she further explained in the Q&A.

Stockard Channing returned to theater after playing Rizzo in Grease

Before playing Rizzo in Grease and other roles in the film industry, Stockard Channing got her start in theater while she attended Harvard University in the late 1960s, the actress detailed to Broadway. She had roles in several off-Broadway performances before heading to Broadway in Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Musical.

Channing then left the theater world for a bit to star in several films, including Grease, before returning to the stage in 1979 to star in They're Playing Our Song, another musical. Channing said in a Q&A with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation that she has a soft spot for the early musicals she performed in. "It's so scary and thrilling ...," she said. "There's nothing like it." 

After landing a role in the Broadway play Joe Egg in 1985, things seemed to be going especially well for Channing. "I felt like my life was back on track," she admitted during the Q&A. It seemed that everyone else thought so, too; she won the Tony Award for Best Actress for her performance in the play that year.

Grease's Rizzo starred in Six Degrees of Separation more than once

It's rare that actors portray the same role on the stage and the screen, but seasoned actors like the face of Rizzo from Grease, Stockard Channing, can do it without even breaking a sweat. Channing starred in the film adaptation and the preceding Broadway show of Six Degrees of Separation. For her performances, she was nominated for several prestigious awards, including an Oscar.

Channing told Broadway that she originally opened the play in England, and then came back to do the film. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Channing was so good in the original play that the playwright only agreed to make the film if Channing kept her role.

"It was a fascinating enterprise to do," Channing further told Broadway. "And I think that it really [helps] when you redo things, for an actor at least." She called the chance to star in both versions a really great opportunity to be apart of, but the best part? "You know your lines!" she joked.

Stockard Channing played an "evil woman" years after starring as Rizzo in Grease

In 1996, Stockard Channing starred alongside Morgan Freeman and Robin Wright in Moll Flanders. The film followed Moll Flanders, played by Wright, as she finds a way to survive after her mother is executed. Wright's character comes in contact with Channing's character, Mrs. Allworthy, the headmistress of a brothel, when she's looking for work.

The wealthy Mrs. Allworthy isn't exactly the world's greatest boss, but she's one of the most powerful women in the story. "Some of the first men in London come through my door," her character tells Moll Flanders. "Wouldn't you like to have power over them?" She's pretty conniving in the film, and Channing does an amazing job of playing a woman we love to hate.

In an interview with Rhonda Shear, Channing gave some insight into what it was like playing a vastly different character to that of Rizzo in Grease or, as Shear put it, an "evil woman." The actress explained, "Sometimes, it [was] uncomfortable." She continued, "Mrs. Allworthy is not a psycho ... [She's] a regular, ordinary, venial human being who's filled with greed and annoyance, although she can be kind of funny at times."

Did you notice Grease's Rizzo in First Wives Club?

If you've seen The First Wives Club, you may not have realized that Rizzo from Grease has a pivotal role in the film, especially because she was only in the movie for a few minutes. Okay, so she wasn't playing Rizzo, but Stockard Channing did play a bit part as Cynthia, the old college friend of the film's main stars.

After learning that her ex-husband Gil has married his mistress, Channing's character gifts her expensive pearl necklace to her maid (the same necklace the other "first wives" also have), mails off letters to her old friends explaining her situation, and then promptly throws herself off her penthouse balcony. While not explicitly stated, it's suggested that she ended her life because of her ex-husband's recent marriage.

Channing's cameo is fairly short, but arguably, her scene is one of the most important moments of the entire film. Without Cynthia, the three friends in the film wouldn't have felt the need to come together and get revenge on their own ex-husbands.

The actress who played Rizzo in Grease brought out her witchy side in Practical Magic

While some fans recognize Stockard Channing as Rizzo from Grease, plenty of others were introduced to the actress in 1998's Practical Magic, the witchy classic known for its spot-on music choices, iconic 90s fashion, and its focus on the power of family. But this film's casting is amazing, too!

Although the movie mainly focuses on the story of two sisters, played by Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, the sisters' aunts, played by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest, are a pair of scene stealers in their own right.

The film didn't do great when it first came out, but it's achieved cult status in the years since it premiered — and we definitely think this is in part due to Channing's amazing performance as the quirky Aunt Frances. And, though the film wasn't well-received initially, Entertainment Weekly confirmed in 2019 that HBO Max greenlit a new prequel series for the film. And even more exciting news? The series will focus on Channing's character, albeit in the 1960s.

Stockard Channing won multiple Emmys decades after starring as Rizzo in Grease

One of Stockard Channing's most well-known roles since starring as Rizzo in Grease was her recurring guest spot as Dr. Abbey Bartlet, the president's wife, in The West Wing, which ran from 1999 to 2006. The show itself was a mega-hit. Over it's seven-season run, it was nominated for over 250 awards, and won 120, according to IMDb. Channing's performance was responsible for several of those nominations, and she even won an Emmy for her performance in 2002.

Fans of the show know that The West Wing was super relevant when it aired in the early 2000s. Channing even confirmed that fans of the series thought that the show somehow knew something audiences didn't! "At the time it was so parallel to the current administration that people said 'Oh come on, you must have access to information we don't have access to because Aaron (Sorkin, the creator) would write these episode that were so prescient about what happened six weeks later,'" Channing said in a 2017 interview (via The Irish News). 

In a Q&A with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, Channing also revealed that she almost didn't take the gig because, originally, she didn't have a huge role. However, she and Martin Sheen, who played President Bartlet, had such great chemistry that she was added into the show on a semi-regular basis.

The 2000s were good to Rizzo from Grease

Stockard Channing has played a handful of fun, fictional roles since playing Rizzo in Grease. But in 2002, she took on the more serious role of the real-life Judy Shepard in The Matthew Shepard Story. The film covered the trial and sentencing of the killers of Matthew Shepard, who was tragically beaten and murdered in 1998 for being gay. Channing played his grief-stricken and conflicted mother. The movie itself was incredibly powerful and Channing's performance won her two awards for the role: a Screen Actor's Guild Award and an Emmy Award.

Channing admitted in a Q&A with the Screen Actors Guild Foundation that the movie was a tough project to get off the ground. It seemed like no one wanted this story told, even with Goldie Hawn as one of the producers. "It took a lot of pressure, even after we made the film, to get it out there and get it supported, et cetera," she revealed. "I think it was such a glorious thing to have been made because it made so many people aware of what had happened ... It was stone thrown upon and it made a lot of ripples beyond just being another television movie."

This role was very different from Stockard Channing's role as Rizzo in Grease

Long after playing Rizzo in Grease and after her award-winning TV roles, the next step for Stockard Channing was to find a new program for her to show off her acting chops. That opportunity came along with the short-lived yet super funny Out of Practice.

The show followed therapist Ben Barnes, played by Christopher Gorham as he struggled to find his own way in the world while under the shadow of his extremely successful family. Channing played the mother of Gorham's character, Dr. Lydia Barnes, a status-obsessed cardiologist whose ex-husband is played by none other than Henry Winkler. A pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell starred in the show as well.

Unfortunately, the show was only on the air for one season — even with pretty solid reviews from outlets like LA WeeklyStill, Channing's performance as Dr. Barnes still stood out to many and she was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2006.

Since 2008, Grease's Rizzo has made several returns to the stage

After her time on film and television, Stockard Channing made a return to Broadway with the revival of Pal Joey in 2008. Although it got mixed reviews, Stockard Channing spoke highly of her experience playing Vera Simpson. In addition to Pal Joey, Channing starred in Other Desert Cities in 2011. After that, she moved to another show called It's Only A Play, which featured Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, and Rupert Grint, according to the show's website.

The Grease actress said that working with such a well-known cast of actors was like being on a basketball team. "You have to play the game and you have to play it with each other," she told Broadway World. "It really is teamwork."

Channing also starred in Apologia twice — once in London in 2017 and again in New York in 2018. The actress told Broadway that she was drawn to the part because of the complex, and sometimes misunderstood, character of Kristin Miller. "There wasn't a cliché in it," she said. "And [it was] funny, too!"

Yes, Rizzo from Grease was in The Good Wife

The Good Wife fans probably recognize Stockard Channing from her time as Veronica Loy, the mother of Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Margulies. The star was featured on the show from 2012 until the show ended in 2016, according to IMDb. In one of the original announcements of Channing's casting on Entertainment Weekly, the character of Veronica was said to be "mercurial and influenced by her 1960s counterculture youth." Hmm, the role sounds a bit reminiscent of Rizzo from Grease, doesn't it?

Channing's character first appeared on the show in an episode called "A Defense of a Marriage," in which Veronica comes to town to get legal support from her daughter after Veronica's husband, Malcom, dies. Veronica is annoyed because, at the last minute, her late husband cut her out of his will because she cheated on him. Regardless of why Channing's character was there, it was so fun — and cringeworthy —to watch Channing and fellow Broadway veteran Mary Beth Peil, who played Alicia's mother-in-law Jackie, consistently throw jabs at each other, which lasted well into the last episode Channing appeared in.

Rizzo from Grease considers herself a feminist

Like Rizzo from Grease, Stockard Channing came of age in the swingin' late 1950s and 1960s, a time known for hippie culture, rock music, and women's liberation. And since she had grown up as a girl in the 1950s, this period of freedom was something that was completely different from her conservative upbringing. "For somebody my age, you really were raised with an expectation in a very narrow spectrum, especially as a woman," she told Broadway. "I was raised very strictly," she continued. "And in the early 60s, all hell broke loose, and some of us took advantage of it, and some of us didn't." As for Channing, she "ran off and joined the circus," so to speak.

Things have changed a lot since the '50s and the '60s, but one thing hasn't: Channing continues to identify as a feminist. "People always think of feminists as trying to be so divisive, so us and them...," she explained to The Guardian. "But that's not how I think of it, not at all."

Stockard Channing met her longtime partner soon after playing Rizzo in Grease

Stockard Channing isn't an actor that a lot of tabloids focus on, so you might not know much about her personal life or relationships. But, she's been in a relationship with cinematographer Daniel Gillham for over 30 years. According to IMDb, the couple met on the set A Time of Destiny in 1988 — just a few years after Channing played Rizzo in Grease — when he was on the camera crew. Despite their years together, the pair, like some other stars, have never married nor had children together.

Before her longtime relationship with Gilham, Channing's love life wasn't exactly lucky. She went through four divorces before starting her relationship with the cinematographer, according toThe Sydney Morning Herald"The only one that wasn't a marriage lasts 15 years," she told the outlet. "...There's nothing Hollywood about it. Nobody gets married expecting to get divorced."

Interestingly, though, the actress actually got her stage name from her marriage to her first husband when she was just 19. Originally born Susan Stockard, she dropped her first name and added her first husband's last name, thus becoming Stockard Channing.