Cynthia Rhodes was once a rising star, captivating audiences with her talent and beauty in films like “Flashdance,” “Staying Alive,” and of course, the iconic “Dirty Dancing.” But after her breakout role as dance instructor Penny Johnson opposite Patrick Swayze, Rhodes seemingly vanished from the limelight. So, what happened to the actress who stole our hearts with her fiery red hair and electrifying moves?
Rhodes was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on November 21st, 1956. She had a modest upbringing in a strong Baptist family. Interested in music and dancing from a young age, Rhodes honed her skills enough to work at Opryland USA as a singer and dancer while still attending Glencliff High School. Initially, she tried to keep her acting roles clean and modest as per the moral standards of her upbringing. She wouldn’t sign on to any script with nudity and even turned down Playboy Magazine when they asked her to pose for pictures.
Her first formal role was a small part in Xanadu, a 1980 fantasy musical. After that, she appeared in a long-form music video as a backup dancer for the rock band The Tubes. Rhodes’s first big break would come when she was cast as Tina Tech in Flashdance. Though it wasn’t a lead role, it did illustrate her skills, opening the door to future dance-inspired films.
Like her next appearance, for example, opposite John Travolta in the 1983 film Staying Alive, a sequel to Saturday Night Fever. Rhodes was cast as Jackie, Travolta’s girlfriend, who was a dancer and singer. The film wasn’t as huge as Saturday Night Fever, but it was a commercial success.
Rhodes continued to appear in music videos, such as Rosanna by Toto and The Woman In You by the Bee Gees, all while pursuing acting roles. Just four years after her first film part, Rhodes won her first non-dance role. She played Officer Karen Thompson alongside Kirstie Alley and Tom Selleck in the science fiction thriller Runaway.
However, her boogie-free acting career was short-lived. By 1987 she was back on the dancefloor when she was awarded the part of Penny in Dirty Dancing. Penny was the resort dance instructor and partner to Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze. She was svelte, sometimes cold, and unfortunately pregnant by womanizer Robbie. Her time off to have an abortion opens the door for the rest of the movie, Baby’s indoctrination into "dirty" dancing.
Shockingly, despite Dirty Dancing’s success, Rhodes’s final acting role would come in 1991 with Curse of the Crystal Eye.
Music Career and Retirement
While pursuing acting, Rhodes hadn’t given up on her dream of being a singer. During the 1980s, she joined the pop group Animation. They released a single called Room to Move that made it into the Billboard Top Ten, hitting number nine on the charts. Unfortunately, the album peaked at one-hundred-ten, triggering the group’s breakup not long after.
In the end, though, everything worked out alright for Rhodes.
Despite her rising fame and promising career, Cynthia Rhodes made a surprising decision to step back from the entertainment industry after her marriage to singer Richard Marx in 1989.
They had met on the set of Staying Alive, but he was seven years her junior, and initially, it turned her off. But after they were reacquainted, their relationship accelerated.
The couple had three sons together, and Rhodes chose to prioritize her family over her career. This decision took her out of the public eye, leaving fans and admirers wondering about her whereabouts and future plans.
In interviews, Cynthia Rhodes later revealed that the choice to focus on her family was deeply personal. She sought a life away from the paparazzi and media scrutiny, preferring a quieter existence outside of the Hollywood glitz. This decision, while respected by many, also left her devoted fans yearning for more of her talent on the silver screen.
The couple continued to parent their sons, Brandon, Lucas, and Jesse, in the Chicago area, where they resided until their divorce in 2014.
Her divorce was the most prominent headline in the last thirty years since her disappearance, as the actress largely stays off social media and out of the spotlight.
What is Cynthia Rhodes doing now?
Today, Cynthia Rhodes has gracefully transitioned from the glitz of show business to the fulfilling journey of motherhood, a role she embraces wholeheartedly and without a trace of regret.
Her recent encounter with an admirer painted a picture of a woman who exudes happiness and confidence, living a life that is not only highly principled but also spiritually aligned.
Rhodes views her post-Hollywood years not as a retreat but as an opportunity to immerse herself in the unparalleled experience of being a mother.
Although the allure of the screen and roles continued to beckon following her stirring portrayal as Penny, it’s evident that Rhodes had discovered her truest passion and calling in the joys and challenges of motherhood, a choice that speaks volumes about her priorities and the contentment she finds in life’s simpler, yet profoundly rewarding, moments.
Adding to her serene and contented existence is her deliberate choice to lead a private life, away from the public eye and the pervasive reach of social media.