What Has Stockard Channing Been Up To Since Grease?

Following up on the success of a major hit can be a challenge for any actor, but the cast of 1978's "Grease" had an especially tough time establishing a post-"Summer Nights" professional identity. We can loosely describe "Grease" as the "High School Musical" of its day, but that comparison actually undersells the impact of the late-'50s-based comedy about the problems of singing and dancing teens. "Grease" was easily the highest-grossing movie of '78, and its final box office takeaway of just under $400 million puts it comfortably ahead of Richard Donner's "Superman" in terms of its raw number of tickets sold. Basically, if you can picture a reality where the "High School Musical" franchise is a bigger deal than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you have some idea of what "Grease" was in the late '70s.    

Coming in white hot off of 1977's "Saturday Night Fever" — an era-defining movie in its own right — John Travolta starred in the movie adaptation of Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey's 1971 stage musical. Stockard Channing played Betty Rizzo — the irreverent OG mean girl who's secretly dealing with a pregnancy scare and becoming the favorite character of many a "Grease" fan. Despite her knack for depicting youthful recklessness, Channing went on to perhaps the most stable and creatively prosperous after-"Grease" acting career out of the entire main cast.

Two respectable but comparatively unspectacular decades

In the years following "Grease," Olivia Newton-John starred in the infamous 1980 flop and eventual cult fav "Xanadu" but spent the decades largely focused on her singing career, until her death in 2022. John Travolta was and remains the most famous "Grease" alumnus, but his career following his late-'70s boom period has evolved into a case study of extreme highs (1994's "Pulp Fiction") and lows (2000's "Battlefield Earth," 2018's "Gotti"). 

Right around the time "Pulp Fiction" provided Travolta with an against-type performance that served as a comeback story for his career, Stockard Channing made 1993's barely seen "Six Degrees of Separation" starring Will Smith in the nascent phase of his movie stardom. Channing garnered an Oscar nomination for her credulous New York socialite (very much the opposite of Rizzo), but weirdly enough, the film's been largely forgotten by history. 

Channing had her own TV show — literally titled "The Stockard Channing Show" — for a single season in 1980, but for the most part, she worked regularly in film, television, and theater throughout the '80s and '90s, with supporting roles in high-profile projects like 1998's "Practical Magic" and 1996's "The First Wives Club" probably standing as her most notable on-screen endeavors of the era. She racked up Emmy nominations, but mostly for projects that aren't widely remembered here in the 2020s. Channing wouldn't approach her "Grease"-level fame ... again until the end of the '90s.

Betty Rizzo married President Benjamin L. Willard

Depending on when you were born and if you prefer dialogue-heavy political drama to musicals, "Grease" might not even be the first thing you recognize Stockard Channing from. Starting in 1999 and continuing until the final episode aired in 2006, Channing played First Lady Abigial "Abbey" Bartlet in Aaron Sorkin's "The West Wing" — NBC's slightly soapy American presidency-oriented series that remains the subject of podcasts and hot takes close to 20 years after its conclusion. 

Various tensions and disagreements between Abbey and President Jed Bartlet, played by Martin Sheen, provide some of the show's most intense Oval Office arguments. In yet another instance of Channing running a lot of scenes with someone who went onto become very famous, Elisabeth Moss — the future Peggy Olson and June "Offred" Osborne – played Abbey and Jed's youngest daughter, Zoey Bartlet.

Via "The West Wing," Channing garnered five Emmy nominations for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series and one win for the same in 2002. She also won an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for 2002's "The Matthew Shepard Story," making the second year of the new millennium extortionary successful for Channing, at least in terms of Emmys. 

Certified Hollywood and Broadway royalty

Aside from a 12-episode stint on "The Good Wife" as the mother of Julianna Margulies' main character, Stockard Channing hasn't taken many high-profile roles since her time on "The West Wing." Currently in her late '70s and presumably quite wealthy, Channing has nevertheless continued to work on screen and on the stage, with her most recent theater credit marked as 2018. If IMDb is to be believed, she also seems to have shot a pilot alongside Eve Best of "House of the Dragon" fame in the recent past.   

Meanwhile, Rydell High is slated to return to the small screen in the form of the upcoming Paramount+ prequel series "Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies." Channing does not appear to be involved, and neither does any character named Rizzo — but as long as one of the so-called "bad girls" wears a leather jacket and casually bullies her classmates, Channing will be there in spirit.