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The Tragic Reason Why Elisabeth Shue Replaced Claudia Wells' Role In Back To The Future

Marty McFly's girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, was an important part of the Back to the Future series — but audiences couldn't help but notice that between the 1985 original classic film and 1989's Back to the Future Part IIher appearance had changed just a bit.

Jennifer was portrayed in the first film by Claudia Wells, who was making her feature film debut after establishing a respectable TV resume through appearances on such popular series as Trapper John, M.D. and Simon & Simon. As big breaks go, her Back to the Future gig was pretty big; although she was featured only during the "present day" sequences at the beginning and end of the film, she boasted excellent onscreen chemistry with star Michael J. Fox, and the movie's end teased a much bigger part for her character in any potential sequels.

Sure enough, Jennifer figured quite a bit more prominently in both Part II and 1990's Back to the Future Part III, which were shot back-to-back. But in those films, the role was recast with Elisabeth Shue, with whom audiences were familiar from her turn as the girlfriend of another indelible '80s character: Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) in 1984's The Karate Kid. While the talented Shue acquitted herself just fine, fans wondered what happened to the original Jennifer — and, unfortunately, the answer carries a note of tragedy. In 1986, Wells walked away from showbiz for the most personal of reasons. "My mother had fourth stage lymphoma," the actress told Huffington Post in 2015. "I had so much happening personally that deep down, I never considered reprising my role and deep in my soul, I knew [leaving the business] was the right choice for me."

Claudia Wells almost didn't land her Back to the Future role in the first place

In an interview with People that same year, Wells remembered that the stars nearly didn't line up for her to take part in Back to the Future at all. She was initially cast when Eric Stoltz, who was famously replaced with Fox after shooting a great deal of the movie, was still holding down the role of Marty. "We even did girlfriend/boyfriend pictures together that were going to go in his wallet," the actress remembered. But then, she was forced to drop out due to her commitment to the sitcom Off the Rack, which had been picked up from pilot. She was replaced with future The Office star Melora Hardin — but fate intervened. By the time the decision was made to recast the role of Marty with Fox, Wells' sitcom had gotten the axe — and Hardin was deemed to be too tall to star opposite the film's new lead. "I'm [five feet, three and a half inches], and Michael's [five feet four inches], so I got my part back," Wells recalled. "How cool is that? It's absolutely fate."

After departing show business and recovering from the death of her mother — interestingly enough, with the help of a support group led by the legendary Saturday Night Live alum Gilda Radner — Wells began a new chapter in her life, opening a high-end menswear shop in Studio City, California, which still thrives to this day. She never forgot her love of acting, though, or the role that almost made her a household name — both of which she was fortunate enough to revisit years down the road.

Claudia Wells returned to acting, and even played Jennifer one last time

In 2008, Wells returned to the acting world, finally scoring her second feature: Still Waters Burn, a romantic drama in which she starred opposite Ian Hart of The Terror and The Last Kingdom fame. In the intervening years, she's picked up roles in a number of small genre films — but what must be her most satisfying gig came when she was tapped to voice Jennifer in 2011's  Back to the Future: The GameShe even got to reprise the role in live-action in the short Back to the 2015 Future, which dropped on YouTube on November 21, 2015 — the date to which Marty traveled in Back to the Future Part II. The short depicted Marty and Jennifer ending up in our real-world 2015, as opposed to the only-slightly-less-weird version they visited in the movie.

Wells has continued picking up acting gigs, and she has several projects in the pipeline at the time of this writing. She's also put in her time at Back to the Future fan conventions, at times sharing the spotlight with her old co-star Fox, with whom, as she told People, she still has a special connection. "When he put his arms around me and I hugged him, I promise you: It felt like no time had passed at all since I was 18 and he was 24," she said. "It's like no years had gone by, and it was just one moment later in terms of our physicality and our connection and our chemistry. It was like a time warp had taken place."

Back to the future, indeed.