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The Sandy Theory That Changes Everything About Grease

"Grease" (1978) has become such a staple of summertime frolic for moviegoers everywhere. From cable revivals to big screen singalongs, to the Paramount+ prequel series in the works (via The Hollywood Reporter), it seems as if the movie's ending declaration that they'll "always be together" has proven prophetically true, even though a "Grease 3" never materialized.

Everyone and their mother is familiar with perky, clean-cut Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John), an Australian exchange student who attends Rydell High during her senior year and is stunned to learn that her summertime boyfriend, Danny Zuko (John Travolta) is actually the mega-cool leader of a gear-headed greaser faction at the school, the T-Birds. Ostracized by the bad girl gang equivalent of the T-Birds — the Pink Ladies — Sandy and a conflicted Danny spend the school year trying to figure out if they're really in love ... and if they are, whether it's worth shedding their images to explore romance.

Unsurprisingly, "Grease" has inspired a lot of fan theories. There's one persistent bit of speculation that has followed the film around for years, in particular, that completely changes the movie's spirit if you take it into account when you watch the ending.

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Did Sandy drown at the beginning of the movie?

This is one of the most popular fan theories ever launched about a film, with an online footprint that goes all the way back to 2013, so don't be surprised if you're a bit familiar with this one.

At the ending of "Grease," Sandy has agreed to allow Frenchy (Didi Conn) to give her a bad girl makeover. She shows up at the senior carnival in leather, with big hair and puffing on a cigarette. After a climactic dance number, the gang accepts their diplomas, declare they'll always be together — and then Sandy and Danny get behind the wheel of Greased Lightnin', Danny's car and... uh, fly off into the distance, waving goodbye to their high school friends.

This is a flight (ha) of fancy that clashes with a movie that's generally been grounded in reality for the majority of its runtime. Sure, Frenchy fantasizes about Teen Angel (Frankie Avalon) encouraging her to dump beauty school and re-enroll at Rydell, and the T-Birds have a fantasy dance number during "Greased Lightin,'" but the movie is careful to delineate the difference between reality and the teen's fantasies. There is no hint that we're in the middle of a dream sequence as Danny and Sandy fly into the great beyond. 

That's where the fan theory comes in. As described by actress Sarah Michelle Gellar (via Entertainment Weekly), the flying car is a perfectly logical conclusion to the narrative — because the entire movie, after Danny rescues Sandy, is a product of her dying delusions, due to oxygen deprivation.

Basically, Sandy has drowned, and Danny failed to save her. When they drive off together at the end of the movie, she's not flying into the future: she's going to heaven.

Do John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John think Sandy died?

It's notable that the theory doesn't take into account whether or not Danny is dying, as Sandy drowns off the California coast. Nonetheless, with the theory being so popular, it's perhaps not surprising to learn that John Travolta has been asked what he thinks of it. In an interview with USA Today, conducted to mark the 40th anniversary of "Grease," Travolta replied to queries about the notion positively. "I love it; imaginations are awesome [...] These things are bound to happen to something timeless like this. It's so fun," he told the newspaper.

When asked if he himself believed in the theory, he replied, "I could have fun with it. But I know the writers of 'Grease,' and I was around in the original days. I can't take it too far."

He also explained the lyric "I saved her life/she nearly drowned," often pointed at by theory-believers as proof, as Danny's bragging to his friends about his toughness and bravery.  The teenagers "have two different stories and somebody is lying. Most likely, it's Danny," he explained. "But I don't want to spoil the fun for everyone."

Olivia Newton-John, meanwhile, is also a fan of the theory, and pointed out that, "If that's the case, then we were the first zombie musical, and we look pretty good considering!" according to The Wrap.

As for Jim Jacobs — who wrote the book for the "Grease" musical that started it all — he told TMZ that Sandy was "very much alive."