John Travolta said Wednesday he tried desperately to save the life of his seizure-prone son and made perhaps his first public description of the boy as autistic as he testified in the trial of two people accused of trying to blackmail him.
With his wife, Kelly Preston, looking on inside the Nassau courtroom, Travolta said that he performed CPR on his son after a nanny alerted him the teen had fallen ill at a family vacation home on Grand Bahama island. Jett Travolta later died from a seizure.
“I ran downstairs with my wife to help my son,” Travolta said.
Travolta is the star witness at the trial of two people — paramedic Tarino Lightbourne and former Bahamian Sen. Pleasant Bridgewater — who are accused of trying to extort $25 million from the movie star. Both defendants pleaded innocent to extortion charges at the trial that began Monday in this island chain off the Florida coast.
Travolta testified that he and Preston were awakened by a nanny around 10:15 a.m. on Jan. 2, the day of Jett’s death. Travolta said when he went downstairs, another caretaker was doing chest compressions and he began administering breathing help.
Travolta also said — apparently for the first time in public — that 16-year-old Jett was autistic, confirming speculation that had swirled for years. The developmental disorder is frequently accompanied by seizures.
“He was autistic. He suffered from a seizure disorder,” Travolta told the jury when asked about his son’s condition.
The actor said Jett suffered seizures every five to 10 days. He said the seizures would last 45 seconds to a minute and Jett typically slept for 12 hours after each one.
The judge dismissed Travolta on Wednesday afternoon but said he would be called back later for further testimony.
Travolta, 55, has kept a low profile since Jett’s death. He skipped promotional events this summer for his latest film, “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3.” He thanked his co-stars on his Web site for giving him time to grieve.
Police say the alleged scheme involved a document related to Jett’s treatment. It would have released emergency responders from liability if the family refused an ambulance but police said the document did not come into play.
After waiting half an hour for the ambulance to arrive, Travolta testified, he signed the release because he initially wanted his son taken to the airport for a flight to Florida instead of a local hospital.
He did not address why Jett was ultimately taken to a hospital. But an employee of the resort community where the Travoltas have their Bahamas home, Nathan Moody, testified earlier that he looked into using two private planes to fly Jett out but neither was an option on such short notice.
A nine-person jury was expected to hear from a total of 14 witnesses.