Usually when writing a piece like this, at least lately, I can honestly say that the person in question is still working and that asking ‘what happened to them?’ is more of a way of wondering just why they’re not front and center in show business. With Cynthia Rhodes however, the truth is that she did retire in 1991, stepping out of the spotlight so that she could raise her family and take things down a notch. Some folks might remember her from Staying Alive, the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, but it’s a lot more likely that a lot of people remember her as Penny from Dirty Dancing since the movie was a huge hit after a while and it did bring up a very touchy subject as Mustafa Gatollari from Distractify brings up. Abortion in movies was at one time a very touchy thing and if the truth is known it still is since the issue itself is something that a lot of people can’t rightly discuss without getting into a huge argument about pro-life or pro-choice. The fact that the character of Penny underwent an illegal abortion after she’d gotten pregnant by one of the workers in the movie, Robbie his name was, wasn’t even the main issue. It was a general mix of the abortion, her social status, and the manner in which she was treated following the fiasco.
If you remember, Penny and Johnny and all their friends were considered to be little better than hired hands. In fact they weren’t even really given that much regard since they were looked down upon so often that it was as though they weren’t really there unless someone needed them for something. The moment Penny got pregnant it wasn’t a big deal to anyone apart from Penny and the few people that were let in on the secret. But when Baby, played by Jennifer Gray, got involved things did get a bit hairy if you remember since she borrowed money from her father so that Penny could have the abortion and in the end it nearly killed Penny since the doctor she paid was more of a butcher that performed the surgery and nearly killed her. Baby’s father was brought in to take care of Penny and despite his misgivings he did so, making sure that she was okay and would survive. But the manner in which he reacted after that, all but shunning Baby, was another indication of how the social strata in the movie was formed since he didn’t feel he could trust her after that. The whole thing became a giant mess as Baby fell for Johnny without really knowing what Johnny, Penny, and all the other dancers went through, and thinking that everything would just make sense and fall into place. In other words Baby was incredibly naive and thought things would just make sense as they should, without realizing that this isn’t how the world works. Dirty Dancing definitely opened the eyes of a few people by showing that not everything exists in an ordered fashion and fairness isn’t how the world works.
As for Cynthia, she did star in a few other movies and a few music videos and had nothing but good things to say about Jennifer and Patrick upon working with them as she actually stated that she just tried to keep up at times. She went on to marry musician Richard Marx after a while, up until they divorced in 2014. A lot of those who retire do so for various reasons, either because they get burned out, they don’t enjoy the constant attention, or they don’t get enough and figure it’s time to step away while they still have some hint of fame left. With Cynthia it feels as though she simply reasoned that it was time to raise her kids and enjoy the time she had with them, which is a pretty good reason all on its own. She’s been retired now for going on three decades so it doesn’t appear likely that we’ll ever be seeing her on screen again unless it’s an interview or perhaps a reunion get-together for Dirty Dancing or something along those lines. After staying away for this long it does appear that she’s happy where she’s at and that life has been going the way she wants it to more or less. If you can believe it she actually has a net worth of $9 million so she’s not hurting in any way and does appear to have been pretty smart concerning her life choices when it came to her finances.
Despite the fact that she didn’t have an extensive movie history before retiring it’s fair to say that her role as Penny was one that managed to get a lot of people to stand up and pay attention to a very crucial issue, even if it’s still a hotly debated topic today.