The classic ‘80s comedy Ferris Bueller’s Day Off made true movie stars out of Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey, but it was also the beginning of a Hollywood romance that would thrive in secret and end in tragedy.
The couple felt an attraction on the film’s set, but kept their relationship out of the public eye. At 25, Broderick had quickly become one of the decade’s biggest stars with a string of hits including WarGames, Ladyhawke, and finally Ferris Bueller. Grey, 27, had stood out in Red Dawn, but playing Ferris’s sister Jeannie really made her a star.
For less than two years, they were Tinseltown's secret power couple, and had to find time for their blossoming relationship in between their hit film projects. So in the summer of 1987, when Broderick had just finished shooting his latest film and Grey had free time before her tour promoting Dirty Dancing, the couple took a fateful trip to Northern Ireland.
Ireland was a favorite holiday destination for Broderick’s family, and he was introducing Grey to the country’s sights, driving her around Enniskillen in a rented BMW 316. Sadly, the young couple’s romantic getaway quickly turned into a disaster that would dramatically change four lives.
Broderick seemed to get lost along the way, pulling into a gas station and asking for directions. An off-duty police officer told the star his sightseeing route was “just stupid,” and offered to lead the couple on a tour, but Broderick refused. Shortly after, it started raining, and Broderick pulled into another gas station to get his bearings.
But things were about to go horribly wrong.
When he pulled out of the station, he and Grey were heading down a straight and flat road 80 miles from Dublin. From the other direction, 30-year-old Anna Gallagher was driving home, with her mother, 63-year-old Margaret Doherty, sitting beside her.
Broderick veered into the right lane (the wrong side of the road in Ireland) crashing head-on into the Volvo.
Broderick had to be cut out of the rental car, and suffered from a fractured leg, ribs, a concussion, and a collapsed lung. Jennifer Grey walked away from the crash with just a case of whiplash. But the two women in the other car weren’t so lucky; they both died from their injuries.
As a member of the local fire brigade dragged Broderick away, he reportedly asked “Did I hurt them? Did I hurt them?” over and over.
While it seems the accident was caused by Broderick’s simple mistake, the court case that followed outraged locals and the women’s family. Broderick, who had been facing five years in jail for causing death by dangerous driving, pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of careless driving, and paid just a $175 fine.
The star insisted to reporters that he had no memory of the accident, or why he drifted into the wrong lane.
"I don't remember the day,” he told reporters outside his hospital. “I don't remember even getting up in the morning. I don't remember making my bed. What I first remember is waking up in the hospital, with a very strange feeling going on in my leg."
Martin Doherty, the brother and son of the two car crash victims, called the verdict “a travesty of justice,” and later admitted that he resented the actor for years afterwards. While fans around the world worried how the crash would affect Broderick’s acting career, Doherty and his family’s pain were lost behind the headlines.
As one tabloid said about the case: “Ferris Bueller’s Let Off.”
But while the crash was forgotten almost immediately stateside, and Broderick gladly stepped back into his role as a Hollywood star, Grey never felt comfortable leaving the accident behind.
She admitted to People magazine that it was disorienting to become “America’s sweetheart within five days of the accident,” and says it took decades to recover from the survivor’s guilt.
“One minute we’re going down the road and music is playing, and the next minute…it’s all different. I couldn’t be fearless after that,” she explained. “It didn’t feel good to be the toast of the town.”
While Grey returned to show business throughout the years for small parts, and to compete on Dancing With the Stars, the actress admits that her movie career basically ended at 27 because of the crash and its aftermath.
“My head was never the same, my ambition was ever the same.”
As for Broderick, the actor admitted to Britain’s Best magazine in the early 2000s that “it was extremely difficult coming to grips with what happened, but in time I felt better about that terrible experience. Therapy helped.”
But the actor wasn’t willing to confront the past in 2002, when Martin Doherty managed to arrange a meeting with the actor during his return to Ireland. The grieving man said he had come to terms with the accident, and felt “no anger” towards Broderick, but still wanted to bury the hatchet in person.
“There was a note after the accident from him saying how sorry he was – but no other contact,” Doherty explained. He’s not even sure if the note was from Broderick, or his agent. "Of course you wonder if he got off lightly because of who he was. He got the same punishment he would have got if he'd run over cattle.”
It wasn’t until 2012, when Broderick appeared in a Super Bowl ad for Honda, that Doherty revealed the planned meeting had never happened after all.
As for Broderick’s performance in the commercial, Doherty says he "wasn't the greatest choice of drivers, knowing his past."