Before that day, Anna Gallagher and her mother, Margaret Doherty, had never met Matthew Broderick and Jennifer Grey, though the two young actors – who first met and became romantically involved on the set of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – were known the world over. In the summer of 1987, Broderick and Grey were teen heartthrobs, with promising careers in Hollywood ahead of them.
Broderick and Grey’s love affair, however, had been secret. That all changed following a drive around Tempo, Northern Ireland that left Broderick injured, Grey shaken and Gallagher and Doherty dead on the road.
A child of actors raised in New York City’s Manhattan district, Matthew Broderick made his movie debut as Michael McPhee in 1983’s Max Dugan Returns, which he soon followed with the blockbuster WarGames in 1983 and Ladyhawke in 1985. Then, at the age of 23, he won the lead role in 1986’s Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, playing a mischievous teenager playing hooky in Chicago.
Two years Broderick’s senior, Jennifer Grey had a surprisingly similar upbringing. She, too, was the child of New York actors and attended private school in Manhattan. What’s more, she trained as a stage actress before moving on to TV adverts and small roles in Reckless and The Cotton Club. In 1984, Grey starred in Red Dawn with Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen, before joining the cast of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off as Ferris’ envious sister Jeanie.
A romantic getaway
Grey and Broderick reportedly began dating while Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was still in production. Grey reflects, “I learned so many things about myself from my relationship with Matthew… I was really in love with him… he was just this genius, smart, funny, cute.” Somehow, despite the fact they were both rising stars, the pair managed to keep their relationship hidden from public scrutiny, and, in the summer of 1987, they set out on a romantic holiday: a road trip around Northern Ireland.
Grey and Broderick hired a BMW 316 and planned a route from Irvinestown to Magueiresbridge. They pulled into a local petrol station to ask for directions, where the young American couple were told that their planned route was “just stupid.” An off-duty police officer offered to guide them to a more sensible road, which Broderick refused.
Soon afterwards, a huge rainstorm drove the couple into a different petrol station, where once again they mapped out their route and checked that they were on the right track. Once the rain had passed, they set out again. Only a mile into their drive, on a road 80 miles from Belfast, they crashed head-on into another vehicle.
The driver was 28-year-old Anna Gallagher, and her passenger was her 63-year-old mother Margaret. Both were pronounced dead on arrival at Erne Hospital in Enniskillen.
Margaret was a widow and wheelchair user who suffered from multiple sclerosis, living with her 24-year-old son Martin just outside Enniskillen. Her daughter Anna used to take her out on shopping trips in the brown Volvo in which the two perished. Anna lived in the nearby town of Sligo, and was married to an engineer named John. The couple dreamed of having their own children soon.
Local fireman Ken Ramsey attended the scene of the crash, where Broderick’s severely damaged car had to be cut open to free the actor safely. Ramsey has since recalled that the dazed Broderick kept asking him, “Did I hurt them?”
Jennifer Grey escaped from the accident without any major injuries, while Broderick spent one month in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital with a broken leg, a collapsed lung and concussion. Charged with causing death by dangerous driving, he returned to the USA on crutches and a $4,075 bail, awaiting a trial at Enniskillen Magistrates Court the following February.
“It was extremely difficult coming to grips with what happened [in the crash], but in time I felt better about that terrible experience. Therapy helped,” Broderick told the magazine Best in 2002. However, for the most part, Broderick has left this event in the past, rarely discussing it with the press.
In contrast, Grey has been more outspoken about the psychological impact of the car crash. Unbelievably, only five days after the fatal crash, the premiere for Dirty Dancing took place – cementing Grey’s status as a global celebrity (she played the female lead, Baby). Grey has spoken on several occasions about the extreme contrasts of that fateful week.
“The juxtaposition of that deep sorrow, the survivor’s guilt, and then being celebrated as the new big thing just didn’t jibe,” she has since told the press. “It didn’t feel good to be the toast of the town.”
“My head was never the same, my ambition was never the same,” Grey commented later to People magazine. “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 said.
“I became America’s sweetheart within five days of the accident,” she noted. The star noted that she suffered whiplash in the crash, leading to chronic headaches and neck pain. To date, Dirty Dancing remains her best-known movie, and she distanced herself from Hollywood in the following decades.
Discussing the matter again in 2022, Grey says the event “changed my life forever and there was no one to blame. And many people might think that I’m here to tell some long held secret. None of that, it’s just we had an accident. It was a pure and simple accident that was tragic. And it had very serious traumatic lasting effects on, I’m sure, Matthew and the family of the other women and me.”