But few people know about the devastating car accident that same year, which led Grey to years of excruciating pain.
Now the reigning champion of “Dancing With the Stars,” Grey is taking herself “out of the corner” to speak out about how chronic pain ruled her life for more than 10 years – and what she’s doing about it.
“That was the last time I danced before ‘Dancing With the Stars,’” Grey said of her experience on “Dirty Dancing.”
“Literally I didn’t dance all that time – I was in so much pain.”
The car accident happened in August 1987, while Grey was vacationing in Ireland with then-boyfriend, Matthew Broderick. She suffered severe whiplash, but in the years that followed, her neck compressed and several of her vertebrae virtually disappeared.
Grey married and had a daughter in 2001, continuing to take bit parts in television and film – but pain seemed to rule her life.
“I was basically going to massage, heating my neck, taking hot baths, anti-inflammatories – throwing myself at the mercy of anyone who could rub my neck,” Grey said. “The pain became the new normal, and I accepted my neck was going to be a problem.”
Grey said she began practicing hypnosis and mindful meditation to also ease her stress levels, which contributed to her pain.
When she was approached by the producers of “Dancing With the Stars,” Grey jumped at the opportunity – but not before consulting with her doctors.
That’s when the 51-year-old realized she needed the first of three surgeries, and subsequent tests discovered a mysterious spot on her thyroid – which turned out to be cancer.
Grey had two thyroid surgeries, and today she is cancer-free. She also had a discectomy, a procedure that removes herniated disc material that is pressing on the spinal cord.
Partnered with Derek Hough, Grey went on to become the winner of “DWTS” 11th season. But the TV show didn’t come without its own added pain – Grey ruptured a disc in her lower back and suffered from a neuroma in her foot.
Grey is now involved in PartnersAgainstPain.com, because she wants other pain sufferers to have the kind of support she’s had, which includes an “incredible team of doctors” whom she said, helped her get her life back.
The website helps patients keep a pain journal; which is integral to bring to your doctor’s appointment, Grey said, as pain patients can’t always articulate what exactly is bothering them.
And Grey has plenty to keep her busy. She’s appeared in the Lifetime movie “The Bling Ring,” will be a guest judge on the U.K. TV show “Strictly Come Dancing,” and she is writing a book.
“I will always have pain,” Grey said. “But I exercise as much as I can, and I find that makes a huge difference. And if my body does seize up, I have a pain plan in place. If it escalates, I go back to my doctor.”