Jennifer Grey got the best reviews of her life for her film “Dirty Dancing,” a current box-office hit. However, in a cruel twist of fate, she is getting more news coverage because of a Northern Ireland car accident last month that killed two people and seriously injured her boyfriend, actor Matthew Broderick.

“I’m very happy to be alive,” Grey said recently about the accident. “Matthew and I were very lucky. He’ll be fine. . . .”

Grey, a personable young actress with six films to her credit, was on vacation in Ireland with Broderick last month when the couple drove their BMW across the border into Northern Ireland.


Outside the small city of Enniskillen, about 80 miles southwest of Belfast, Broderick and Grey apparently struck another car occupied by Margaret Doherty, 67, and her daughter, Ann Gallagher, 28. Both women were killed.

Broderick suffered a broken leg and spent four weeks at Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital.

Grey was treated for shock and bruises and was released. Except to fly back to the United States briefly in mid-August to attend the East and West Coast premieres of “Dirty Dancing,” Grey has remained with Broderick.

Broderick was charged earlier this week with causing death by reckless driving. He was returning to the United States on Tuesday, his New York publicist said.

Spokesmen for the actor and the Belfast hospital declined to confirm, however, whether Grey was accompanying him.

Hospital spokesman Gerard Carson also declined to say whether Grey was with Broderick on Monday during his special court hearing at the hospital. Broderick, who showed up at the hearing on crutches, was ordered to appear at Enniskillen Magistrates Court in February. His bail was set at 2,500 ($4,150).


The hospital had no comment about Broderick’s condition. “The Broderick family instructed the health board to say nothing about his condition,” Carson said. “He was a private patient.”

Until the accident, Grey wouldn’t officially acknowledge her relationship with Broderick.

“Now everybody knows who I go out with,” she said, “but I don’t want to get into the details of it. I’ve made it one of my tenets that I like to keep my personal life personal. That’s why they call it ‘personal’ life.”

But the 27-year-old daughter of entertainer Joel Grey and granddaughter of Yiddish theater and vaudeville star Mickey Katz is approaching star status--when personal lives and public lives can become confused amid the glitter of celebrity.

In “Dirty Dancing,” a girl’s coming-of-age picture set in 1963, Grey is getting critical praise for her role as a young woman who learns about life and love while she’s learning how to dance.

Although critics have compared the film to “Flashdance” and “Footloose,” Grey insists that “ ‘Dirty Dancing’ isn’t at all like those films. Music and dance are involved in all three, but I don’t see much else in common. ‘Dirty Dancing’ is about a real loss of innocence, with a girl learning about a totally unknown part of herself--her sexuality.”

“Dirty Dancing” director Emile Ardolino said he knew Grey was physically perfect for the role when she showed up for her dance audition, at which she was free to do any kind of dance she wanted.

“She was wearing flesh-colored leotards, a bikini and had a bare midriff--she was adorable,” Ardolino said. “You would look at her one moment as a woman, then think, ‘I shouldn’t be looking at her that way.’ She is older than her character, but she has that girl-woman look.”

In Los Angeles briefly for the film’s premiere, Grey mused on the success of the film (its opening-week box office of $4 million at 1,000 theaters was considered excellent business for a dark horse). “I think we’re back in the ‘60s again. People have slowed down. In the ‘70s, people were in too much of a hurry--to lose their virginity, to have sex, to be grown up. Promiscuity was promoted as being cool and hip.

“Maybe this means there’s a return to courtship and romance.”

Already a show-business veteran, Grey has never hesitated to speak her mind. “I was a difficult kid,” she says with a laugh. “My mom would lay out my clothes, and I’d have fits. I always had very specific opinions about everything. For instance, I never liked dumb, bad scripts.

“There are so few female heroines for young girls to identify with,” she says. She knows, having gotten her film experience carrying a machine gun in “Red Dawn,” looking adoringly at her husband (Nicolas Cage) in “Cotton Club” and trying to get her brother (Matthew Broderick) in trouble in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

“When I read the ‘Dirty Dancing’ script, I was amazed there was a character like this in a movie, and that I would be able to audition to play her. I couldn’t believe how much I related to her.”

Grey’s character, “Baby” Houseman, is planning a college/Peace Corps future when, on a family vacation in a Catskills resort, she falls for the dance instructor (Patrick Swayze).

He teaches her a lot, including a new style of street dancing (dirty dancing) inspired by such R&B-influenced; pop classics as “Do You Love Me” and “Be My Baby.” Naturally, Baby’s father (Jerry Orbach) doesn’t approve of his daughter’s new friend. And equally naturally, Baby doesn’t listen to him.

It’s familiar territory for Grey. “When I was a teen-ager, I was a daddy’s girl, too. There was nothing I didn’t tell him. I had no secrets from him. I couldn’t imagine meeting anyone as great as my dad.

“Then when I started dating, it was pretty difficult on our relationship. That final cutting of the umbilical cord is sad for parents and children. But you have to break away and see who you are, as opposed to what your parents want you to be.”

Despite Grey’s determination to be an actress, her parents wouldn’t let her work professionally until she finished high school. “When I was pining away to act, my parents let me take dance and singing lessons,” she remembers. “I started ballet at 6 and then went on to jazz, tap, Afro-ethnic and Caribbean.”

After high school, she enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Then she went the usual actress route: understudying off-Broadway, commercials, PBS, after-school specials and waitressing.

Having Oscar-winner Joel Grey for a father was never a problem, she says. However, she still bridles at the recollection of people telling her, “ ‘Oh, you’re a famous actor’s daughter. You’ll have no trouble.’ That burned me up, especially when I was trying to find my own identity. I wanted to be recognized on my own terms.”

After seven years as a struggling actress, how does she feel about the prospect of success? She dismisses the idea with a smile. “Now I’m so old and formed, I don’t think success will make any difference.

“Work is great, but I don’t think it’s everything. It’s important to know who you are and what you want. I’m dying to have a family. Success only ruins people if they don’t know who they are to begin with.”