By People Staff
July 09, 1979 12:00 PM

Call it a fad, or a shared madness, or the oddly appropriate transport of a gasless summer, but roller fever is climbing—and nowhere higher than among the stars. Shaking off its Wurlitzer-and-dinky-rink image of the ’50s, skating has reemerged in a flash of disco lights and glitter tights, thanks largely to the polyurethane wheel, which makes for a smoother, more enjoyable ride. The roller skate industry estimates that 28 million Americans are up on the new wheels so far—despite an average cost of $75 a pair for shoe-skates—and celebrities are flocking to roller balls. Jack Nicholson’s black-boot skates feature green neon tubing. Cher has one pair with wheels that deploy like landing gear. The roller scene is clean, insists Helena Kallianiotes, who takes over a Reseda, Calif. rink Monday nights for celebrities skating and strictly forbids drugs or drink. Straight can be bad enough. Bianca Jagger has been hobbling around for eight weeks after a skating fall, and a few days ago Venice, Calif. authorities banned skaters from almost a mile of prime boardwalk to protect terrified senior citizens. No matter: The craze rolls on. Here is a look at the hottest thing on two feet and eight wheels.

After locking up her 11 dogs (“They trip me up”), novice Olivia Newton-John practices circling her tennis court—not always successfully (below). “Skating keeps my legs in shape,” she explains.

It takes all kinds to make a trend, and the best-selling Village People pack a trunkful of skates wherever they tour. From left are Glenn Hughes, Randy Jones, Victor Willis, Alex Briley, David Hodo and, horizontal, Felipe Rose.

Pop country thrush Tanya Tucker, a new-comer to rock, rolls several miles a week to keep trim. In Las Vegas she uses skates to shuttle between her friends’ shows on the Strip.

John F. Kennedy Jr. was a regular at Brooklyn’s Empire Roller Disco before leaving on a pre-college jaunt to Africa. His skate technique, says a friend, “is picking up fantastically.”

For Neil Simon’s wife, Marsha Mason, skating is strictly business: She relearned it for an upcoming film, Promises in the Dark, in which she falls for Michael Brandon on a roller date.

Though a nonskater, Dick Cavett tried a pair during a recent TV shooting in L.A. “Californians are always talking about their wheels,” he says. “I used to think that meant their cars.”

Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall first got rolling for a Laverne & Shirley episode two years ago. “It’s a very physical show,” says Cindy, “and you have to stay in shape.”

“I go slow, no fancy stuff,” says Andy Warhol, showing why at Manhattan’s Metropolis. But he’s turned his suffering into art: “You put paint on your skates and roll around on a canvas.”

Supermarket shopper Marilu (Taxi) Henner, who started skating just six months ago, now zooms around the set between takes—and has the rest of the cast trying it too.

Colorado Rep. Pat Schroeder, 38, uses a skateboard to tackle the Capitol’s subterranean maze, but when it comes to eight wheels, “I’m the family klutz,” she says. Still, she tries—on antique skates bought at a rink.

Discouraged from recreational skating by mobbing fans, Robin (Mork) Williams (with wife Valerie) says he now skates only for transport when his old car breaks down.

By strengthening his legs, says comic Jimmie Walker, skating lets him enjoy his first athletic love—basketball—even more. Besides that, he swears, “Roller skates help my rhythm.”

Nicolette Larson, who skates on weekends with veteran roller Linda Ronstadt, was feted by Warner with a roller skate cake when her first album, Nicolette, went gold last month. Skating, she says, helps her “oxygenate.”

Tennis ace Rosie Casals (left) says she’ll skate “anywhere that’s lovely.” Her game but less enthusiastic competitors are (clockwise) Billie Jean King (bad knees), Tracy Austin (“I stopped”), Martina Navratilova (“I ice-skate’ and Chris Evert Lloyd (“never again”).

Erik Estrada (here helping Kathi Lautner with her skates) first learned to skate in Spanish Harlem and is taking lessons for a roller-disco sequence in CHiPs’ fall premiere.

“I began skating way before these other dudes,” says KC (Harry Casey) of the Sunshine Band, playing wheelsies with singer friend Teri Desario. “It clears your mind.”

The inimitable Cher bares her technique with disco star Bill Butler at Brooklyn’s Empire rink. She’s been known to invite as many as 500 people to a roller party. She’s a good skate.