Olivia Newton-John, Grease star and Grammy-winning singer, dies at 73
Olivia Newton-John, the English-Australian singer and actress beloved for her portrayal of Sandy in Grease, has died. She was 73.
According to her official social media pages, Newton-John died Aug. 8 while at her home in Southern California. A statement said, "Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family's privacy during this very difficult time."
The announcement did not cite her cause of death, but Newton-John fought breast cancer for over 30 years, and it did include a reference to her long battle with the disease and her charitable efforts. "Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer," it read. "Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund."
She had a long-ranging career in entertainment, most notably as a songwriter and recording artist. Newton-John sold an estimated 100 million records worldwide, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time.
She won four Grammy Awards and scored five number-one Billboard Hot 100 Singles in her lifetime, as well as over 15 top 10 singles. Billboard ranked her at number 20 on their list of Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Artists and number seven on their Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Women Artists list. In 1979, Queen Elizabeth bestowed her with an Order of the British Empire designation.
For millions, she will be best remembered as good-girl turned greaser Sandy in 1978 film Grease opposite John Travolta. The film shot her career to new heights and notably changed the role of Sandy from an American girl to an Australian transplant to accommodate Newton-John's native accent. One of her songs in the film, "Hopelessly Devoted to You" was nominated for the 1979 Oscar for Best Song. It, along with "You're the One That I Want", was written by her music producer John Farrar, specifically for the movie to showcase Newton-John's voice.
The film made her the second woman in history at that time to have two singles in the Billboard top 5 simultaneously with "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "Summer Nights," while "You're the One That I Want" also landed in the top five.
Before the role of Sandy shot her to a new level of fame, Newton-John found success in the 1970s with songs like "I Honestly Love You," "Have You Never Been Mellow," and "Please Mr. Please." After the success of Grease, she was able to rough up her image a bit, much like Sandy, and released edgier singles like "A Little More Love" and "Physical."
"Physical" went on to become the number one single of the 1980s, topping the charts for ten consecutive weeks. In 2015, Billboard Magazine listed the track at number eight on their list of the Top 100 Songs of All Time.
Newton-John battled cancer repeatedly in her lifetime, previously postponing a tour in 2017 because of its return. She became a fierce advocate for cancer research, including spearheading fundraising walks and creating the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia.
The star was born September 26, 1948 in Cambridge, England to Irene and Brin Newton-John. The family moved to Melbourne, Australia when she was only five. Newton-John showed an early interest in singing and performing, winning a talent content on Australian TV show Sing, Sing, Sing and forming an all-girl group, Sol 4, by the age of 15.
She later teamed up with her friend Pat Carroll as a double act, "Pat and Olivia" and they toured army bases and clubs throughout Europe. Newton-John cut her first single in 1966, a new version of "Till You Say You'll Be Mine," and in 1971, she recorded a cover of Bob Dylan's "If Not for You." She went on to represent the U.K. in the Eurovision song content with "Long Live Love" in 1974. She finished fourth at the contest behind perhaps the most famous winners of the contest ever – ABBA with their entry "Waterloo."
Newton-John made her album debut in the U.S. with Let Me Be There, which spawned her first top ten single of the same name. The Academy of Country Music named her the Most Promising Female Vocalist, and she won a Grammy Award for Best Country Vocalist.
Her next album was If You Love Me, Let Me Know, which produced her signature song "I Honestly Love You." It scored her two more Grammys, including one for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance – female. Her next album 1975's Have You Never Been Mellow also topped the charts. Grease shot her to new heights, and in 1978, her new album Totally Hot became a top 10 album. In 1980, she released a duet with the BeeGees member Andy Gibb, "I Can't Help It."
In addition to her star turn in Grease, Newton-John racked up numerous film credits throughout her career, including turns in Funny Things Happen Down Under, Tomorrow, Xanadu, Two of a Kind, It's My Party, Sordid Lives, Score: A Hockey Musical, and A Few Best Men. In Xanadu, she danced opposite Hollywood legend Gene Kelly. Xanadu also spawned a hit soundtrack, including the song "Magic" which became one of the biggest pop hits of her career.
After that came the mega-success of Physical, which went double platinum. The title song was far raunchier than most of Newton-John's typical fare, and she told EW in 2017, "I recorded it and then suddenly thought, 'Goodness, maybe I've gone too far!' It was a bit raunchier than I realized. I called [my manager] Roger [Davies] and said, 'We've got to pull this song!' He said, 'It's too late. It's already gone to radio and it's running up the charts.' I was horrified!" She immortalized the song further with an exercise-inspired music video that capitalized on the aerobics trends of the 1980s. The song also led to an ABC primetime special, titled Let's Get Physical.
Newton-John was also a devoted philanthropist, serving as the first Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program and as the 1991 national spokesperson for Australia's Children's Health Environmental Coalition. The organization is now known as Healthy Child, Healthy World. In 2008, she and a team of fellow cancer survivors led a trek along the Great Wall of Chinato raise money for cancer research and treatment.
She overcame her first bout with breast cancer in the early 1990s, which also inspired her self-penned and produced album Gaia. Her experiences with Gaia also led Newton-John to be more active as a songwriter from thereafter. She released two albums with Hallmark, a Christmas album Tis the Season and 2005's Stronger than Before. Proceeds from the album's sales benefitted cancer research.
Throughout her life, Newton-John continued to record and perform, including a 2002 duets album featuring mostly Australian artists and multiple Christmas albums. She actively toured throughout her career, including a 2014 Las Vegas residency.
Newton-John also made multiple television appearances, guest starring as herself on numerous shows including Murphy Brown, Ned and Stacey, and Glee. On Glee, she recreated her "Physical" video with star Jane Lynch, and the appearance returned her to the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time since 1998. In addition to her guest starring appearances, she also hosted her own Australian animal and nature series Wild Life for several years.
She was married twice. First to actor, Matt Lattanzi, who she met on the set of Xanadu. They were married from 1984 to 1985, and Newton-John had one daughter by him, Chloe Rose, born in 1986.
In 2008, she married John Easterling, who survives her as well as her daughter, Chloe, her siblings, and many nieces and nephews.
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