Olivia Newton-John, ‘Grease’ Star and Pop Phenom, Dies @ 73

Olivia Newton-John, remembered by generations of moviegoers for her performance as Sandy in the movie musical Grease, and one of the last century's most successful singers, died Monday, August 8, 2022, of cancer — 30 years after she began her battle.

A real-life goddess (GIF via GIPHY)

She was 73.

Newton-John had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 while embarking on a musical comeback with the song "I Need Love." Shelving her career for the short run, she kicked cancer — but it returned twice, most recently in 2017, when it had spread to her back.

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Via aggressive treatments — she was a big proponent of plant-based cancer treatments, as well as an animal-rights activist — Newton-John managed to outrun the disease that killed her sister, Rona Newton-John, at 70 in 2013 for decades.

The icon died "peacefully, surrounded by family and friends" in her Southern California home, according to ExtraTV.com.

Sandy & Danny, one of Hollywood's most memorable couples (Image via Universal)

Newton-John's beloved friend and Grease co-star John Travolta memorialized her on Instgram with: “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”

Born September 26, 1948, in England to Australian parents, Newton-John joined the girl group Sol Four and began making regular TV appearances as a singer. She won a prominent talent contest and in 1966 recorded her debut single, "Till You Say You'll Be Mine," for Decca.

After a stint in the duo Pat and Olivia, she worked as part of a group called Toomorrow and acted in a 1970 movie of the same name, a disaster that very nearly discouraged her from ever trying screen acting in the future.

She tasted her first international success upon the release of her 1971 solo album "If Not for You," named for the Bob Dylan-penned single that marked her first entry into the U.S. Top 40.

Though immediately popular in Australia and the U.K., it wasn't until her 1973 smash "Let Me Be There" that she blossomed in the U.S.

Competing in the Eurovision Song Contest — she lost to ABBA — Newton-John continued to produce country-and-western-flavored pop hits and build a loyal fanbase.

During this early phase of her career, other big hits included "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" (1974), the back-to-back number-one smashes "I Honestly Love You" (1974) and "Have You Never Been Mellow" (1975), "Please Mr. Please" (1975), "Come on Over" (1976), and "Sam" (1977), which appealed to a broad spectrum of listeners, from teens to fans of adult contemporary music.

Already at the top of her game musically, Newton-John, 29, was signed to play high schooler Sandy in the movie version of the stage musical Grease. The film was a phenomenon, taking her singing career to new heights with chart-busting singles including "You're the One That I Want" (with Travolta), "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (especially written for the film, it was Oscar-nominated), and "Summer Nights" (with Travolta), all released in 1978.

Though Grease has fans to this day, and has been revived in many forms, it's hard to appreciate the depth of its impact. Made for $6 million, it raked in $395 million, or about $1.7 billion in 2022 dollars. It was the most successful musical of the 1900s, besting even The Sound of Music and all the classics of the Golden Age of Hollywood, when musicals were more accepted by filmgoers.

Her 1978 pop album Totally Hot represented a more dance-oriented, sophisticated approach, yielding the hits "A Little More Love" (1978), "Deeper Than the Night" and "Totally Hot" (both 1979).

Newton-John's next film, the roller disco fantasy Xanadu with Hollywood legend Gene Kelly, bombed with critics in 1980, but has a loyal cult following to this day. It also produced her signature hits "Magic," "Xanadu" (with ELO), and "Suddenly" (with Cliff Richard).

Though she continued acting sporadically, including in 1983's Two of a Kind with Travolta again, Newton-John remained committed to her music.

In 1981, her album Physical arrived like an atom bomb on the pop scene. Rocking shorter hair and a far sexier image, Newton-John's workout-themed music video for the title track effortlessly rode the zeitgeist, helping make it the number-one song of the entire decade.

One of her four Grammys was for the video album that accompanied the "Physical" single.

Other hits soon followed, including "Make a Move on Me" and "Heart Attack" in 1982, "Twist of Fate" (1983), and 1985's "Soul Kiss," her final Top 40 entry, a few years before she turned 40.

Married to actor Matt Lattanzi in 1984 after meeting him filming Xanadu, she devoted time to raising their daughter Chloe Rose. She and Lattanzi divorced in 1995.

She continued performing throughout her life, and also returned to acting, including appearing in the TV film A Mom for Christmas (1990), the AIDS-themed It's My Party (1996), and as Bitsy Mae Harling in the 2000 comedy Sordid Lives and its ensuing 2008 series.

But her primary focus evolved to include her mission to call attention to healing via plant medicine, one part of the work of the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.

Newton-John is survived by her husband, her daughter, her sister, and her brother.

1 Response

  1. As always Matt you wrote a beautiful, detailed obit.

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