Beloved Australian singer, actress and cancer crusader Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of 73.
The 70s and 80s pop icon, who starred in the iconic films Grease and Xanadu, had long-battled breast cancer. She died peacefully at her ranch in southern California, her husband John Easterling shared in a statement.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” Easterling said.
“Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.”
Olivia’s Grease co-star John Travolta, who played Danny in the classic musical, led the tributes.
“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” he said in a social media post. “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 first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”
“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” – John Travolta’s tribute
Close friend, Australian singer John Farnham, who often performed with Newton-John, also paid tribute.
“The Farnham family send love and sympathies to Olivia’s family,” he said.
“Behind that iconic smile was a tenacious fighter. A beautiful voice and a loyal friend. She will be greatly missed.”
Austin Health, who runs the Olivia Newton-John & Wellness Centre in Victoria, said in a statement that Newton-John “touched the lives of many people across Australia and the world, but none more so than our cancer services staff and patients at the Olivia Newton-John Centre, who she encouraged, inspired and supported every day.”
And Australain Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called Newton-John a “bright, joyful glow in our lives.”
Newton-John “touched the lives of many people across Australia and the world, but none more so than our cancer services staff and patients at the Olivia Newton-John Centre, who she encouraged, inspired and supported every day,” – Austin Health, Olivia Newton-John & Wellness Centre in Victoria
Born in England in 1948, Newton-John moved to Australia at the age of six, settling in Melbourne. Her mother, Irene Born, was the daughter of celebrated German physicist Max Born; and her Welsh father, Brinley Newton-John, was a professor of German and former MI5 agent who helped worked on the Enigma project (cracking Nazi codes) during World War II.
From a young age she was a keen singer and sang in an all-girl band, Sol Four, in high school.
As a teenager, she appeared in TV shows, including The Happy Show and The Go!! Show, and the 1965 movie Funny Things Happen Down Under.
In 1965, she entered a talent contest on the TV show, Sing, Sing, Sing, hosted by Johnny O’Keefe, and won a trip to England. There she teamed up with singer Pat Carroll and the duo – called “Pat & Olivia” – toured Europe.
She released her first solo album, If Not for You, in 1971, from which she scored her first hit single with the title track, written by Bob Dylan.
In 1974, she entered the Eurovision Song Contest, representing the United Kingdom, with Long Live Love, and finished fourth (the winner that year was the then-fledgling group ABBA with their song Waterloo).
She continued to release albums in the 70s, and scored success with country music in the US, but her big breakthrough came with nabbing the role of Sandy in the film adaption of the Broadway hit musical Grease in 1978. (The American role was adapted to Newton-John to accommodate her Australian accent.)
The film was the biggest hit of 1978, spawning the enduring classics, Summer Nights, You’re the One That I Want, and Hopelessly Devoted to You. Newton-John performed “Hopelessly Devoted to You”, written by her long-time writer-producer John Farrar, at the 1979 Oscars.
“Everything about making the film was fun, but if I had to pick a favourite moment, it was the transformation from what I call Sandy 1 to Sandy 2,” she told the UK’s Telegraph in 2017.
She became good friends with her co-star, John Travolta, and the pair later co-starred in the 1983 movie Two of a Kind, and they reunited for occasional concerts, celebrating Grease’s enduring music.
Her next film, Xanadu (1980), was a critical failure, but spawned the hit singles Xanadu and Magic (also written by Farrar), and went on to become a cult classic.
In the 80s, her star continued to rise with the release of the album Physical. The title track was a worldwide hit that spent ten weeks on the top of the US chart.
In later life, her focus moved toward health and wellbeing after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 – on the same weekend her father died of cancer.
She launched the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre and later, the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.
Though at one point she appeared to have overcome the cancer, it returned, including in 2017, when she was forced to cancel tour dates. By then, the cancer had spread to her back.
“I was so weak,” she told the Guardian in 2018. “I had a walker, a cane and crutches, but now I’m walking around.”
Newton-John was married twice in her life. In 1984, she married actor Matt Lattanzi and the couple had a daughter, Chloe, in 1986.
In 2008, she married businessman John Easterling. They bought a horse ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, California.
She was anointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2020 for services to charity, cancer research and entertainment.
Olivia Newton-John was anointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2020 for services to charity, cancer research and entertainment.
“Dame Olivia Newton-John passed away peacefully at her ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” Easterling said on August 9.
She is survived by Easterling; Chloe; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; nieces and nephews Tottie, Fiona and Brett Goldsmith; Emerson, Charlie, Zac, Jeremy, Randall, and Pierz Newton-John; Jude Newton-Stock, Layla Lee; Kira and Tasha Edelstein; and Brin and Valerie Hall.
“I don’t know what I would be without it now,” Newton-John said of having cancer in 2018.
“I see it as my life’s journey. It gave me purpose and intention and taught me a lot about compassion. It has been a gift. I don’t wish it on anyone else. But for me, it’s been important in my life.”
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.