This one hurts hard. The one and only Dame Olivia Newton-John died this morning at 73. The sad news was delivered by her husband John Easterling on Facebook:
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.
Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. 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 (ONJFoundationFund.org).
Olivia is survived by her husband John Easterling; daughter Chloe Lattanzi; 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.
A specific cause of death wasn’t given, but as John’s statement says, she battled breast cancer for decades. And in 2017, she said the breast cancer came back and had metastasized to the sacrum. We should say FUCK CANCER every day but today I’m really screaming it.
Some think that Olivia Newton-John was an angelic-voiced blossom who first sprouted up in Australia. But Olivia Newton-John was actually an angelic-voiced blossom who first sprouted up in England. She was born in Cambridge and her family moved to Melbourne when she was six years old. Many headlines today are calling Olivia Newton-John a “Grease star” but she was a star before she put on Sandy’s cardigan.
Olivia started singing professionally at 14 years old, and was in a couple of pop groups and won a TV talent show before she released her first solo album If Not For You in 1971. Olivia’s second album, Olivia, was released the next year. It never officially came out in the U.S. and didn’t do well commercially. But Olivia kept on, kept on, and in 1973, she struck success with the country-fried Let Me Be There, a song that made the Top 10 of both pop and country charts in the U.S. It also won Olivia her first Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance.
In 1974, Olivia represented Britain in Eurovision, but she lost to a little unknown band from Sweden called ABBA. Since Let Me Be There was a hit, Olivia decided to bring her Aussie country twang to her next album Long Live Love. Of course, at the time, some country purists were hee-hawing in anger over a foreigner like Olivia taking on country music. But Olivia showed their mad asses because on Long Live Love was the cooing masterpiece I Honestly Love You. Olivia won two more Grammys for the song including Record of the Year. Here she is performing the song during her special, Live At The Sydney Opera House.
I bet Olivia Newton-John honestly loved I Honestly Love You because it kicked off a fireworks of hits for her including Have You Ever Been Mellow? (1975), Please Mr. Please (1975), Something Better To Do (1975), Come On Over (1976), and her cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ (1976). So Olivia was riding high when in 1977, she was at a party at Helen Reddy’s house and didn’t know she was secretly auditioning for the lead role of Sandy in the movie version of the Broadway musical Grease. Producer Allan Carr was watching her and believed she was his Sandy. Olivia wasn’t so sure about it at the time, because she was on top in the music industry, and at 28, thought she was too old to play a high schooler. via Vanity Fair:
Carr then zeroed in on Olivia Newton-John, the blonde, Australian, country-lite singer who sat across from him at a dinner party at Helen Reddy’s house one night without realizing she was auditioning. Carr gushed to Newton-John that she would be perfect for the role, but the singer—who had made her film debut in 1970’s Toomorrow, an English science-fiction bomb—put on the brakes. “I was very anxious about making another film, because my music career was going well,” Newton-John says, “and I did not want to mess it up by doing another movie that wasn’t good.”
But after a screen test with John Travolta went perfectly and producers agreed to rewrite the character of Sandy as Australian since Olivia couldn’t do an American accent, she took the role. It made her an even bigger star. Here’s a glamorously haunting Olivia performing Hopelessly Devoted To You on The Donny & Marie Show (fun fact: Marie Osmond was in the running to play Sandy too).
Olivia followed up Grease with Xanadu. I read one article today that called it a “flop.” Um, whoever wrote that will be denied at the gates of Heaven! Because Xanadu is soft-focus perfection from beginning to end and gave Olivia her fourth #1 hit with Magic. And although it wasn’t a #1 hit, I’m sharing Olivia’s performance of Suspended In Time from Xanadu because it’s a feast for all the senses!
In the late 70s and early 80s, Olivia stepped away from her country and wholesome eras and brought the SEX. Her tenth studio album Totally Hot was released in 1978, and she followed that up with her biggest-selling album of all time, 1981’s Physical. And I don’t have to tell you that the album’s title track became a classic and one of Olivia’s biggest hits. And I love Physical even more after reading that two Utah radio stations banned it for being filth! Olivia really was a magical chameleon who could go from playing the most wholesome high schooler alive to offending people with her 80s fuck anthem:
During the rest of the 80s, Olivia joined forces with John Travolta again for the movie Two of a Kind, and continued to make albums. She also opened a chain of hot clothing boutiques called Koala Blue. After Olivia gave birth to her first and only child, Chloe Lattanzi, in 1986, she took a three-year break. And when she came back, she continued to make music and also focused on her activism work. Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and became an anti-warrior queen advocate for breast cancer research. She helped open the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne and raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fight cancer.
In the 2000s, Olivia was in Sordid Lives, both the movie and series, and was later in episodes of Glee and RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Olivia was married twice. She was married to Chloe’s father Matt Lattanzi from 1984 to 1995 and she married John Easterling in 2008. And I also have to mention Patrick McDermott, who Olivia dated on and off for ten years until he went missing at sea. Some believe Patrick never died in the ocean and is now living in Mexico after faking his death to get away from money problems. Olivia said a few years ago that nobody really knows what happened but she’s moved on from it.
You know, this post is over 1,200 words and I feel like I still haven’t scratched the surface of Olivia’s life and career. What a life. What a light. And now I leave you with the video for Window In The Wall, a duet that Olivia and Chloe released last year:
Rest in peace, Olivia Newton-John.
Pic: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Image