Olivia Newton-John, pop singer who rose to fame with ‘Grease’, dies at 73

British-born Australian musician and actress Olivia Newton-John performs on stage in Chicago, Illinois on August 29, 1982.

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Olivia Newton-John, a British-Australian pop star who once dominated pop culture, has died after repeated cancer treatments, her husband announced on Monday. She was 73.

“Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully this morning at her ranch in Southern California, surrounded by family and friends,” said husband John Easterling. announced on its official Facebook page. “We ask everyone to respect the privacy of the family during this very difficult time.”

“Olivia has been a beacon 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 Foundation Fund -John, dedicated to plant medicine and cancer research.”

In the late 70s and early 80s, Newton-John was one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. She stole hearts in 1978’s blockbuster “Grease” and topped the charts with songs like the 1981 hit “Physical,” which was the No. 1 single of that decade, according to Billboard.

He is credited with selling over 100 million records over a five-decade career.

In recent years, however, Newton-John has become better known as an advocate for breast cancer survivors, being one herself since her first diagnosis in 1992.

“I think, you know, what you think creates your reality. So it’s a decision. You have to make that decision.” she said on the show “TODAY” in March 2019. “You can be a victim, or you can be a winner and enjoy your life.”

By all accounts, Newton-John lived a winning life.

Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, in 1948 to a father, Brin, who was both a World War II hero with British military intelligence and a professor of German literature, and a mother, Irene, whose own father, physicist Max Born, would win a Nobel Prize six years later. But from an early age, it seemed like she wasn’t destined to follow the family business of academia.

After her father took a job at a university in Australia, the family moved to Melbourne when Newton-John was 5 years old. A few years later, she won a talent contest on one of the country’s most popular TV shows, “Sing, Sing, Sing.” By age 15, she had formed an all-girl band and later teamed up with friend Pat Carroll for the pop duo Pat & Olivia.

But it is as a solo artist, from 1966, that Newton-John will reach his true potential. She broke through on this side of the Pacific with her third solo album, “Let Me Be There,” in 1973, with the title track earning the singer her first Grammy Award, for Best Female Country Performance. Newton-John would score his first No. 1 and next two Grammys a year later with the country ballad “I Honestly Love You.”

So when ‘Grease’ director Randal Kleiser was looking to play the role of Sandy, a straight Australian college student who falls for a greaser and ends up becoming one herself, he at least knew his first choice could sing. , whether or not Newton -John could star alongside the raunchy John Travolta, fresh off of “Saturday Night Fever.”

Australian singer and actress Olivia Newton-John and American actor John Travolta as they appear in the Paramount film ‘Grease’, 1978.

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“Olivia Newton-John was our first choice for the role of Sandy, but she had some issues,” Kleiser recalled via email. “She had a bad experience on an English film and didn’t want to repeat it.”

“(At 29), she wasn’t sure she looked like a 17-year-old girl and wanted to make sure she and John looked like they could be contemporaries,” Kleiser said. “He was a bit younger (at 23). She asked to take a screen test so she could see how she would look and feel how the chemistry would be between her, John and me.”

Fortunately, the test worked well enough to convince her that she could handle the role.

“She played the character at the start of the movie, and we were all hoping she could pull off the sexy vixen by the end,” Kleiser said. “We couldn’t have been happier with the end result.”

This end result turned out to be a blockbuster.

Its follow-up, the sci-fi and disco musical “Xanadu,” didn’t do as well.

At least something good came out of that role: She married co-star Matt Lattanzi in 1984. Two years later, the couple welcomed a daughter, Chloe Rose. But they separated after 11 years of marriage, in 1995.

Newton-John seemed to abandon Hollywood after the 1983 fantasy romance “Two of a Kind” reunited her on screen with Travolta, but it was none of the magic of their last collaboration.

The film’s disappointment didn’t matter much: In the early ’80s, Newton-John was busy having a lot of success in the music business. She landed her biggest hit with the song “Physical” in November 1981. In fact, it was the biggest hit in the entire industry of that decade, according to a Classification of billboardsand held its No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks.

Movies and music eventually took precedence over motherhood and medical issues.

Newton-John began championing cancer research in 1991, after the tragic death of his best friend’s daughter from a rare childhood form of the disease. But it became an even more personal cause a year later, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

After going into remission, the cancer returned twice more, in 2013 and 2017.

Olivia Newton-John sings during her ‘Greatest Hits Live’ concert in Hong Kong on August 18, 2000.

Reuters

Amid a mostly storybook life, one plot twist is only slightly more believable than “Xanadu”: tragedy seemed to strike when her then-48-year-old boyfriend of nine, Patrick McDermott years old, disappeared and was presumed dead after failing to return from a fishing trip. the California coast in 2005. But his final fate is shrouded in mystery after a private investigator hired by NBC’s “Dateline” claimed having found evidence that McDermott faked his own death to escape his debts and start a new life in Mexico.

“I mean, it’s human to wonder. But you know…these are the things in life that you have to accept and let go,” Newton-John narrated the Australian version of “60 Minutes” in 2016.

By then Newton-John had indeed let go and moved on, marrying American businessman John Easterling at an Inca ceremony atop a mountain outside Peru in 2008. The singer credited her husband, who founded botanical supplement supplier Amazon Herb Company, with helping her turn to the medical marijuana as cancer treatment.

Living with the disease, she repeatedly said, had given her perspective.

“We’re all going to die. That’s probably the hardest thing to accept as a human being,” Newton-John told “TODAY” in March 2019. “I’m 70 and I’ve had the most amazing life, and I have extra time. So whatever it is, I’m grateful for that.

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