Changing the world of music and musical theater forever, actress Oliva Newton-John died Monday, August 8th. She is best known for her role as Sandy Olsson in Grease and a long string of hits topped by 1981’s “Physical.”
Her official Facebook confirmed the news reporting: “Dame Olivia Newton-John 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,” her husband, John Easterling, wrote in a statement on the singer’s verified Instagram account. “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, sharing her journey with breast cancer.”
Revealing in September 2018, Olivia Newton-John made public the treatment for cancer at the base of her spine. It was her third cancer diagnosis, following bouts with breast cancer in the early ’90s and 2017.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund (ONJFoundationFund.org).”
Celebrating Olivia Newton-John
Newton-John was one of the most popular recording artists of the 1970s and 1980s. Newton-John accumulated five No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Physical,” which was only the second song in Hot 100 history (following Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life”) to log 10 weeks at No. 1.
She had back-to-back No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 with: If You Love Me, Let Me Know (1974) and Have You Never Been Mellow (1975).
Singer, songwriter, actress, entrepreneur, and activist, Newton-John had many successes in her life, from her career to her family, to her personal life.
Oliva Newton-John and Music
Newton-John released her first solo album, If Not for You (US No. 158 Pop), in 1971. Her follow-up single, “Banks of the Ohio,” was a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia.
Newton-John’s singles continued to easily top the AC chart, where she ultimately amassed ten No. 1 singles, including a record seven consecutively:
- “I Honestly Love You” (1974) – 3 weeks
- “Have You Never Been Mellow” (1975) – 1 week
- “Please Mr. Please” (1975) – 3 weeks
- “Something Better to Do” (1975) – 3 weeks
- “Let It Shine”/”He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” (1976) – 2 weeks
- “Come on Over” (1976) – 1 week
- “Don’t Stop Believin'” (1976) – 1 week
Newton-John and Grease
She also starred with John Travolta in the blockbuster Grease, which was the top-grossing film of 1978. The film soundtrack spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard 200 and wound up with a Grammy nomination for album of the year.
She was offered the lead role of Sandy after meeting producer Allan Carr at a dinner party at Helen Reddy’s home. Grease became the biggest box-office hit of 1978. The soundtrack album spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 and yielded three Top 5 singles for Newton-John: the platinum “You’re the One That I Want” (No. 1 Pop, No. 23 AC) with John Travolta, the gold “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (No. 3 Pop, No. 20 Country, No. 7 AC) and the gold “Summer Nights” (No. 5 Pop, No. 21 AC) with John Travolta and the film’s cast. “Summer Nights” was from the original play written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, but the former two songs were written and composed by her long-time music producer, John Farrar, specifically for the film.
Travolta reacted to her death in an Instagram post:
“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 first moment I saw you and forever!”
Your Danny, your John!
Olivia on Olivia
“I’ve had many lives in music. I’ve had country when when I started, then I crossed over into pop,” she told CNN. “I had ‘Xanadu’ and ‘Grease,’ many songs in between. I feel very grateful. I have such a large repertoire to choose from.”
Activism and Newton-John
Newton-John has been a long-time activist for environmental and animal rights issues. In her eyes, Olivia was sure to see both her family and her humanitarian work as her greatest accomplishments. She gave birth to her daughter, Chloe, in 1986, and later helped establish the Healthy Child, Healthy World organization after Chloe’s childhood friend died of a rare form of cancer.
The Life of Olivia Newton-John
In 2020 made a Dame, Olivia Newton-John was born 26 September 1948 in Cambridge, United Kingdom, to Welshman Brinley “Bryn” Newton-John (1914–1992) and Irene Helene (née Born; 1914–2003). She was the youngest of three children following her brother Hugh (1939–2019), a medical doctor, and her sister Rona (1941–2013), an actress. Her Jewish maternal grandfather was the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Max Born. Before World War II, he fled with his wife and children to Britain from Germany.
In 1954, when she was six, Newton-John’s family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. Her father worked as a German professor and as the master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne. She first attended Christ Church Grammar School in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra. Then the University High School near Ormond College.
Newton-John is an Inspiration
Actor Suzanne Somers, herself, praised Olivia Newton-John for helping her through her own cancer diagnosis.
“There is a sisterhood that grows larger every. It’s a sisterhood you never want to join but when allowed entry you find great comfort with other ‘sisters’,” Somers said in a statement to NBC News.
“Olivia provided great comfort for me when diagnosed 25 years ago. Her fight was my fight, as she won, I won. She taught all of us so much through her bravery and ‘never give up’ philosophy. We got strength through Olivia and her example of life. As a ’70s icon she lived a full life. I loved her and will miss my ‘sister’ forever.”
She was an icon that represented the time. Oliva Newton-John’s work in cancer is what led to the UK honoring her with dame status. She was beloved by everyone and an inspiration to aspiring artists.
“I love to sing, it’s all I know how to do,” she told CNN in 2017. “That’s all I’ve ever done since I was 15, so it’s my life. I feel very grateful that I can still do it and people still come to see me.”