“Dame Olivia Newton-John passed away this morning at her farm in Southern California surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone respect the family’s privacy during this difficult time,” her husband John Easterling wrote in a statement. On the singer’s verified Instagram account. “Olivia has been a symbol of success and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer.”
Thanks to a string of country and soft-rock hits, Newton-John was already a popular singer in the late 1970s. But her co-starring opposite John Travolta in 1978’s “Grease,” one of the most popular movie musicals of all time, elevated her to a new level.
Although she had little acting experience (turned 29 at the time of filming), Newton-John gave an immortal performance as Sandy, a sweet-natured Australian transfer student who falls in love with Travolta’s alpha greaser Danny at a Southern California high school in the 1950s.
Their on-screen chemistry as mismatched lovebirds, who undergo final-act stunts to win each other’s hearts — she ditches her frayed clothes for heels, leather, spandex and a cigarette — anchored the film and prompted many fans to revisit it.
Newton-John sang on three of the film’s biggest hits: the duets “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights” with Travolta, and her mesmerizing single “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
Newton-John recorded her first single in England in 1966 and had some international success, but remained largely unknown to American audiences until 1973, when “Let Be There” became a Top 10 hit on the adult contemporary and country charts. .
Number 1 Easy Listening hits followed, including “I Honestly Love You”, “How You Never Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please”.
Then came “Grease,” which became the highest-grossing movie of 1978 and an enduring cultural phenomenon.
The film gave Newton-John an opportunity to change his grim look. On the cover of her next album, “Totally Hot,” the singer wore black leather, while its songs had an edgier, contemporary pop sound.
Her singing success
In 1981, he took his new, charismatic persona a step further with “Physical”, a dance number with suggestive lyrics such as “There’s nothing to talk about but be horizontal”. Banned by several radio stations, it became his biggest hit, spending 10 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100.
He also appeared in several big-budget films, including the musical fantasy “Xanadu” in his final screen role opposite Hollywood legend Gene Kelly. The film bombed, but its soundtrack sold well and “Magic” became a No. 1 hit.
In 1983 she teamed up with Travolta again for a romantic comedy-fantasy called “Two of a Kind,” but it failed to recapture their “Grease” spark.
Newton-John won four Grammy Awards and sold more than 100 million albums over a long career.
“I’ve had many lives in music. When I started I had country, and then I crossed over to pop,” he told CNN. “I had so many songs like ‘Xanadu’ and ‘Grease’. I feel so grateful that I have such a huge repertoire to choose from.”
But Newton-John had his troubles and sorrows. Her breast cancer diagnosis forced her to postpone and cancel several tours.
“It’s very hard to live with,” he told CNN’s Larry King in 2006. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and I’ve been through a lot.” Although her career profile faded in her later years, Newton-John never stopped recording and performing. Her highlights include a guest appearance on “Glee,” the long-running “Summer Nights” residency at Flamingo Las Vegas, and the dance club hit “You Have to Believe,” recorded with daughter Khloe.
“I love to sing and I know how to,” she told CNN in 2017. “I’ve been doing this since I was 15, so this is my life. I feel very grateful that I can still do it. People still come to see me.”