Olivia Newton-John: Smash-hit musical “Grease” star and singer dies
August 9, 2022 07:47 am
Olivia Newton-John, best known for playing Sandy in smash-hit musical Grease, has died aged 73, her family says.
The star died from cancer, her manager told the BBC.
Her husband John Easterling said she “passed away peacefully” at her ranch in California on Monday morning.
An actress and musician, Newton-John achieved commercial success as a country singer and sold millions of records globally.
But it was her role as high school student Sandy in the film adaption of Grease that catapulted her to worldwide fame.
One of the most successful film musicals of all time, it told the story of Sandy’s summer fling with John Travolta’s Danny and the difficulties the relationship encounters. In the end the pair reconciles with Sandy appearing in a tight, black leather outfit.
The film was the biggest box-office hit of 1978, and gave Newton-John three huge hit singles, including You’re The One That I Want and Summer Nights, both performed with co-star John Travolta.
And it was a catalyst for change in both her image and her musical direction - shedding her innocent, country-pop image.
Travolta wrote on Instagram that she “made all of our lives so much better”.
“Your impact was incredible. I love you so much,” he wrote.
“We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever!”
Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin, who co-starred alongside Newton-John in the 1996 film It’s My Party, called her “the sweetest and brightest light” in a Twitter tribute.
And Dionne Warwick, who recorded a duet with Newton-John in 2006, wrote on Twitter that “another angelic voice has been added to the Heavenly Choir”.
Newton-John was born in Cambridge, UK on 26 September 1948.
Her father had been a British spy during World War Two. Her mother was the daughter of the German Nobel laureate, Max Born, and had fled with her family when the Nazis came to power in 1933.
The family moved to Australia in 1954, where she was raised.
Her breakthrough came in 1971 when she released a Bob Dylan-penned track, If Not For You, which reached number seven in the UK charts and featured on an album of the same name.
She won four Grammy awards and scored seven US number one hits between 1974 and 1977.
While critics never warmed to her audience-friendly style of music, the star forthrightly dismissed the reviews.
“It annoys me when people think because it’s commercial, it’s bad,” she told Rolling Stone. “It’s completely opposite. If people like it, that’s what it’s supposed to be.”
‘Symbol of triumphs and hope’
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 1990s, Newton-John became a leading advocate for cancer research and her charity, the Olivia Newton John Foundation, has raised millions of pounds to support research.
In a statement, the hospital that runs the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne - which was opened after the star’s campaigning - said she “encouraged, inspired and supported” staff and patients everyday.
“We are incredibly grateful for the special relationship we had with Olivia for many years. Her generous support and gift provided hope and changed the lives of thousands of cancer patients... She was the light at the end of the tunnel for many, many people.”
Her efforts in the field were recognised by Queen Elizabeth, who honoured her with a damehood in 2020 New Year’s Honours list.
In 2019. after being diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time, she was asked by CBS News how she coped.
“It was consuming my day and after a time I went ‘you know what’, I need to enjoy my life so I’m going to eat a cookie if I want it,” she said.
“Because the joy of life and everyday living has to be a part of that healing process as well. So I’ve chosen that path to be grateful and to feel good about things because the other side’s not so good.”
In a statement posted to her social media channels, Newton-John’s husband hailed her as “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.”