Olivia Newton-John, a British-Australian pop star who dominated pop culture for an era, has died after repeated treatments for cancer, her family announced Monday. she was 73.
“Dame Olivia Newton-John … passed away peacefully this morning at her Southern California Ranch, surrounded by family and friends,” John Easterling, her husband, said in a statement on her official Facebook page. “We ask everyone to respect the privacy of the family at this very difficult time.”
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumph and hope for over 30 years for sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience in plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, which is dedicated to plant medicine research and cancer.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Newton-John was one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world. She stole hearts in the 1978 blockbuster “Grease” and dominated the charts with songs such as the 1981 hit “Physical,” the No. 1 single of that decade, according to Billboard.
She is credited with sales of over 100 million records over a career spanning five decades.
In more recent years, however, Newton-John became best known as an advocate for breast cancer survivors, having been 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 told the “TODAY” show in March 2019. “You can be a victim, or you can be a winner and enjoy your life.”
In every way, 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 that she was not destined to get into 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 five. Just a few years later, she won a talent show on one of the country’s hottest television shows, “Sing, Sing, Singing.” By the time she was 15, she had formed a girl group and later teamed up with her boyfriend Pat Carroll for the pop duo Pat & Olivia.
But it would be as a solo artist, beginning in 1966, that Newton-John would reach her true potential. Her breakthrough came 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 her first No. 1 and her next two Grammys a year later with the country ballad “I Honest I Love You.”
So when ‘Grease’ director Randal Kleiser wanted to cast the role of Sandy, a straightforward Australian college student who falls in love with a greaser and eventually becomes one himself, at least he knew his first choice could sing, whether Newton did or not — John could perform opposite the red-hot John Travolta, who was fresh off “Saturday Night Fever.”
“Olivia Newton-John was our first choice for the role of Sandy, but she had some reservations,” Kleiser recalled by email. “She had had a bad experience with an English film and didn’t want to repeat it.”
“(At 29) she wasn’t sure if she would look like a 17-year-old 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 for a screen test so she could see how she would come across and what the chemistry would be like between her and John and me.”
Fortunately, the test worked well enough to convince her she could handle the part.
“She embodied the character in the beginning of the movie, and we all hoped she could wear the sexy vixen at the end,” Kleiser said. “We couldn’t have been happier with the end result.”
The end result turned out to be a blockbuster.
Its follow-up, the sci-fi, disco musical ‘Xanadu’, didn’t do nearly 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 broke up after 11 years of marriage, in 1995.
Newton-John seemed to give up Hollywood after the 1983 fantasy novel “Two of a Kind” reunited her onscreen with Travolta, but it had none of the magic that their latest collaboration had.
The movie disappointment didn’t matter much: In the early ’80s, Newton-John had a lot of success in the music business. She scored her biggest hit with the song “Physical” in November 1981. In fact, it was the industry’s biggest hit of that decade, according to one Billboard Rankingand held the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks.
Movies and music eventually took a back seat to maternity and medical issues.
Newton-John began to become an advocate for cancer research in 1991, following the tragic death of her best friend’s daughter from a rare form of the childhood illness. But a year later, when she first got breast cancer, it became an even more personal matter.
After going into remission, the cancer returned twice more, in 2013 and 2017.
Amid a life mostly made up of storybooks, came a plot twist only slightly more believable than “Xanadu”: Tragedy seemed to strike when her boyfriend of nine, Patrick McDermott, then 48, went missing and presumed dead. after failing to return from a fishing trip off the California coast in 2005. But his eventual fate is shrouded in mystery after a private detective hired by NBC’s “Dateline” claimed to have found evidence that McDermott had faked his own death to out of debt and start a new life in Mexico.
“I mean, it’s human to wonder. But you know… those are the things in life that you have to accept and let go of,” Newton-John narrated the Australian version of “60 Minutes” in 2016.
By then Newton-John had indeed let go and moved on, marry American businessman John Easterling in an Inca ceremony on a mountaintop outside of Peru in 2008. The singer credited her husband, who founded Amazon Herb Company, suppliers of botanical supplements, with helping to push her to medicinal marijuana as a treatment for cancer.
Living with the disease, she said repeatedly, 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 that is, I’m grateful for it.”
Newton-John is survived by her husband John Easterling; daughter Chloe Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; cousins 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.
The family requests that instead of flowers, donations be made to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.