Olivia Newton-John, the Grammy-winning superstar who ruled the pop, country, adult contemporary and dance charts with hits such as “Physical” and “You’re the One That I Want” and conquered many countless hearts as everyone’s favorite Sandy in the hit movie version of “Grease” has passed away. She was 73 years old.
Newton-John, a longtime resident of Australia whose sales exceeded 100 million albums, died Monday at her ranch in Southern California, her husband John Easterling wrote on Instagram and Facebook.
“Olivia has been a beacon of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, sharing her journey with breast cancer,” he wrote. “We ask everyone to respect the privacy of the family during this very difficult time.”
From 1973 to 1983, Newton-John was among the most popular artists in the world. She had 14 top 10 singles in the US alone, won four Grammys, performed with John Travolta in “Grease” and with Gene Kelly in “Xanadu.” The fast-paced Travolta-Newton-John duet, “You’re the One That I Want,” was one of the biggest songs of the era and sold over 15 million copies.
“My dearest Olivia, you have made our lives so much better,” Travolta wrote in an online post. “Your impact has been incredible. I love you so much. We will see you on the road again and we will all be together again. Yours as soon as I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!
“Physical,” the bouncy, R-rated smash released in 1981, was No. 1 for 10 weeks and was named Song of the Year by Billboard despite being banned by some radio stations. An aerobics-appropriate promo clip, shot in the early years of MTV, won a Grammy for Best Video.
Both musically and visually, she reinvented herself during these years. The blonde and ever-smiling Newton-John first favored soft country pop songs such as “Please Mr. Please” and “Have You Never Been Mellow” and soft ballads like “I Honestly Love You”, which in 1975 was won the Grammys. for Best Female Pop Voice and Best Record of the Year. But she picked up the pace in “Grease,” especially after Sandy ditched her white sweaters and blouses for waist-length black leather pants. “Physical” even made Newton-John blush when she told her would-be lover “There’s nothing left to say / Unless it’s horizontally” and finally shouted “Let’s be animal! Animal!”
“I recorded it and suddenly I thought, ‘God, maybe I’ve gone too far!'” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2017, recalling how the song was suggested by manager Roger Davies. “I called Roger and said, ‘We have to release this song! He said, ‘It’s too late. It’s already been on the radio and it’s going up the charts. I was horrified!”
She had some hits after “Physical”, but her career declined and Newton-John became more likely to make the news because of her private life. In 1992, while preparing for a concert tour, her father died and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her marriage to actor Matt Lattanzi, with whom she had a daughter, actress-singer Chloe Lattanzi, broke up in 1995 and a years-long relationship with cameraman Patrick McDermott mysteriously ended. McDermott disappeared on a fishing trip to California in 2005 and his fate remained unknown years later. Many reports alleged that he was living in Mexico, with a new girlfriend.
“He was lost at sea, and nobody really knows what happened,” Newton-John told ’60 Minutes’ in Australia in 2016. “It’s human to wonder. But you know, this are the things in life that you have to accept and let go of because whenever you go through hard times, there are always those worries.
Newton-John’s recent albums include ‘Stronger Than Before’; a holiday collaboration with Travolta, “This Christmas,” and the autobiographical “Gaia: One Woman’s Journey,” inspired by her battle with cancer and the loss of her father.
Newton-John married John Easterling, founder of the Amazon Herb Company, in 2008. She has been involved in numerous charitable causes, as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program and as a national spokesperson for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition. She also founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in Melbourne, Australia.
Newton-John was the daughter of German literature professor Brin Newton-John and Irene Bron, whose father was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Bron. The Newton-Johns moved to Australia when Olivia was 5, but she returned to England as a teenager and lived with her mother after her parents broke up. She had early dreams of becoming a veterinarian, but was winning high school singing competitions and by the time she was 20 had visited army bases and clubs and recorded her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be mine”. In 1971, she covered Bob Dylan’s “If Not for You” and began a close partnership with an Australian friend, John Farrar, who produced the song and later wrote “You’re the One That I Want”, “Magic” and many other successes for her.
She had loved country music, especially “Tennessee” Ernie Ford records, since childhood, but her early successes did not impress critics or some other musicians. A Village Voice review compared her to a geisha who “makes her voice sound smaller than it really is just to please men”. When Newton-John beat Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the Country Music Association’s Top Entertainer in 1973, Tammy Wynette helped found the Association of Country Entertainers, a club designed to exclude Newton-John and other crossover artists. .
But Newton-John had a fan of show business who became with her one of the most unforgettable teams in cinema. Travolta had starred in the stage version of “Grease” and for the planned film, Newton-John would be the “ultimate” Sandy, the nice girl who gets tough in the final act and gets her man.
“I was worried that at 29, I was too old to play a high school girl,” Newton-John, who insisted on taking a screen test before accepting the role, told The Telegraph in 2017. what had to do with the making of the movie was fun, but if I had to pick a favorite moment it was the transformation from what I call Sandy 1 to Sandy 2. I had to play a different character and wear different clothes, and when I put on this tight black outfit to sing ‘You’re the one I want’, I had a very different reaction from the guys on set.
She is survived by her husband; his daughter Chloé Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; and several nieces and nephews.
Hillel Italy, The Associated Press
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