But it is as a solo artist, from 1966, that Newton-John will reach his true potential. She broke through on 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 his first No. 1 and next two Grammys a year later with the country ballad “I Honestly Love You.”
So when ‘Grease’ director Randal Kleiser was looking to play the role of Sandy, a straight Australian college student who falls in love with a greaser and ends up becoming one herself, he at least knew his first choice could sing. , whether or not Newton -John could star alongside the raunchy John Travolta, fresh off of “Saturday Night Fever.”
“Olivia Newton-John was our first choice for the role of Sandy, but she had some issues,” Kleiser recalled via email. “She had a bad experience on an English film and didn’t want to repeat it.”
“(At 29), she wasn’t sure she looked like a 17-year-old girl 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 to take a screen test so she could see how she would look and feel how the chemistry would be between her, John and me.”
Fortunately, the test worked well enough to convince her that she could handle the role.
“She played the character at the start of the movie, and we were all hoping she could pull off the sexy vixen by the end,” Kleiser said. “We couldn’t have been happier with the end result.”
This end result turned out to be a blockbuster.
Its follow-up, the sci-fi and disco musical “Xanadu,” didn’t do 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 separated after 11 years of marriage, in 1995.
Newton-John seemed to abandon Hollywood after the 1983 fantasy romance “Two of a Kind” reunited her on screen with Travolta, but it was none of the magic of their last collaboration.
The film’s disappointment didn’t matter much: In the early ’80s, Newton-John was busy having a lot of success in the music business. She landed her biggest hit with the song “Physical” in November 1981. In fact, it was the biggest hit in the entire industry of that decade, according to a Classification of billboardsand held its No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks.
Movies and music eventually took precedence over motherhood and medical issues.
Newton-John began championing cancer research in 1991, after the tragic death of his best friend’s daughter from a rare childhood form of the disease. But it became an even more personal cause a year later, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
After going into remission, the cancer returned twice more, in 2013 and 2017.
Amid a mostly storybook life, one plot twist is only slightly more believable than “Xanadu”: tragedy seemed to strike when her then-48-year-old boyfriend of nine, Patrick McDermott years old, disappeared and was presumed dead after failing to return from a fishing trip. the California coast in 2005. But his final fate is shrouded in mystery after a private investigator hired by NBC’s “Dateline” claimed having found evidence that McDermott faked his own death to escape his debts and start a new life in Mexico.
“I mean, it’s human to wonder. But you know…these are the things in life that you have to accept and let go,” Newton-John narrated the Australian version of “60 Minutes” in 2016.
By then Newton-John had indeed let go and moved on, marrying American businessman John Easterling at an Inca ceremony atop a mountain outside Peru in 2008. The singer credited her husband, who founded botanical supplement supplier Amazon Herb Company, with helping her turn to the medical marijuana as cancer treatment.
Living with the disease, she repeatedly said, 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 it is, I’m grateful for that.
John Travolta paid tribute to his “Grease” co-star on Instagram.
“My dearest Olivia, you have made our lives so much better,” wrote Travolta, who played Danny Zuko opposite Newton-John’s Sandy Olsson. “Your impact has been incredible. I love you so much. We’ll see you on the road again and we’ll all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”
Tributes from fellow artists and fans poured in Monday afternoon.
“Grease” co-star Stockard Channing called the loss huge.
“I don’t know if I’ve known a more charming human being,” Channing said. “Olivia was the essence of summer – her sunshine, warmth and grace are what always come to mind when I think of her. I will miss her immensely.”
Actress Suzanne Somers, herself a staple of 70s and 80s pop culture, praised Newton-John for helping her overcome her own cancer diagnosis.
“There’s a sisterhood that grows every time. It’s a brotherhood you never want to join, but when you’re allowed in, you feel very comfortable with other ‘sisters,'” said Somers in a statement to NBC News.
“Olivia gave me great comfort when she was diagnosed 25 years ago. Her fight was my fight, because she won, I won. She taught us all so much through her bravery and her philosophy to “never give up”. We received strength from Olivia and her life example. As an icon of the 70s, she lived a full life. I loved her and will miss my “sister” for all time.
Actress Gabrielle Union said she had been a fan for years and Newton-John exceeded all of her expectations when they finally met, “exactly how you want your heroes to be”. union wrote.
“StarTrek” actor George Takei mourned the losswriting, “I hope she is now in the great Xanadu beyond. Know that we are forever desperately devoted to you, Olivia. Rest in song and joy.”
Newton-John is survived by her husband John Easterling; his daughter Chloé Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; nieces and nephews 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 in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.