“My cancer scare changed my life. I’m grateful for every new, healthy day I have. It has helped me prioritize my life.” –Olivia Newton-John
The world renowned Australian singer Olivia Newton-John died of breast cancer earlier this month on August 8. She was a four-time Grammy Award winner who had a vast and varied career. Born in England (1948) but raised in Australia, her passion for music started young and followed her into adult life.
“Once you face your fear, nothing is ever as hard as you think.” –Olivia Newton-John
At age twenty-five, Olivia’s third album “Let Me Be There” became a success in the United States (1973). She quickly won the Grammy Award for best country female vocal performance, and moved to Los Angeles in 1974. With hit songs like “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “I Honestly Love You,” she transitioned from country-pop to soft rock. She was one of the most popular female singers of the 1970s. However, while moving to mainstream music, she remained high on the country charts.
In 1978, she starred as Sandy in the hit movie musical Grease. Though Oliva was initially reluctant, her co-star John Travolta talked her into taking the role. The song “Hopelessly Devoted to You” was written specifically for Olivia per her contract that noted she would have a solo number in “Grease.”
She later starred as Kira in the movie Xanadu (1980). Though the film did not do well, a number of great songs came from it, including “Suddenly” and “Magic.” The movie also starred renowned dancer Gene Kelly, of whom Olivia remarked, “He was lovely. I still can’t believe I danced with Gene Kelly. How lucky am I that I’ve been in movies where I’ve danced with two of the most incredible dancers of all time –Gene Kelly and John Travolta.”
The next year, she released her hit song, “Physical” and earned a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame for the recording category (1981). Her star is at 6925 Hollywood Blvd.
In 1984, she married her first husband, Matt Lattanzi, and their daughter Chloe was born two years later. Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, which she fought with chemotherapy and had a partial mastectomy. After her treatments, she starred with her daughter in the made-for-TV movie A Christmas Romance (1994).
She released a Christmas album with her Grease co-star Joavolta entitled “This Christmas” in 2012. This festive event was followed a year later by the saddening return of cancer in her shoulder. It recurred a third time in 2017 in her spine before causing her death on August 8, 2022. This death was the end of a thirty-year battle with cancer. Her family accepted the offer from Australia to have a state funeral.
Olivia Newton-John has been my favorite musical artist since I was a young child. Growing up in a family that loved musicals, I followed her performances in Grease and Xanadu and was nine when her album “Warm and Tender” was released. With this album and others, I became a fan of her mainstream songs and was impressed with how she dealt with her cancer. She is perhaps the most lovely woman I have ever seen, inside and out. Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo in Grease, summed it up beautifully, calling her “the essence of summer.”
In addition to being the “essence of summer,” Olivia was also a British officer and dame. She was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1979 and received the award from Queen Elizabeth during an Investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Forty-one years later, she was pronounced a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth at the 2020 New Years Honours Services. This was a tremendous honor as a dame is the female equivalent of a knight. The honor was due to Olivia’s charity services, entertainment, and cancer research efforts.
Olivia’s family has asked people who want to show their appreciation of her to donate money to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, which researches plant-based medicine for cancers.