Grammy-winning singer Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in Grease, dies at 73

Olivia, a longtime resident of Australia whose sales topped 100 million records, died on Monday at her Southern California ranch

author_img AP Published :  09th August 2022 03:52 PM   |   Published :   |  09th August 2022 03:52 PM
Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John, the Grammy-winning superstar who reigned on pop, country, adult contemporary and dance charts with hits like Physical and You’re the One That I Want and won countless hearts as everyone’s favourite character, Sandy in the blockbuster film, Grease, has passed away. She was 73.

Olivia, a longtime resident of Australia whose sales topped 100 million records, died on Monday at her Southern California ranch, according to her husband John Easterling.

John wrote on Instagram and Facebook, “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

Condolences poured in on social media after the singer's demise. “Farewell with love to the legend who will forever be my first crush,” wrote actor Daniel Dae Kim. Tracie Thoms added, “Olivia Newton-John is an icon. We will miss her dearly.” Gabrielle Union said she and her sister watched "Xanadu" “more times than I could count.”

Australia's acting Prime Minister Richard Marles described her death as ‘feeling like the end of an era’ for a generation who grew up watching Grease and said, “It feels like the world is a little emptier without Olivia Newton-John as a part of it.”

Dionne Warwick, who featured Newton-John on her 2006 album, My Friends and Me, wrote online that “another angelic voice has been added to the Heavenly Choir.” Lea Salonga wrote: “Rest In Peace, Olivia Newton-John. Hers was one of the voices of my childhood."

Also read: Olivia Newton-John's iconic Grease ensemble fetches $405,700 in Beverly Hills auction

From 1973-83, Olivia was among the world’s most popular entertainers. She had 14 top 10 singles just in the US, won four Grammys, starred with John Travolta in Grease and with Gene Kelly in Xanadu. The fast-stepping Travolta-Newton-John duet, You’re the One That I Want, was one of the era’s biggest songs and has sold more than 15 million copies.

“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” Travolta wrote in an online post. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John! (sic)”

Physical, the bouncy, R-rated smash released in 1981, was No. 1 for 10 weeks and was named Billboard’s Song of the Year despite being banned by some radio stations. The aerobics-friendly promotional clip, filmed in the early years of MTV, won a Grammy for best video.

The singer initially favoured mild pop-country songs such as Please Mr. Please and Have You Never Been Mellow and soft-breathing ballads like I Honestly Love You, which won Grammys for Best Female Pop Vocal and Record of the Year in 1975.

However, she picked up the tempo in Grease, especially after Sandy ditched her white sweaters and blouses for waist-high, black leather pants. Olivia had a few hits after Physical, but her career declined soon after. In 1992, as she was 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, actor-singer Chloe Lattanzi, ended in 1995 and a year-long relationship with cameraman Patrick McDermott ended mysteriously. McDermott also went missing during a 2005 fishing trip in California and his fate remained unknown years later. Numerous reports alleged that he was living in Mexico with a new girlfriend.

Also read: Legendary, Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake dies of cancer at 84

He was lost at sea, and nobody really knows what happened,” Olivia told media sources in 2016. “It’s human to wonder. But you know, those are the things in life you have to accept and let go. Because whenever you go through difficult times, there’s always those concerns.”Olivia’s recent albums included Stronger Than Before; a holiday collaboration with Travolta titled This Christmas; and the autobiographical Gaia: One Woman’s Journey, inspired by her battle with cancer and by the loss of her father.

Newton-John married John Easterling, founder of the Amazon Herb Company, in 2008. She was involved in numerous charitable causes, serving as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme and as national spokeswoman for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition. She also founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

Newton-John was the daughter of German literature professor Brin Newton-John and Irene Born, whose father was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born. The Newton-Johns moved to Australia when Olivia was 5, but she returned to England in her teens and lived with her mother after her parents broke up. She had early dreams of becoming a veterinarian but was winning singing contests in high school and before age 20 had toured 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 a friend from Australia, John Farrar, who produced the song and later wrote You’re the One That I Want, Magic, and several other hits for her.

Olivia had a show business admirer who with her became one of movies’ most unforgettable teams. Travolta had starred in the stage version of  Grease and for the planned film, thought she would be the “ultimate” Sandy, the nice girl who gets tough in the final act and gets her man.

“I worried that at 29 I was too old to play a high school girl,” Olivia told media sources during an interview. “Everything about making the film 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 got to play a different character and wear different clothes, and when I put on that tight black outfit to sing You’re the One That I Want, I got a very different reaction from the guys on the set.”

She is survived by her husband, daughter Chloe Lattanzi, sister Sarah Newton-John, and her brother Toby Newton-John.