ENTERTAINMENT

Olivia Newton-John, singer and actress, dies of breast cancer at 73

Aug 8, 2022, 1:49 PM | Updated: Aug 9, 2022, 9:30 am
FILE: Olivia Newton-John performs during Fire Fight Australia at ANZ Stadium on February 16, 2020 i...
FILE: Olivia Newton-John performs during Fire Fight Australia at ANZ Stadium on February 16, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)
(Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)
Originally Published: 08 AUG 22 15:37 ET
Updated: 09 AUG 22 03:22 ET

(CNN) — Olivia Newton-John, the Australian singer whose breathy voice and wholesome beauty made her one of the biggest pop stars of the ’70s and charmed generations of viewers in the blockbuster movie “Grease,” died on Monday, according to a statement from her husband. She was 73.

“Dame Olivia Newton-John passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time,” her husband, John Easterling, wrote in a statement on the singer’s verified Instagram account. “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer.”

The singer revealed in September 2018 that she was treating cancer at the base of her spine. It was her third cancer diagnosis, following bouts with breast cancer in the early ’90s and in 2017.

Her rise to fame

Thanks to a string of country and soft-rock hits, Newton-John was already a popular singer by the late 1970s. But her co-starring role opposite John Travolta in 1978’s “Grease,” arguably the most popular movie musical of all time, lifted her to a new level of stardom.

Although she had little acting experience (and turned 29 during filming), Newton-John gave an indelible performance as Sandy, a sweet-natured Australian transfer student who romances Travolta’s alpha greaser Danny at a Southern California high school in the 1950s.

Their onscreen chemistry as mismatched lovebirds who undergo final-act makeovers to win each others’ hearts — she ditches her frilly dresses for heels, leather, spandex and a cigarette — anchored the movie and inspired repeat viewings by legions of fans.

“I don’t think anyone could have imagined a movie would go on almost 40 years and would still be popular and people would still be talking to me about it all the time and loving it,” Newton-John told CNN in 2017. “It’s just one of those movies. I’m very lucky to have been a part of it. It’s given so many people pleasure.”

Newton-John sang on three of the movie’s biggest hits: the duets “You’re The One That I Want” and “Summer Nights” with Travolta, and her swoony solo ballad, “Hopelessly Devoted To You.”

Born in Cambridge, England in 1948, Newton-John moved with her family to Melbourne, Australia, when she was five. After winning a talent contest on a TV show, “Sing, Sing, Sing,” as a teen she formed an all-girl group and began appearing on weekly pop music programs in Australia.

Newton-John recorded her first single in England in 1966 and scored a few international hits, but she remained largely unknown to US audiences until 1973, when “Let Me Be There” became a top-10 hit on both the adult contemporary and the country charts.

A series of No. 1 easy-listening hits followed, including “I Honestly Love You,” “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “Please Mr. Please.”

Then came “Grease,” which was 1978’s top-grossing movie and became an enduring cultural phenomenon.

The movie gave Newton-John an opportunity to change her squeaky-clean image. The cover of her next album, “Totally Hot,” featured the singer in black leather, while its songs had an edgier, more contemporary pop sound.

Her singing success

In 1981, she took her new, sexier persona a step further with “Physical,” a dance number with such suggestive lyrics as, “There’s nothing left to talk about unless it’s horizontally.” Banned by several radio stations, it became her biggest hit, spending 10 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100.

She also appeared in several more big-budget movies, including the musical fantasy “Xanadu” with Hollywood legend Gene Kelly in his final screen role. The film bombed, but its soundtrack sold well and spawned “Magic,” a No. 1 hit.

In 1983 she teamed with Travolta again for “Two of a Kind,” a romantic comedy-fantasy, but it failed to recapture their “Grease” spark.

Over a lengthy career Newton-John won four Grammy Awards and sold more than 100 million albums.

“I’ve had many lives in music. I’ve had country when when I started, then I crossed over into pop,” she told CNN. “I had ‘Xanadu’ and ‘Grease,’ many songs in between. I feel very grateful. I have such a large repertoire to choose from.”

Overcoming tragedy

But Newton-John also faced her share of troubles and tragedy. Her breast cancer diagnoses forced her to postpone and cancel several tours.

And in 2005 Newton-John’s then-boyfriend, Patrick McDermott, disappeared at sea while on a fishing trip off the coast of California. He was never found — an unsolved mystery that haunted the singer for years.

“It’s very hard to live with that,” she told CNN’s Larry King in 2006. “It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve been through a lot of things.” Although her career profile dimmed in her later years, Newton-John never stopped recording and performing. Among her highlights were guest appearances on “Glee,” a long-running “Summer Nights” residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas and a dance-club hit, “You Have to Believe,” recorded with daughter Chloe.

“I love to sing, it’s all I know how to do,” she told CNN in 2017. “That’s all I’ve ever done since I was 15, so it’s my life. I feel very grateful that I can still do it and people still come to see me.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

Entertainment

Actor Conor Leslie with her newly adopted dog, Delores at the FanX convention that was held Sept. 2...
Amie Schaeffer

DC Universe star finds fur-ever friend at SLC FanX convention

Ruff Patch Rescue is a nonprofit that helps adopt out animals that need a little extra TLC. The organization recently set up at FanX.
19 hours ago
Netflix gaming...
Catherine Thorbecke, CNN Business

Netflix to open its own video game studio as part of gaming pivot

The streaming giant is building its first in-house video game studio in Helsinki, Finland, as it expands its empire over mobile games.
19 hours ago
hurricane ian florida...
Forrest Brown, CNN

Status of Florida theme parks, cruise ships and more as Ian approaches

Floridians are keeping an anxious eye on Hurricane Ian, including the operators of Florida's popular theme parks.
2 days ago
(Photo courtesy of Salt_Verse on Twitter)...
Rachel Metz, CNN Business

This guy is using AI to make movies — and you can help decide what happens next

"Salt" resembles many science-fiction films from the '70s and early '80s. The way it was created points to what could be a new frontier for making movies.
4 days ago
BYU Student on Survivor...
Kate Davis

BYU student and youngest-ever Survivor contestant says he’s confident he will win

BYU Student and youngest-ever Survivor contestant, Sami Layadi, says he is confident he will win this season of the series
6 days ago
Cars get ready to race at Wings and Wheels...
Samantha Herrera

Wings and Wheels Festival coming to Spanish Fork

The Wings and Wheels Festival in Spanish Fork will provide all-day entertainment to attendees on both the ground and sky.
6 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Young woman receiving laser treatment...
Form Spa

How facial plastic surgery and skincare are joining forces

Facial plastic surgery is not only about looking good but about feeling good too. The medical team at Form Spa are trained to help you reach your aesthetic outcomes through surgery and through skincare and dermatology, too.
large group of friends tohether in a park having fun...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

What differentiates BYU’s MBA program from other MBA programs

Commitment to service is at the heart of BYU’s MBA program, which makes it stand out among other MBA programs across the country.
a worker with a drill in an orange helmet installs a door in the house...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

Home improvement tip: Increase the value of your home by weatherproofing doors

Make sure your home is comfortable before the winter! Seasonal maintenance keeps your home up to date. Read our tips on weatherproofing doors.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
A paper reading IRS, internal revenue service is pictured...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Olivia Newton-John, singer and actress, dies of breast cancer at 73