Although the movie image associates her with Sandy Olsson, from Grease, Olivia Newton-John was already a star when she joined the cast of the film in 1978. Award-winning country artist, the young English woman raised in Australia had good looks. and angelic voice quickly exploded. She was adored for being exactly what she came across: a sweetheart.
Dame Olivia Newton-John passed away in California on August 8, aged 73, after years of battling cancer. She was not an actress, made few films, but left several recorded albums and classics of pop and country music, such as I Honestly Love You and Physical, among others, having sold more than 100 million records in her career.
Born in England in 1954, Olivia was the daughter of intellectuals and professors who came to teach at the University of Melbourne. Her father, by the way, was part of the elected MI5 team assigned to decode the Enigma machine (as shown in the film starring Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game). On her mother’s side, Olivia was the granddaughter of a Nobel laureate.
Her initial dream was to be a veterinarian, but she thought she would not pass her exams and went on to try music, winning a TV championship at age 16. The next few years, in England, were of attempts to launch a career, in a group, duet, or solo, without success until she went to Cliff Richard‘s variety show, where she started to be called regularly to sing. Under precise artistic guidance, he left pop and started to bet on country. Bingo.
A Bob Dylan cover made her famous and was soon on the radio. When he recorded Let Me Be There, in 1973, he won a Grammy for Best Country Vocalist (he would win three more over time), going on to easily sell all his albums afterward. Her signature song isn’t from the Grease soundtrack, it’s the ballad I honestly Love You, played to this day.
At the age of 29, Hollywood knocked on his door to star alongside the biggest name at the box office at the time, John Travolta, in a musical in which he would play a 17-year-old girl and have to dance. We know the result. And if dancing with Travolta was challenging, what about tap dancing with Gene Kelly? As the absolute star of Xanadu, that’s what Olivia did in 1980. In this way, she was one of the biggest stars in music and movies at the beginning of the decade.
Physical brought a naughty Olivia, singing about sex and physical attraction. There were more than 10 million copies sold and another Grammy, topping the radio charts around the world. The boldness was short-lived, “I am truly a bore”, he said in an interview.
Olivia was sweet and nice but the overexposure later cost in a few failures (in the movie Two of a Kind with Travolta) and wrong investments. And she discovered in 1992 that she had aggressive breast cancer. The chemo was successful, but in 2017 cancer returned. This time, she began to seek alternative treatments, an attitude harshly criticized by some.
Olivia’s personal life also had turmoil. She married actor Matt Lattanzi in 1984, with whom she had a daughter, but the two divorced in 1995. The second companion, Patrick McDermott, mysteriously disappeared in 2005 when he was fishing alone. His body was never found. And in 2008, the singer remarried, John Easterling, who survived her.
Her friendship with John Travolta was iconic, with both of them still performing at fan events for the musical until just a few years ago. He paid an emotional tribute to his friend on Instagram.
“My dear Olivia, you’ve made all of our lives so much better. Its impact was incredible. I love you so much. See you on the road and we’ll all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever!
Your Danny, your John!”
The entertainment world is a little sadder today.