Olivia Newton-John, the double threat from Down Under who stole America’s heart as the good girl Sandy in “Grease,” and then rose to international fame as a pop superstar, died Monday morning at age 73.
Her husband, John Easterling, said in a post on her official Facebook page that she “passed away peacefully this morning at her Southern California ranch surrounded by family and friends.”
“We ask everyone to respect the privacy of the family at this very difficult time,” Easterling added.
No official cause of death was given, but the star had been battling cancer for three decades and had been very public with her most recent bout of the disease since she was diagnosed in May 2017.
“A symbol of triumph and hope for more than 30 years, Olivia shares her journey with breast cancer,” Easterling said Monday. “Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience in plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, which is dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations in memory of the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.”
Newton-John was candid about her battle with cancer.
“I’d be lying if I said I never go (down the rabbit hole of fear), there are moments, I’m human,” she told the Australian news program “Sunday Night” years ago. “So if I allow myself to go there, I could easily create a great fear, but my husband is always there, and he is always there to support me and I believe I will overcome it, and that’s my goal. “
Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, the same week her father died of cancer.
Her recovery included nine months of chemotherapy, a partial mastectomy, and breast reconstruction.
Her first relapse came in 2013 and was discovered after she injured her shoulder in a minor car accident. Newton-John chose to keep her second fight private until September 2018, saying at the time that she’d been so vocal about her treatment in 1992 that she wanted to keep this fight to herself.
The four-time Grammy winner was born in Cambridge, England in 1948, the granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born on her mother’s side.
Her family, which included Newton-John’s parents and two older siblings, moved to Melbourne, Australia when she was in primary school.
Newton-John got into showbiz early on, singing on local radio and television shows and recording music for labels such as Decca Records in the UK
She had a successful single in 1971, “If Not For You”, written by Bob Dylan and previously recorded by George Harrison.
Despite the star power attached to it, Newton-John was not sold on the song and only recorded it at the urging of her songwriter John Farrar.
“I didn’t think I was singing it right, so when it was a hit I really had to say it was my management,” she said in a 2005 book. “In those days, I loved singing those big dramatic ballads. , you know, talk about being sentimental.”
Two years later, Newton-John had her first crossover hit with “Let Me Be There,” which marked her first Top 10 single in the US and earned her a Grammy for Best Female Country Singer.
While her singing career was in full swing, Newton-John continued to produce hits such as “I Truth Love You” and “Something Better to Do,” earning her two more Grammy wins and one nomination.
But it was her role as girl next door Sandy in “Grease” that catapulted Newton-John to international fame, when the high school musical became the biggest blockbuster of 1978.
Though Newton-John was hesitant to sign up — she was 29 and Sandy was in high school — the star was convinced after a screen test against her on-screen love interest, a 23-year-old John Travolta.
“I played a naive girl, but I didn’t want her to get sick. I kept trying to give her a little bit of strength,” she told People of the role in 1978. “John gave me a lot of confidence. We became good friends and spent a lot of time together.”
The role earned Newton-John two more Grammy nominations, one for the film’s platinum-selling soundtrack, and another for her longing poolside solo song “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” which she performed at the 1979 Oscars. sang.
She jumped on the musical train again in 1980 for “Xanadu,” which, despite negative reviews and a dismal box office show, scored Newton-John another pop hit with “Magic,” which topped the Billboard charts for four weeks.
Just as Sandy found her inner naughty girl at the end of “Grease,” so did Newton-John, who shook off her goody-two shoe image as her music career entered the ’80s.
She cemented her place in pop star history with the release of 1981’s “Physical,” her ninth studio album whose eponymous title track inspired a sexy fitness-themed video that debuted just after MTV first went on air.
“I recorded it and then suddenly thought, ‘Gosh, maybe I’ve gone too far!’ It was a little more raunchy than I realized,” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2017. “I called (manager Roger Davies) and said, ‘We need to pull this number!’ he said, “It’s too late. It’s already been on the radio and it’s going up the charts.” I was shocked!”
The song — banned by select radio stations for its snappy content — topped the Billboard charts for 10 weeks and earned Newton-John another Grammy nomination.
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Newton-John released the album “Soul Kiss” in 1985, although it didn’t impress in the same way as its predecessor, and after welcoming daughter Chloe with husband Matt Lattanzi in 1986, she took a short break.
She returned in 1988 with ‘The Rumour’ and continued to release a steady stream of albums throughout the ’90s and 2000s, including the 1994 album ‘Gaia: One Woman’s Journey’, which recorded her first battle with breast cancer.
After her diagnosis, Newton-John became an advocate for the disease, even helping to build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in Melbourne, Australia in 2008.
She continued to tour well into her sixties, enjoying a residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas in 2013, although it was briefly postponed after the death of her sister, Rona, from a brain tumor.
Newton-John split from Lattanzi in 1995 and soon had a romance with cinematographer Patrick McDermott.
McDermott disappeared in 2005 while on a fishing trip off the coast of California and has been believed to be dead ever since, despite conspiracy theories claiming he faked his own death.
Newton-John married businessman John Easterling in 2008.