The angelic-voiced Olivia Newton-John, who rocketed to superstardom opposite John Travolta in the blockbuster film version of the Broadway musical Grease, passed away August 8, according to a statement from husband John Easterling. 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," Easterling posted on Newton-John's Facebook account. "Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer."
Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and was cancer-free for more than 20 years. She opened The Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia, in 2012. She was again diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017, and in September 2018 she announced that she was in treatment for cancer at the bottom of her spine.
Playbill spoke with Newton-John in 2011, prior to the opening of the Wellness Centre. At that time the singer, actor, and activist said, "It's been eight years of raising money for this Cancer and Wellness Center in Melbourne. It's been an incredible experience, and it's hard to imagine that we are actually going to open the doors in June, but we are. And, I feel extremely proud of it and that it's going to help so many people, which is the reason I got involved. We have this amazing state-of-the-art cancer center and two floors of research with the Ludwig Institute, which is an internationally renowned cancer research center, but the Wellness Center on top of that, which will support the whole person, is what I'm really excited about."
When asked how surviving cancer affected her work, Newton-John explained, "I think it just affects the way you approach life. I'm so lucky to be here. It's such a gift—enjoy it, just go for it, have fun, do what you want to do, don't be afraid of change, step out of your box, do something different. I think it takes away the fear of that stuff of always remaining in the same place. It kind of opened up the possibilities because you let go of a lot of fear if you get through that experience, which I'm very lucky. I call it my curious gift because without that, I wouldn't have done so many things or had the opportunity to be exposed to so many things without it."
Newton-John was born September 26, 1948, in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. When she was five, her family moved to Australia, although she returned to England with her mother as a teenager after winning a singing contest.
In the 70s Newton-John enjoyed a string of hits, including "Have You Never Been Mellow," "Please Mr. Please," and "I Honestly Love You," but it was her performance as the wholesome Sandy opposite Travolta's Danny in the 1978 film Grease that made her an international star. She was later seen opposite Gene Kelly in the 1980 Xanadu film, which made its way to Broadway in 2007, and subsequently enjoyed a huge hit with the song "Physical," which spent 10 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981.
Although the Grammy winner never appeared on Broadway, Newton-John told Playbill in 2011, "I have been asked to be a part of a few Broadway musicals, but it's such an intense job that I have never taken it on… It's really hard work, and I think I'm—I don't like to say lazy because I'm not a lazy person—but it just sounds very, very difficult to do that. But if something came up that was really phenomenal and I had to do it, of course I would."
Newton-John, however, did attend the opening night of Broadway's Xanadu, explaining that she found the production "hysterical. Loved it. I probably laughed more than anyone!"
In 2011, Newton-John was celebrating her 40th year in show business. Asked what she was proudest of in her career, the beloved artist said, "Oh, gosh—a lot of moments, you know… Of course, singing at the Olympics for my country in Sydney with John Farnham. Of course, Grease and Xanadu. Those movies have made so many people happy since… I keep having new moments that are amazing. In my private life, it would be my daughter and her birth and watching her grow up, and she's my greatest achievement. All the other stuff pales [in comparison]. And, now, I'm in my happiest place. I have a wonderful husband and a great life, and all the stuff I'm doing now is like icing on the cake. I've had an incredible career and life, and I'm just really lucky."
Newton-John is survived by her husband John Easterling; daughter Chloe Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; nieces and nephews Tottie, Fiona, and Brett Goldsmith; Emerson, Charlie, Zac, Jeremy, Randall, and Pierz Newton-John; Jude Newton-Stock, Layla Lee; Kira and Tasha Edelstein; and Brin and Valerie Hall.