Singer, activist and ‘Grease’ star Olivia Newton-John dies at 73

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Chart-topping singer, actress and activist Olivia Newton-John has died, according to a post on her Instagram page from her 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,”the note reads. “We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

Originally diagnosed with breast cancer in the ’90s, Newton-John was in remission for more than 20 years before her cancer returned in 2017. “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” continues the post.

“Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer,” it concludes. “In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the @onjfoundation.”

Newton-John is survived by her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi; Easterling, whom she married in 2008; as well as a sister, a brother, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Born in 1948 in Cambridge, England, Olivia was the granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born. When she was 5, her family relocated to Melbourne, Australia. By her teen years, she’d landed her big break, winning a talent contest on the TV show Sing, Sing, Sing.

By 1966, Olivia had a deal with Decca Records, but her major breakthrough wouldn’t come until 1973, with the country-flavored hit “Let Me Be There.” That same year, the Academy of Country Music named her its Most Promising Female Vocalist. In 1974 the Country Music Association agreed, crowning her its Female Vocalist of the Year in a move that sparked controversy among the genre’s traditionalists.

The next year, Olivia’s career would gravitate more toward the pop side, as she released one of her signature songs: “I Honestly Love You.” It won both Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the 1974 Grammys.

Generations of fans — particularly young girls — would come to identify with Newton-John as she took on her most iconic film role in 1978, playing Sandy alongside John Travolta’s Danny Zuko in the big-screen adaptation of the musical Grease.  The two would become one of cinema’s most beloved couples, performing the duets “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights” together. Olivia also scored a Grease solo hit with “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”

In 1980, Newton-John teamed up with the legendary Gene Kelly for the roller skating fantasy Xanadu. Though it failed to be “Magic” at the box office, it was destined to become a cult classic and also gave Olivia another chart-topping hit from its double-Platinum soundtrack.      

Newton-John and Travolta rekindled their onscreen romance for Two of a Kind in 1983. While the film wasn’t successful, once again Olivia’s music was. The soundtrack went Platinum and “Twist of Fate” was a top-five hit.

On the small screen, Olivia would become a music video pioneer, turning her super-sexy single “Physical” into a campy romp through saunas, aerobics and workout rooms. The clip propelled the song to 10 weeks at the top of the chart, and “Physical” won the 1982 Grammy for Video of the Year.  

All told, Newton-John charted 10 #1s and sold more than 100 million albums, continuing to work right up until the reoccurrence of her cancer forced her postpone her 2017 tour. Earlier, she’d staged a well-received Las Vegas residency at the Flamingo for two years, starting in the spring of 2014.

In her eyes, Olivia was certain to see both her family and her humanitarian work as her greatest accomplishments. She gave birth to her daughter, Chloe, in 1986, and later helped establish the Healthy Child, Healthy World organization after Chloe’s childhood friend died of a rare form of cancer.

After going into remission in 1992, Newton-John worked to raise awareness for breast cancer, recording multiple albums that addressed the issue and eventually establishing the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center. It opened in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia, in June 2012.

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