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,