Obituary: Olivia Newton-John, actress and singer who rose to stardom in the musical Grease

Olivia Newton-John, the actress and singer who died of cancer at the age of 73, is best known for starring opposite John Travolta in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease (1978); She later revived her singing career and sold 100 million records worldwide and became the most successful solo artist Australia has ever produced.

n uplifting story of high school love in late 1950s America, Fat was an instant box office hit. Newton-John played the role of Sandy, a stiff schoolgirl who was gratefully misled by Brylcreemed rebel Danny (Travolta).

Impressed by Danny’s hot-rodding skills, Sandy strips off her hoop skirts and bobby sox and reveals herself at the holiday party as a vampiric rocker with ruffled hair and skin-tight spandex pants.

That Danny hit his match isn’t entirely convincing — the sane, doe-eyed Olivia never looked like she’d really jumped off the wrong side of the tracks. But the film had a sunny retro charm, energy and humor and produced several enduring hits – You are the one who I wantDanny and Sandy’s energetic finale topped the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic, as did Sandy’s solo number hopelessly devoted to you.

Fat brought international fame to Newton-John, although she had been a singer since the late 1960s and was 30 when the film was released; She had topped the American music charts with such songs as let me be there and come over.

Her second film after that Fat was Xanadu (1980), a musical fantasy in which she played a daughter of Zeus who levitates down to earth to inspire a 1940s clarinetist (Gene Kelly) to start a roller disco. It was a general flop, but the soundtrack album was a huge hit and title track Xanadu (performed by Newton-John and ELO) was a UK No.1.

She continued to maintain her strong mass appeal and resisted critical attempts to label her as boring. “If White Bread could sing, it would sound like Olivia,” remarked one cruel critic.

What ultimately secured her a following was her spectacularly marketable niceness. In the 1990s, after undergoing breast cancer treatment, she spoke openly about her illness and worked to raise awareness of the importance of early detection.

A willowy, blue-eyed blonde, Newton-John always retained an appealing girl-next-door fragility. And she’s always insisted that beneath that, aside from the “vulgar” business of show business, she’s still just that. “Criticism doesn’t upset me anymore,” she told an interviewer. “I’ve found that there are a lot of people who like white bread.”

The youngest of three children to a Welshman, Brinley “Bryn” Newton-John, and his wife Irene (née Born), Newton-John was born in Cambridge on September 26, 1948, but was raised in Australia, where her father was Professor of German at the University of Melbourne. The family had strong academic roots: Olivia’s grandfather was Max Born, the German winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.

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When she was nine, her parents divorced, which she claimed marked her life for the rest of her life – the separation was deemed such a scandal that her father was fired from his university post.

Young Olivia showed an aptitude for music as a child, and when she was 14, while a student at University High School, she formed a singing group with some friends. A year later they won a talent competition, the first prize of which was a trip to England.

Against her father’s strict advice, she decided to drop out of school and stay in London. Along with young Australian singer Pat Carroll (later Pat Farrar), she spent the next few years performing at “all the dive clubs and pubs in places like Leeds and Bournemouth”.

One night they were booked to sing at Raymond’s Revue Bar in Soho. When the girl performing in front of them took the stage and swam naked in an aquarium, Newton-John realized her floral dress wouldn’t go down well; and was relieved when after a trembling round sing in the rainthe manager paid them off.

For a time her career seemed to falter, but after joining a group called Toomorrow, she got a break with a supporting role in a series of Cliff Richard television specials.

In the early 1970s, American record companies began to show growing interest in her, and she flew to the United States to set a rigorous concert schedule. MCA Records soon offered her a contract and she began working on recordings for them in 1973.

Within 18 months she stormed the US charts with three hits, if not for you (written by Bob Dylan), let me be thereand i love you honestly.

Back in the UK, she performed in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, representing the UK long live lovewho lost to Abba Waterloo.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, she was voted Singer of the Year by the Country Music Association in Nashville, adding Elvis Presley let me be there and her 1974 hit If you love me, let me know to his own concert repertoire.

1975 included her hit singles Have you never been gentle, please Lord please and do something better. The next year she had a number one country single, come over.

It was around this time that Newton-John decided to settle in America. She called off her plan to marry Bruce Welch of the Shadows and moved to Los Angeles, where she settled with Lee Kramer, whom she met while vacationing in Monte Carlo. Kramer devoted herself to managing her career.

The partnership was fruitful. 1978 a new solo album, Totally hot, well done. That Xanadu album went platinum and her first solo album, Physically (1981), was another spectacular seller. The title track was voted “Sexiest Song of All Time”. billboard in 2010. In fact, the lyrics were considered so provocative that two American radio stations banned the song. The video had the dubious credit of starting the 1980s trend for headbands.

another movie Two of a kind, which also starred John Travolta, was also a cinematic dud; but again his score brought her a hit single, irony of fate.

After her marriage in 1984 to actor Matt Lattanzi, whom she met on the set of Xanaduand the birth of their daughter Chloe two years later, Newton-John took a break from her career and returned with the LPs The rumor (1988) and Warm and tender (1989).

In 1992, while preparing for a comeback, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After her treatment, she founded the Gaia Retreat and Spa in Byron Bay, Australia. She also released an album, Gaia: A Woman’s Journey (1994). She continued to record and tour well into her 60s.

In 2008 she raised money to help build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in Melbourne.

In May 2017, she canceled her US and Canadian tour dates following the return of her cancer. In 2020 she was appointed DBE.

Following her divorce from Lattanzi in 1995, Newton-John had a relationship with a cameraman, Patrick McDermott, that ended in 2005 after he was reported missing and believed to have drowned after a fishing trip.

In 2008 she married John Easterling, who survives with her daughter from her first marriage.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Obituary: Olivia Newton-John, actress and singer who rose to stardom in the musical Grease

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