Olivia Newton-John, a lyric coloratura soprano with a 3.5-octave range whose chart-topping hits included Physical, Have You Never Been Mellow, and the Grease duet with John Travolta You’re the One That I Want, has died. She was 73 years old.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, sharing her journey with breast cancer,” her husband, John Easterling, wrote on Facebook. “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 diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, and in May 2017, she announced it had spread to her lower back after 25 years in remission. In August, the singer canceled a tour just three weeks after announcing it; she was to reminisce about her career with an interviewer.
The singer began as a country-pop, soft-rock sensation who sold over 100 million albums during her five decades in music and had nearly 40 Billboard Hot 100 entries.
However, her popularity soared after she was cast as Sandy Olsson in Grease (1978), a Paramount Pictures adaptation of the Broadway musical that debuted in 1972 and ran for nearly 3,400 performances in its original run.
Producer Allan Carr searched for the perfect actress to star with 23-year-old Travolta. He considered Carrie Fisher, Deborah Raffin, Susan Dey, and Marie Osmond before meeting Newton-John at a dinner party hosted by singer Helen Reddy.
In 2016, Newton-John told Vanity Fair, “I was worried about making a movie, since my music career was going well, and I didn’t want to sabotage it with bad movie.”
The case can be made the post-Grease Olivia Newton John was an architect for the white hot 80s – 90s Madonna-led dance/pop diva genre. Besides Disco Queen Donna Summer, no mainstream/crossover female artist was doing pop with such provocative overtones in the late 70s/early 80s.
Even though the four-time Grammy award winner didn’t venture too far into R&B like other pop songstresses of the time, Oliva’s character at the end of Grease, and the music she did afterward, seems to have had a major influence on everyone from Madonna to Britney Spears (who was at one time rumored to be up for the role of Sandy’s daughter in a Grease sequel!)
Newton-John’s transformation in Grease from goody-goody “Sandy 1” to spandex/leather-clad “Sandy 2” emboldened Newton-John to do the same with her music career. Her Totally Hot album was merely a preview of what would follow. In 1981, Newton-John released her most successful studio album, the double platinum Physical, which strongly reinforced her image change by showcasing risqué, dance -oriented material. The provocative lyrics of the “Physical” title track prompted radio stations to ban the single from their playlists. Despite this, it spent ten weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100.
Olivia Newton-John. Dead at 73.