Olivia Newton-John, the musical icon whose huge 1970s success and stardom was vastly enhanced through her starring role in the film Grease, has died at the age of 73. The news was shared by her husband.
In a statement posted on social media, Olivia Newton-John’s husband John Easterling said: “Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) 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. 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.”
In addition to her outsized presence on the silver screen, Newton-John was also a critically and commercially acclaimed recording artist. As well as solo albums such as 1975’s Have You Never Been Mellow and 1981’s Physical, she also worked with fellow stars such as Cliff Richard and Barry Gibb, who recruited her for his 2021 album, Greenfields: The Gibb Brothers’ Songbook (Vol. 1).
Though her discography is varied and highlights her prolific output, Physical remains a fan favorite, and the album’s raunchy title track was named Billboard’s No.1 hit of the 80s. Billboard teamed up with Sirius XM for a pop-up channel covering the top 500 songs of both that decade and the 1990s, on the broadcaster’s channel 30 back in 2019. Newton-John’s anthem topped the list.
Newton-John’s “Physical” hit No.1 on the November 21, 1981 chart and stayed there until the end of January 1982, a ten-week run that equaled the longevity record at the time.
Newtown-John was born in Cambridge, England in 1948, and her family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, when she was six. Her father was an MI5 officer who worked on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park during the war, and her maternal grandfather was the Nobel prize-winning physicist Max Born, who sought exile in the UK from Nazi Germany on the eve of the second world war.
At 14, Newton-John began her professional singing career, recording her first single in 1966 on a return trip to England, and her first solo album, If Not For You, in 1971. It included her version of Bob Dylan’s title track, which made the UK Top 10, as did “Banks of the Ohio” the same year. In 1974, she represented the UK in the Eurovision song contest; her song, “Long Live Love,” finished fourth behind ABBA’s winning “Waterloo.”
Newton-John’s prolonged period of US chart success kicked in with 1973’s “Let Me Be There,” as she became immensely popular in both pop and country formats. She went No.1 pop with both 1974’s “I Honestly Love You,” which won two Grammys including for Record of the Year, and “Have You Never Been Mellow” in 1975.
“I love to sing, it’s all I know how to do,” she told CNN in 2017. “That’s all I’ve ever done since I was 15, so it’s my life. I feel very grateful that I can still do it and people still come to see me.”
Following the news of John’s passing, many of her on-screen co-stars and musical collaborators have shared their memories of the much-loved star. “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” shared her Grease costar John Travolta in a statement. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”