From growing up in Melbourne, Australia to topping the charts across the world and becoming a pop culture icon thanks to a little movie called Grease, Olivia Newton-John did it all. Her legendary life came to a close on Aug. 8 at the age of 73. “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,” a post from Olivia’s husband, John Easterling, read on her official Facebook page.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” the post continued. “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 lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund (ONJFoundationFund.org).”
A cause of death was not given at the time of the announcement, but TMZ reported that she “lost her battle to metastatic breast cancer.”
Olivia was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in 2017, which marked the third time she was diagnosed with the disease. The survival rates of stage IV cancer are slim, but Olivia revealed that she didn’t consider her health issues a “battle or war.” Instead, as she told 60 Minutes Australia in Aug. 2019, she did her best to maintain a positive mental attitude. “I’m so lucky that I’ve been through this three times and I’m still here,” she said. “I’m living with it. Every day is a gift, particularly now.” Olivia was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. She underwent six months of treatment, including partial mastectomy and chemo, according to The Independent. The illness returned in 2013 and she underwent a second round of treatment.
“I see it as something in my body that I’m getting rid of,” she said in her interview. “I don’t talk about a battle or a war. I let it go and tell it to leave and talk to my body and tell it to heal itself.” She also revealed that despite the grim prognosis, she didn’t know how much time she had left. “When you’re given a cancer diagnosis or a scary illness diagnosis, you are suddenly given the possibility of a time limit. If you believe the statistics, you’re going to make them happen. If somebody tells you, ‘you have six months to live,’ very possibly you will – because you believe that.” Instead, she decided to live every day to its fullest and not focus on her fleeting time.
The English-born Olivia moved with her family to Melbourne when she was five-years-old, according to her official site. Her natural talents for music developed quickly. She performed in an all-girl group called Sol 4 and as part of the duo, Pat & Olivia, as a young teen. She cut her first solo single in 1966 and in 1973, she had her first top-10 single, “Let Me Be There”. Olivia’s career took off, and she found early success with songs like “I Honestly Love You”, “Have You Never Been Mellow”, And “If You love ME (Let Me Know)”.
In 1978, she transformed from popular singer to icon when she landed the role of Sandy in the film adaptation of Grease. Olivia’s chemistry with John Travolta was undeniable, and her performance as Sandy etched itself into pop culture history. The movie was the biggest box-office hit of the year. The soundtrack spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 and yielded three Top 5 singles for Olivia: “You’re The One That I Want”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, and “Summer Nights”.
Olivia remained close to John until her death, having gushed to HollywoodLife about their everlasting friendship in an EXCLUSIVE interview in Feb. 2021. “[John and I] been through a huge, incredible experience together and we care about each other and we’ll always be friends,” she noted. Unsurprisingly, John paid tribute to Olivia minutes after her death announcement was posted. “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. 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!” he sweetly wrote. “Your Danny, your John!”
While Olivia’s acting career stumbled after 1980’s Xanadu, a box-office flop that has since developed a cult following, two songs from the soundtrack (“Xanadu”, “Magic”) were certified silver and gold, respectively. In 1981, she would release a monster hit of the 1980s, “Physical”. The song was certified Platinum and spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This would be Olivia’s peak of professional success. She would continue to record songs afterward, releasing music up until her death.
Olivia was married twice. First, she and boyfriend Matt Lattanzi tied the knot in 1984. They welcomed a daughter, Chloe Rose, in 1986. They would divorce in 1995. She dated gaffer/cameraman Patrick McDermott on and off for nine years after her divorce, but their relationship ended after he disappeared during a 2005 fishing trip off the California coast. She married John Easterling, founder and president of the Amazon Herb Company, in 2008.
Olivia is survived by her husband John, daughter Chloe, sister Sarah Newton-John, brother Toby Newton-John, and 15 nieces and nephews.