But her greatest legacy was her generosity and kindness. Olivia single-handedly moved the needle for cancer research and wellness in her lifetime – bringing hope where there was previously none. Let’s look back on the life of the four-time Grammy-winning artist and remember her many achievements.
Growing Up In Australia
Oliver Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, on September 26, 1948. Her Welsh father, Brin, was a professor of German at Cambridge and Melbourne. Olivia’s mother, Irene, was a writer. She was born in Germany but left the country in 1933 with her family to escape the regime.
Irene’s father was the Nobel Prize-winning German Jewish physicist, Max Born. Despite academia running in the family, Olivia took to music early on. Her family moved to Australia when she was 5, where she formed a band called “Sol Four” with her school friends.
The Makings Of A Young Star
Olivia took to entertaining like a fish to water. She appeared as a teen star in several Australian TV shows, including “The Go Show” (1964). Olivia even bagged a movie role in “Funny Things Happen Down Under” (1965) - a decidedly unremarkable film, save for her incredible rendition of “Christmas Down Under.”
The budding star also performed at a coffee bar owned by her brother-in-law. These small but significant milestones made it abundantly clear to Olivia that she was born for an entertainment career.
She Travels To England
In 1965, Australian rock n roll legend Johnny O’ Keefe hosted a talent contest that Olivia signed up for and won. The prize was a trip to England to meet the who’s who in the UK music scene. That same year, she traveled to England and signed a one-off single deal with Decca Records.
It was her first introduction to record-making. Olivia released a single called “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine/For Ever,” which today is extremely rare to find.
Olivia In England
England gave Olivia her first taste of the music business, but she wasn’t entirely happy. Olivia was deeply homesick for Australia and missed her then-boyfriend, Ian Turpie. The singer even tried booking a return flight to Australia behind her mother’s back.
Irene - who had traveled with her daughter - would have none of it. She found out and convinced Olivia to stay. Thanks to her mother, Olivia stayed and made the most of her trip, broadening her musical horizons.
Pat and Olivia in London
Things started looking up for Olivia when she met Pat Carroll - who had recently moved from Australia. The two became close friends, leaning on each other in a land thousands of miles from home. They began performing as a vocal duo, “Pat and Olivia” at various clubs and pubs, not always successfully.
The UK music scene was a bit of a culture shock for the girls - such as the general preference for scanty attire. Olivia and Pat stood out sorely in their high-necked frilly dresses. Several establishments never asked them back to perform.
A Whirlwind Turbulent Romance
In 1968, Olivia met British rocker Bruce Welch, and the sparks began to fly. At the time, Olivia was the supporting act for his band, “The Shadows.” They quickly fell for each and became engaged soon after. The relationship created a stir since Bruce was still married then.
Olivia and Bruce’s whirlwind romance continued for five years, but they never married. When she eventually broke up with him, the press speculated the possible reasons. Some reports suggested she may have found someone else. Bruce did not take the break-up well, spiraling into depression and self-harming behaviors.
She Dabbles In Various Musical Projects
In December 1969, Pat returned to Australia since her visa ran out. Olivia’s career had just started to take shape - so she bade her friend farewell and remained in England. She was invited to join a band called “Toomorrow,” accompanying a film of the same name. As part of the film, the band released an eponymous debut album in 1970, which sadly had no takers.
The unsuccessful film quickly wrapped up, leaving Olivia to pour her efforts into a solo music career. In 1972, Olivia appeared as the resident star of Cliff Richard’s TV show. She also performed regular live shows in London.
Early Career In The UK
Olivia’s association with “The Shadows” and Cliff Richard catapulted her to fame. The early seventies marked a prolific era for her career, where more people began discovering her music. The singer released three albums during this period: Olivia Newton-John (1971), and Olivia (1972), Music Makes My Day (1973).
Her then-boyfriend Bruce Welch was instrumental in arranging her first single, “If Not For You,” which was a Bob Dylan cover. The single was wildly popular with American audiences – the first success in the U.S. for Olivia and certainly not the last.
“Let Me Be There”
The turning point in Olivia’s career arrived when she released “Let Me Be There” (1973), which soared to number six on the American charts. Since he was no longer engaged to Bruce Welch, Olivia teamed up with John Farrar (Welch’s bandmate from the Shadows” ) for her music. The two made an incredible team.
Olivia’s vocals and Farrar’s impeccable songwriting and arrangement took the American music scene by storm. It helped that the duo had known each other from the early days. Later, Farrar married Pat Carroll – Olivia’s former singing partner, friend, and future business partner.
She Meets Her Next Great Love
In 1973, Olivia met Lee Kramer while holidaying in the south of France. Kramer later told Rolling Stone how he hustled his way back on the same flight as hers. Lee ran a successful London-based imports and exports business at the time with his brother. After meeting Olivia, he was happy to relocate to the United States to help manage her business.
The couple moved in together within five months of meeting, with Lee working as her manager. But the lines between work and home soon began to blur, taking a toll on the relationship. Lee and Olivia eventually split in 1976 but continued sharing a cordial relationship.
She Participates In Eurovision
Her phenomenal success overseas meant a move to the United States was imminent. Before moving, Olivia participated in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest to represent the UK. That year’s competition was tough, particularly with ABBA stealing the show with their song, “Waterloo.” The Swedish group won the contest, and Olivia came in fourth.
Other things that did not work in her favor? Her choice of song and costume for the night was not her own but the result of a viewer poll! She performed an oompah-oompah song wearing a long, baby blue dress.
In 1975, Olivia left the UK for America, where she immediately began working on her next album release, “Have You Never Been Mellow.” The album did exceedingly well and received acclaim from all quarters. The title track charted at No. 1, and the second single, “Please Mr. Please,” peaked at No. 3. She didn’t know it then, but this was the start of a career role in the United States.
Olivia would release several gold albums, effectively becoming America’s golden girl. She appeared regularly on shows such as “The Midnight Special” (1972 - 1981) and even had her own ABC TV special, “A Very Special Olivia Newton-John”(1976).
The Olivia Appeal
The British-Australian star captured hearts and popular culture in the United States. Olivia was your charming, quintessential girl next door. The word “angelic” was common whenever anyone described her. Olivia’s soft delivery of beautiful ballads and country songs won her millions of fans.
She released many more albums during this time: including “Clearly Love” (1975), “Come On Over” (1976), “Don’t Stop Believin” (1976), and “Making A Good Thing Better” (1977). She went on tour in the U.S. with the album “Clearly Love.”
A Star Is Born
Olivia became a big hit not just in the U.S., but also Japan. She had already won over Japanese fans during her performance at the Tokyo Music Fair in 1971. She returned to the country in 1976 to promote her album, “Don’t Stop Believin.” Expectedly, she won legions of fans with her performance.
The 1976 concert was also released as a live album in Japan and called “Love Performance.” Olivia won a string of Grammys for her music.
Her Passion For Animals
Olivia eventually moved to a ranch in the mountains in Malibu for some much-needed downtime. One of her childhood dreams was to keep many dogs and horses – a dream she could now fulfill in her new home. The star was known for her passion for animal welfare. Her dedication to the cause often spilled over into her professional commitments.
Reports say she refused to tour Japan unless the country took steps to amend cruel tuna fishing practices. She advocated reducing the needless slaughter of other marine life caught in the fishing nets.
The Search For “Sandy”
Olivia seemed at the peak of her music career. Her albums and singles were consistent hits, and she raked in the awards with seemingly little effort. Around this time, a Los Angeles producer was looking for a female lead to star opposite John Travolta.
The role was for a film adaptation of the musical “Grease.” Olivia got the call to star in the movie. The first step was a screen test featuring the now-iconic drive-in scene. Olivia wowed the producers, and the rest is history.
The Phenomenon That Was Grease Lightning
“Grease” hit theaters in 1978, winning outstanding acclaim from fans and critics alike. Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta’s performances elevated the stars to on-screen couple goals in the ’70s. The film eventually broke many records.
It became one of the biggest-selling musicals in history. The film’s soundtrack album topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Olivia also released a new album, “Totally Hot” (1978), in which she explored a new musical direction, from ballads to upbeat rock. The album was a success, and Olivia toured with it at home and abroad.
Projects After “Grease”
“Grease” became a Hollywood classic – a film for the ages that would continue inspiring artists and audiences for generations. The pressure was on Olivia to follow up on her phenomenal success. It was always going to be difficult. Critics panned her next film, “Xanadu” (1980), which did not draw audiences to the theaters.
Although the movie did not fare well, the soundtrack was a hit, with Olivia’s song “Magic” topping the U.S. charts. Her stint in the film was memorable in other ways, however. Olivia met dancer Matt Lattanzi, who was on the sets of Xanadu - her future husband.
Pushing Boundaries With “Physical”
In 1981, Olivia explored a different musical direction with her new album, “Physical.” The singer was nervous about how fans would receive the album, but her concerns were unfounded. The title track was a resounding success. Fans loved the unconventional aerobic aesthetic of the new title track and Olivia’s look in the video.
She was single-handedly responsible for making cropped hair and headbands a fashion statement in the early '80s. The album also featured a full-length video – pathbreaking for a time when only individual songs had videos. She then toured across America with the album to sold-out audiences.
Olivia and Pat’s Business Venture
Olivia is best known for playing Sandy in “Grease,” as well as her many Grammy awards. But the singer-turned-actor was also the co-founder of a fashion label and boutique chain in the ‘80s. The idea for the business came to Olivia while touring for her album, “Physical.” The true-blue Aussie in her craved the meat pies, candies, and other treats from down under. She would give anything to find a one-stop shop where she could find them in America.
Not long after, Olivia mentioned the idea to Pat Farrar who was immediately on board. They tweaked the idea and together founded “Koala Blue” – a boutique featuring clothing from Australia.
On Recreating The “Grease” Magic And Failing
Olivia next appeared in a film called “Two Of A Kind” (1983), opposite John Travolta. The movie attempted to recreate the box-office success and magic of “Grease,” failing spectacularly at the endeavor.
In interviews during this time, Olivia seemed excited to star in her first non-musical movie. Once again, the soundtrack did much better than the film itself. Audiences particularly loved the tracks by Olivia and her lovely duet with John Travolta.
Wedding Bells For Olivia And Matt
Olivia had seen many romances come and go, but she did not marry until she met Matt Lattanzi, one of her great loves. After living together for about four years, the couple married in 1984 and whisked themselves off to a fairy tale honeymoon in Paris after the wedding ceremony.
Olivia and Matt were the picture of marital bliss for a decade. They had a daughter, Chloe Rose Lattanzi, who was born in 1986 and is Olivia’s only child. The couple weathered several storms together, and there was more awaiting them down the line.
New Directions, Bad Decisions
Never one to be complacent, Olivia wanted to explore another musical direction after the success of “Physical.” The result was a risqué album called “Soulkiss” (1985). No one was surprised when the album bombed. What was even stranger was the videogram.
Directors shot the video when Olivia was pregnant, which understandably curbed artistic freedom. Audiences could not unsee the terrible image on the back cover – Olivia in boots and tight pants holding a crop. Even the most devoted Olivia fans cringed at this bizarre attempt at sultriness.
What Became Of Her Business Venture?
Olivia took a hiatus from music when her daughter Chloe was born. From 1986 to 1992, she dedicated her efforts to developing her Koala Blue chain of stores. The business venture endeavored to be a break from her intensive music career so she could spend more time with family.
Sadly, the business could not survive the recession during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Olivia decided to expand the franchise when consumers were cutting back expenditure on non-essential items. The company soon filed for bankruptcy.
She Releases More Music
Despite being on a career break, Olivia did not neglect her music. While juggling her business and home life, she brought out some new music during this period. In 1988, she released “The Rumour,” whose title track was written by the legendary Sir Elton John.
1988 was also the Australian Bicentennial. Olivia made a video gram for the occasion called “Down Under.” It featured several songs from “The Rumour,” shot in some of the most picturesque locations in Australia. 26
To Chloe, With Love
In 1989, Olivia brought out an unusual album called “Warm And Tender.” The album was a gift to Chloe, her daughter, and not meant for the mainstream music market. She considered it a mother’s musical indulgence.
“Warm And Tender” contained several children's songs and lullabies - meant for Chloe and children everywhere. MCA records refused to run it since it was not your standard pop album. Olivia eventually released the album on the Geffen label.
Tragic News And A Comeback Interrupted
By the early ‘90s, Olivia’s comeback plans were well underway. In 1992, Geffen brought out “Back To Basics, The Essential Collection” – a retrospective of Olivia’s career with a few new songs. Olivia was rehearsing, promoting, and preparing to go on tour with the album when her life turned upside down.
On July 2, 1992, Olivia discovered she had breast cancer. Work on the new album effectively came to a halt. The singer underwent an operation and received medication for several months, getting an all-clear from the doctors only in February 1993.
She Discovers Purpose In Adversity
After successfully recovering Olivia traveled home to Australia to recuperate. She remained out of the spotlight, taking the time she needed to negotiate her new reality. Her experiences with breast cancer culminated in an intensely personal album called “Gaia, One Woman’s Journey.”
The album was upbeat and optimistic – an homage to other breast cancer survivors. Olivia wanted to address the importance of early detection and that survival was possible. Although the album did not release in the United States, it found an audience through independent labels in other countries.
Trouble In Paradise
After Olivia’s recovery, reports of trouble in paradise began surfacing in the media. Her marriage to Matt was presumably on the rocks. Things came to a head in 1995 when Olivia and Matt announced they were parting ways and would eventually file for divorce. The two years after the separation saw Olivia dabble in multiple things career-wise.
She appeared in a U.S. sitcom, featured in beauty ads for Home Shopping, and acted in the movie “It’s My Party” (1996) directed by Randal Kleiser of Grease fame. Olivia also participated in an Aussie TV series, “The Man From Snowy River” (1993), and participated in a wildlife show called “Human Nature” (1994).
Olivia Makes A Comeback
Olivia’s divorce took a toll on her personally and professionally, but the singer found her way back in 1997. Audiences raved about her singing for the Christmas film “Snowden On Ice” (1997). She also gave heart-warming performances at a CHEC event – a charity close to her.
Her incredible performances signaled that she was back in form. In July 1997, MCA-Nashville signed the artist for a new pop-country album. “Back With A Heart” came out in 1998 to critical acclaim.
She Begins Touring Again
In March 1998, Australian audiences saw Olivia perform a live concert after years, teaming up with none other than Cliff Richard for the show. Fans showed up in droves to catch the two musical icons in action. By the end of 1988, Olivia appeared in more live performances.
Every show had a sold-out audience, and promoters had to add extra dates to meet popular demand. In 1999, Olivia returned to the U.S. for a long-anticipated mini-tour of her greatest hits. She continued touring the country throughout the summer.
Taking The World By Storm
The millennium fittingly ushered in new beginnings for Olivia. She first embarked on a United States tour during the spring and early summer. After a successful U.S. tour, Olivia traveled to Korea and Hong Kong that same year.
Her largest and most spectacular performance came in the fall of 2000 at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. Olivia’s duet with Australian star John Farnham stole the show.
Olivia and Chloe Appear Together In A Film
Olivia had a busy tour schedule for the next couple of years, but she managed to squeeze in time for film appearances. Her next TV movie appearance was for “Wilde Girls,” shot in Queensland. The movie was doubly special since it starred her daughter, Chloe.
“Wilde Girls” premiered in 2001 on the Showtime channel. Olivia also released her first Christmas album the same year and another compilation titled “Magic,” which featured her best singles.
More Concerts And Accolades
2003 -2006 saw the singer jet-setting across continents. She toured the U.S. with a symphony orchestra that elevated her ballads and live performances. The accolades kept raining down, meanwhile. The evergreen singer received an ARIA award for her contribution to music in Australia.
In 2003, Olivia began her world tour, traveling to Japan, Australia, and the United States. Between her intensive world tour schedule, the singer released the Indigo CD in 2004 – an homage to iconic women singers who had inspired and influenced her music.
Ever Stronger And Better
In 2005, Olivia released her twentieth studio album, “Stronger Than Before” – a collection of inspirational, life-affirming songs for women dealing with cancer. Proceeds from the album went to breast cancer awareness. The track “Can I Trust Your Arms” was composed by her daughter, Chloe, as a gift to her mother.
Keeping with the album's spirit, the single “Phenomenal Woman” (inspired by the Maya Angelou poem) featured vocal cameos by inspirational women such as Patti La Belle, Delta Goodrem, Mindy Smith, and Diahann Caroll.
Her Ex-Boyfriend Disappears
The mid-2000s were a challenging period for Olivia. In 2004, her ex-boyfriend Patrick McDermott went missing after leaving for an overnight fishing trip. The couple met soon after Olivia split from Matt Lattanzi and started dating. Although many described their relationship as on and off, it was one of Olivia’s most high-profile romances.
They were no longer dating when Patrick disappeared, but it understandably brought her a great deal of pain. Despite efforts by the authorities, Patrick has never been found and is presumed dead.
Another Chance At Love
The tragic news concerning Patrick continued to cast a shadow on Olivia for a few years, but she found love again in 2007. The singer met John Easterling - the founder of the Amazon Herb Company, which manufactured products using herbs and plants from the Amazon rainforest.
Love blossomed quickly, and the couple married on June 21, 2008. Sources close to the couple called them a perfect match - who brought out the best in each other.
Olivia Treks The Great Wall Of China
Whether she was on stage or off it, Olivia remained dedicated to helping women better cope with cancer. She took this commitment to the ultimate level in 2008 when she trekked the Great Wall Of China – all 228 km of it – to raise funds for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness Centre.
The star received support from several friends and celebrities. Stars such as Sir Cliff Richard, Leeza Gibbons, and Danni Minogue walked at least part of the trek with her. Olivia capped the success of her fundraiser with the release of the album, “A Celebration Of Song," with proceeds going to her Cancer & Wellness Centre.
Her Memorable Appearance In “Glee”
In 2010, Olivia starred in two episodes of “Glee” opposite Jane Lynch, who played the outrageous villain, Sue Sylvester. Sue becomes the school's laughing stock when Glee club members discover an internet video of her dancing to “Physical” by Olivia Newton-John.
Olivia (who appeared as herself on the show) finds out about the video and recruits Sue for a remake of her classic hit. Olivia joined the cast in fine form, with a sweatband and tracksuit to boot!
Out Of Character
Olivia’s appearance in the comedy “A Few Best Men” (2011) was out of the box for her, creating somewhat of a stir in the industry. She played a politician’s over-the-top wife with a substance abuse problem – the first for fans who had never seen this side of her. The dance soundtrack also revealed a new musical side to Olivia, unlike her signature sound at the time.
The soundtrack featured dance remixes of classic pop hits with much more risqué lyrics. During interviews at the time, she shared how she had fun doing something “unexpected.”
Any Publicity Is Good Publicity
In 2012, the world saw Sandy and Danny pair up again, years after the phenomenal success of “Grease.” Olivia and John Travolta released a Christmas album of duets to raise funds for their respective charities. A new track, “I Think You Might Like It,” was supposed to re-ignite the energy of “You’re The One That I Want.” It turns out that most people decidedly did not like it – particularly the video, which many considered fantastically cheesy.
The video controversy ironically propelled the fundraiser to a larger audience. As Olivia mentioned at the time, the mocking did not matter since their goal was to raise funds, which they did successfully.
Her Las Vegas Residency
In 2014, Olivia began a Las Vegas residency called “Summer Nights.” The singer launched her residency in style, arriving at the Las Vegas Flamingo in the classic 1949 Mercury Convertible from “Grease.” For three years, the pop icon delighted fans with Grease tunes, her greatest hits, and some new music.
She also released “Hotel Sessions” during this time, produced by her nephew, Brett Goldsmith. Post the residency, Olivia returned home to Australia for her “Two Strong Hearts” tour with John Farnham.
Mother And Daughter Team Up Again
In 2015, Olivia joined her daughter Chloe on the single, “Have To Believe,” which aimed to re-launch Chloe’s music career. Chloe had recovered from a very public struggle with an eating disorder.
Featuring a peppy dance remix of Olivia’s hit single “Magic,” the duet gave both mother and daughter a new lease on life. The single performed exceptionally well, soaring to No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
The Power Of “Liv On”
The following year, Olivia collaborated with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky. The resulting project was a CD called “Liv On” – that emphasized the power of music to comfort anyone grieving the loss of loved ones or coming to terms with people who are dying.
The three women performed at intimate venues across the UK, Ireland, North America, and Canada. They were no strangers to loss and encouraged audience members to share their stories. “Liv On” reached No. 1 on the UK country charts.
Olivia had to cancel her 2017 tour dates due to severe back pain. She soon discovered that her breast cancer had returned and metastasized to her sacrum – a bone near the pelvis's rear. She went through a short round of therapy. The outpouring of love and concern touched Olivia.
She recuperated well initially, even returning to work later that year to appear in a cameo for “The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee.” Olivia still struggled with back pain, however. In 2018, she checked in to a Melbourne hospital and received treatment. Olivia had fractured her pelvis and had to learn to walk again.
Recuperation And New Medication
Olivia’s health took precedence throughout 2019 as she focused on recovery and becoming stronger. The singer was on medication for a while to manage her pain. Olivia ultimately chose to forgo prescription medication for the healing properties of other legal substances instead.
Olivia managed her cancer diagnosis with medicinal herbs and immunity-building supplements. She was in good hands, thanks to her husband John - a plant medicine expert with decades of experience in the field.
“Grease” Turns 40
Health complications notwithstanding, Olivia was seemingly in high spirits. In 2018, she celebrated the 40th anniversary of “Grease” with long-time friend John Travolta. The iconic duo got together again to perform several Grease hits.
In January, they presented John Farrar with the Outstanding Achievement In The Arts award at the G’Day USA gala. Farrar had been Olivia’s producer for eons – the force behind some of her best hits, which included a Grammy in 1974.
The Olivia Newton-John Foundation
Even during 2020 and 2021, Olivia continued making music and advocating the health benefits of plant-based medicines. In 2020, Olivia and her husband established the Olivia Newton-John Foundation.
The foundation envisioned creating a world beyond cancer, with kinder ways to prevent, treat, and cure all cancer types. Olivia was committed to holistic care - not just for patients but also for families and caregivers.
Making Music And Memories
In January 2021, Olivia released a single called “Window In The Wall,” with her daughter Chloe. The mother-daughter duet aimed to reinforce women's power in creating a loving, more empathetic world. Olivia also partnered with Wave Music Publishing that year to remaster some of her work for future releases.
As part of the project, she released an extended Deluxe album in October 2021 to mark the 40th anniversary of “Physical.”
Olivia Newton-John Passes Away
On August 8, 2022, the beloved pop star died peacefully at her California home. She was 73. Olivia brought light and meaning to many people’s lives, as evidenced by the flood of tributes from fans and friends alike. She taught the world to be hopelessly devoted to love. She reminded us of the warmth of summer days.
Olivia soldiered on bravely, even when her health rapidly declined. Thousands struggling with cancer found hope through her efforts. Above all, her music healed and touched people across geographies. May she rest in power.