Tributes Roll In For Olivia Newton-John Following The ‘Grease’ Star’s Death
Stars including Hollywood musicians and Australian leaders are mourning Olivia Newton-John, who died on Monday, 8 August at her southern California ranch at the age of 73. The Grease star and chart-topping singer, who publicly discussed her breast cancer since her first diagnosis in 1992, died surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement posted to her Facebook page by her widower, John Easterling.
Newton-John sold over 100m records and charted nearly 40 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 during her nearly five decades in music.
The soundtrack to Grease is one of the world’s best-selling albums of recorded music and features the two hit duets from Newton-John and Travolta: Summer Nights and You’re The One That I Want. The latter also ranks as one of the best-selling singles of all time.
Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, to Welshman Professor Brin Newton-John and his German-born wife Irene, who was the daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born.
The youngest of three children, she moved with her family to Melbourne, Australia, when she was five.
By her mid-teens, she was already carving out a career as a budding star, having formed a girl group with classmates called Sol Four at the age of 14 before winning a talent contest on Australian TV show Sing, Sing, Sing and a trip to the UK.
Although initially hesitant to travel back to the UK, she took the trip a year after winning the programme, on the advice of her mother and, once there, she recorded her first single in 1966, Till You Say You’ll Be Mine.
Newton-John then formed a partnership with a friend from Melbourne, Pat Carroll, with the pair touring Army bases and clubs throughout the UK and Europe as the double act Pat and Olivia.
Her second single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s If Not For You, reached the top 10 in the UK and Australia, giving her an early taste for success before her next single, Banks Of The Ohio, topped the charts in Australia.
In 1974, she represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Long Live Love, and came in fourth place in the year Abba won with Waterloo.
She experienced further pop music success in the years following Eurovision, before the career-defining role in Grease arrived in 1978.
Initially, she was apprehensive about the role that would come to immortalise her, worrying that she was too old to play a high school student (she turned 29 while filming in 1977).
However, after insisting on a screen test with co-star Travolta, she took the part. To account for her Australian accent, writers changed the play’s original American Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olsson, an Aussie who holidays in the US before moving there permanently.
Grease was an immediate success, becoming the biggest box-office hit of 1978. Powered by songs such as You’re The One That I Want, Hopelessly Devoted To You and Summer Nights, the film’s soundtrack topped charts around the world and remains one of the best-selling albums ever.
Her Grease co-star John Travolta led the tributes to Newton-John, posting to Instagram: “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 moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”
Australian singer Kylie Minogue shared a photo of herself with Newton-John at the Royal Bicentennial Concert in 1988 on Twitter. “Since I was 10 years old, I have loved and looked up to Olivia Newton John. And, I always will,” she wrote. “She was, and always will be, an inspiration to me in so many, many ways. My deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. x ONJ4EVER”
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called her “a star” and “a bright, joyful glow in our lives.”
“From the moment we saw her, she was a warm, enduring presence and her voice became a big part of the Australian soundtrack. Above all she was a wonderful, generous person,” he wrote on Twitter. “I had the privilege of meeting Olivia in 2019. The work she did though her cancer research centre was important and inspirational. Her legacy will live on, in her music, her films and her determination that one day we will find a cure for cancer. We will miss her so very much.”
Newton-John’s Grease co-star Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo, said in a statement to THR: “I don’t know if I’ve known a lovelier human being. Olivia was the essence of summer — her sunniness, her warmth and her grace are what always come to mind when I think of her. I will miss her enormously.”
Singer Dionne Warwick tweeted: “Another angelic voice has been added to the Heavenly Choir. Not only was Olivia a dear friend, but one of the nicest people I had the pleasure of recording and performing with. I will most definitely miss her. She now Rests in the Arms of the Heavenly Father.”
Australian singer and former Neighbours star Delta Goodrem, who was diagnosed with cancer when she was 18, paid tribute to her mentor on Instagram.
“The whole world will feel this heartbreak today because the entire world felt Olivia’s unmatched light,” Goodrem wrote. “A force for good. A force of nature. Strong and kind. my mentor, my friend, my inspiration, someone who always guided me… she was always there for me. Family to me. I don’t have all the words I would like to say today but I hope everyone will join in celebrating our beloved Olivia, her heart, soul, talent, courage, grace… I love you forever.”