Pop music and ‘Grease’ star Olivia Newton-John dies at 73

Aug 8 – Singer Olivia Newton-John, who rose to the top of the world pop music charts in the 1970s and 1980s with tracks such as ‘I Honestly Love You’ and ‘Physical’ and performed in the hit musical “Grease”. died Monday at age 73 at her home in Southern California.

The British-born, Australian-raised artist’s death was announced on her Instagram account, saying she “passed away peacefully” at her ranch “surrounded by family and friends”.

Newton-John, a four-time Grammy winner, revealed in 2017 that a recurrence of breast cancer had metastasized and spread to her lower back, forcing her to cancel her performances. Twenty-five years earlier, Newton-John had undergone a partial mastectomy, which led her to champion research into breast cancer and other health issues and to establish a cancer treatment research center in Australia.

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The artist started performing as a child and became a global superstar after moving to the United States. She was blonde, blue-eyed and brimming with good looks when she had her first hit in 1971 with ‘If Not for You’ – a Bob Dylan song that had also been recorded by George Harrison.

It would be followed in later years by “Let Me Be There”, which won her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” and two No. 1 songs, “Have You I’ve never been sweet” and “I really love you”. The latter song won the Grammys for Best Female Pop Performance and Best Record of the Year.

Newton-John also won the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year award in 1974, beating out local American stars such as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. The unlikely success of an Australian performing country-flavored pop songs unsettled many Nashville purists at the time.

Critics have not always cared about Newton-John’s work, often finding his style frothy and too commercial. The New York Times once described his voice as “almost colorless”.

FILM CELEBRITY WITH ‘GREASE’

But reviews didn’t hurt Newton-John’s sales, and she cemented her success co-starring John Travolta in “Grease,” the 1978 film that would become one of Hollywood’s most popular musicals. Hollywood history.

In the film, set in the 1950s, Newton-John’s primitive character Sandy has a summer fling with Danny, the “greaser” portrayed by Travolta, but the relationship breaks down over cultural differences. In the end, they reconcile as their roles reverse, with Danny cleaning up his number and Sandy making a striking appearance in a skin-tight black leather outfit.

Travolta, 68, paid tribute to his co-star on Instagram, saying his “impact was incredible”.

“My dearest Olivia, you have made our lives so much better,” the actor wrote. “I love you so much. We’ll see you on the road again and we’ll all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”

The film’s producer, Allan Carr, had sought out Newton-John for the female lead after being impressed with her at a dinner party, and Travolta urged her to take the part as well.

The singer was initially reluctant because of her negative experience in the flop of the awkwardly titled 1970 British film “Toomorrow” and feared it would damage her recording career. She was also worried about doing an American accent, so the part was rewritten to make Sandy an Australian.

The film, based on the hit 1972 Broadway musical of the same name, was a major critical and commercial success, and its soundtrack generated a string of hits, including the title track, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” by Newton-John, “Summer Nights,” and his spirited duet with Travolta, “You’re the One I Want.”

“I’m grateful for ‘Grease,'” she told the Detroit News in 2016. “The movie and the songs are still going strong.”

His next musical film, “Xanadu” in 1980, was a failure but gave Newton-John more success in the title track and “Magic”, which reached No. 1.

In 1981, Newton-John recorded his biggest hit, “Physical.” The song’s accompanying video featured her in sportswear and a headband, which fueled a fashion trend. Her sex-infused lyrics (“there’s nothing left to say unless it’s horizontal, let’s get physical”) eroded her good-girl image and led to some radio stations banning her.

Newton-John’s career cooled after ‘Physical’, but in 2015 she had another No. 1 dance chart hit – ‘You Have to Believe’, a revamped version of ‘Magic’ performed with her only child, Chloe Lattanzi.

She would do another film with Travolta, “Two of a Kind” in 1983, and they recorded an album of Christmas songs in 2012.

Newton-John, whose sister died of brain cancer, became a lawyer after her first battle with breast cancer and founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research and Wellness Center in his hometown of Melbourne. She also marketed what was known as the Olivia Breast Self-Examination Kit.

Newton-John, whose grandfather was German-born Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, finished fourth in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, representing the UK.

Her first marriage, to “Xanadu” actor Matt Lattanzi, ended in divorce in 1995, and in 2008 she married businessman John Easterling.

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Written by Bill Trott; Additional reporting by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Diane Craft, Steve Gorman and Rosalba O’Brien

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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