Olivia Newton-John,1948-2022: her story in photos
After a long struggle with cancer, Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of 73. The actress and singer left an unforgettable impression with musical films like 'Grease' and 'Xanadu.'
Her husband broke the news on Olivia Newton-John's Instagram account, saying that she "passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California [on Monday], surrounded by family and friends."
"Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years, "sharing her journey with breast cancer," he added.
John Travolta, her old friend and co-star in 'Grease,' wrote a touching farewell to the actress: "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!
Your Danny, your John!"
For half a century, Olivia Newton-John has been known in pop culture for her cheerfulness and musicality. Behind the music, however, her biography knew tragic moments: her father's struggle with alcoholism, the disappearance of her boyfriend, and the returning confrontation with cancer which would eventually lead to her demise. Read Olivia Newton-John's incredible life story.
While people have often thought she was Australian, Olivia Newton-John was, in fact, born in Cambridge, England. Her birth date is September 26 of 1948. Her family would move to Australia at a later date.
The German Irene Helene, daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born, was Olivia’s mother. With regard to her father, she said to the Telegraph: "My Welsh father, Brinkley, was an MI5 officer working on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park (military installation). He was responsible for the capture of Rudolph Hess during World War II.”
At age 14, Olivia formed a girl band called Sol Four with three classmates. They gave small concerts in the cafeteria of her brother-in-law. She also gained fame in the Australian 'Happy Show'. Her stage name was Lovely Livvy.
At age 15, she won the talent contest ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’. The prize was a trip to Great Britain. At first she turned it down, but later the young Olivia changed her mind. It was because of this trip that she ended up moving to London.
Image: Dutch National Archives, Public Domain
People often assume that Olivia Newton-John was very young when she played Sandy in 'Grease' in 1978. But actually, she had quite the recording career behind her when that blockbuster happened.
In 1966, Olivia recorded her first single, 'Til You Say You’ll Be Mine,' and played in her first movie, the musical comedy ‘Funny Things Happen Down Under.'
Her singing friend Pat Carroll moved to England and together they formed the duo 'Pat and Olivia’. They performed in various clubs, until Pat returned to Australia and Olivia started her solo career.
Olivia also met Bruce Welch, guitarist of the band The Shadows. In 1968 they got engaged, although they never ended up marrying. In 1972, the relationship ended, which caused quite the tragedy. According to the magazine Marie Claire, Bruce tried to end his life after the breakup.
American producer Don Kirshner recruited Olivia to be part of the music group Toomorrow. In 1970 the group starred in the musical with the same name and released two singles. Unfortunately, they were unsuccessful, which caused the group to break up.
In 1971 and 1973 she recorded her first two albums of international renown. For the first, ‘If not for you’, Bob Dylan wrote a song. Her second album, ‘Let me be there’, reached the sixth place in the American album chart. It won her a Grammy for best female country vocal performance.
It was in this year, 1973, during her holiday in France, that Olivia met Lee Kramer. He became her boyfriend and her manager. After a relationship of 5 years, they broke up. Supposedly, they separated because Olivia did not always agree with the professional decisions that Lee made for her.
In 1974, Olivia represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision song contest with the song 'Long Live Love'. She was fourth behind ABBA and their 'Waterloo'. It was in this year that she presented her third album: 'If You Love Me, Let Me Know'. She won two more Grammy awards.
Thanks to her friend, the singer Helen Reddy, Olivia moved to the United States in 1975. This is where she found fame as a pop and country singer. Her big success, the album ‘Don’t Stop Believin,’ came out a year later, in 1976. Many of her big hits, like 'Physical’ and ‘Magic’, put the album at the top of the charts. She won four more Grammies.
Her big movie break came in 1978 with the legendary musical 'Grease,' alongside the famous John Travolta. By then, Olivia Newton-John was 30 years old.
After its release in the summer of 1978, 'Grease' became the highest-grossing musical film so far. The soundtrack reached second place in the American ranking of best-selling albums of the year. Sandy / Olivia Newton-John's song 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' even got an Oscar nomination. Both the critics and the audience loved the movie.
Her next film was ‘Xanadu’ in 1980, a fantasy musical with a little less fame than the immensely popular ‘Grease’. By then, the actress had received the OBE (Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) at Buckingham Palace.
Three years later, Olivia appeared in a movie with John Travolta again. Their film 'Two of a Kind' was not a great success, but Olivia and John continued to be remembered for their legendary characters in 'Grease.'
Olivia Newton-John was a megastar by the turn of the 1980s. Together with artists like ABBA and Donna Summer she participated in the benefit concert ‘Music for UNICEF’ in 1979. She also attended premieres with stars like Michael Jackson (photo), Lionel Richie and Freddie Mercury.
In 1984, Olivia Newton-John married the dancer and actor Matt Lattanzi, whom she had met on the set of ‘Xanadu.’ Two years later, they had a daughter, Chloe Rose.
Together with Pat Carroll, Olivia created the clothing brand ‘Koala Blue’. At first, the line of exclusively Australian products was very successful, but in 1992 the company had to close due to financial problems. At a later point, it returned with different kinds of products, such as bathing accessories and wine.
In 1992, Olivia's father Brinkley Newton-John died of liver cancer. They say the cause was a drinking problem.
Two weeks after her father's death, Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer. "It was everything at once for me. At a certain point, you can't avoid the desperation. It's overwhelming," she told People.
She was on the verge of launching her next album, but because of the illness she had to cancel her tour. The singer also had to have a mastectomy.
After she recovered, Olivia became an advocate for the preventive research of breast cancer and other diseases. In fact, she is the face of the breast self-examination set called the ‘Liv Kit’.
In 1995, Olivia divorced Matt Lattanzi after 10 years of marriage. A year later, she met Patrick McDermott, a cameraman. Their relation lasted for 9 years, until a dramatic event ripped them apart.
In 2005, Olivia's partner Patrick McDermott went fishing off the coast of California. He never returned. Having disappeared on June 30 of 2005, his death was announced in 2008. According to The Times, Olivia had to take antidepressants to cope with this tragedy.
In 2008, Olivia secretly married John Easterling in Peru. In the same year she raised funds to set up the 'Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre' in Australia.
In the new century, the singer's life would often evolve around cancer: either it was about treatment for her own illness or resources for others.
In 2010, a private detective allegedly found Patrick McDermott in a village in Mexico. The Telegraph reported the story. His whereabouts continue to be a mystery.
(Image: Guanajuato, Mexico, by Dennis Schrader / Unsplash)
In 2013 Olivia got cancer a second time, though she kept it quiet at that point. In the same year, her sister Rona died of a brain tumor.
Her daughter Chloe, meanwhile, had some struggles of her own. In an interview with 60 Minutes Australia, she said: "We all have our cancers. Mine is the battle with addiction. I have to try and stay sober for the rest of my life. It is a difficult fight." Chloe was also said to have suffered from the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia.
In 2017, Olivia Newton-John announced that the cancer had reappeared and that it had spread into the sacral bone of her back. Doctors told her that she would die from the disease at some point.
(Image: Performance at the Union Chapel in London, January 2017)
"I have seen her become a mother, get divorced, lose her sister. She was with me when I got married, when I had kids. It's incredible to have so many memories together." This is what actor John Travolta said to People magazine about his friend Olivia Newton-John.
When John Travolta's wife, the actress Kelly Preston, died of cancer in 2020, it was very hard for Olivia Newton-John to process. She was familiar with the illness but also thought of Kelly's family. "My heart breaks for John," she wrote on social media. "Kelly's light will shine on through her children."
Olivia Newton-John would befall the same fate in 2022. Before she passed away, she treated the pain of her illness with cannabis, grown on her daughter Chloe's farm in Oregon. She also released a few songs with Chloe, among which 'Window in the Wall' (2019) was very successful on iTunes.
What people will remember most about Olivia Newton-John, is her bravery in facing the illness. With all the setbacks she faced in her life, she proved herself to be a tremendous inspiration.