Olivia Newton-John Dead at 73
Chart-topping singer and Grease star Olivia Newton-John has died at age 73.
Her husband, John Easterling, shared the news on social media. “Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends,” he wrote on Facebook. “We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” Easterling 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.”
Her Grease costar John Travolta also paid tribute to her in an Instagram post. “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible,” he wrote. “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!”
Born on Sept. 26, 1948, in Cambridge, United Kingdom, Newton-John began singing in girl groups and acting on local television shows as a teenager. She recorded her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” for England’s Decca Records in 1966, though her debut solo album, If Not for You, did not arrive until five years later. The title track, written by Bob Dylan, peaked at No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking her first entry on the chart.
Newton-John scored her first Top 10 hit in the U.S. with 1973's “Let Me Be There,” which also earned her a Grammy Award for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Her career exploded the following year with the release of If You Love Me, Let Me Know, which topped the Billboard 200 and spawned her first of five No. 1 hits, “I Honestly Love You.”
With her music career firmly established, Newton-John jumped to the silver screen in the 1978 film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease, starring as Sandy Olsson alongside Travolta’s Danny Zuko. The Grease soundtrack has sold approximately 28 million copies worldwide and produced the chart-topping duet “You’re the One That I Want,” as well as the No. 2-peaking “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and the No. 6-peaking “Summer Nights.”
Following the smashing success of Grease, Newton-John revamped her image on her platinum-selling 1978 solo album Totally Hot, which featured her dressed from head to toe in leather on the cover. The following year, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire. She also starred in the 1980 film Xanadu, which bombed at the box office and was panned by critics to the point of inspiring the Golden Raspberry Awards. Nevertheless, its soundtrack went double platinum and gave Newton-John the biggest hit of her career up to that point with “Magic.”
The hot streak continued with 1981’s Physical, which went double platinum (the bestselling album of her career) and spawned yet another No. 1 hit with its title track. The album was lauded for its lush, synthesizer-heavy production and pop-rock arrangements, and its sexual lyrics and videos turned heads. “I just wasn’t in the mood for tender ballads,” Newton-John coyly told People in 1982. “I wanted peppy stuff because that’s how I’m feeling."
The singer’s success began to cool with the release of 1985’s Soul Kiss. Newton-John prepared to stage a comeback with the release of 1992’s Back to Basics: The Essential Collection 1971–1992 and an accompanying tour, but she canceled all publicity after being diagnosed with breast cancer the same year. She underwent successful treatment and became an advocate for breast cancer research. It was not her first foray into advocacy, as the singer’s animal rights activism and environmentalism dated back to the 1970s.
Newton-John continued to regularly release music throughout the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, as recently as 2016’s Friends for Christmas album. She was inducted into Australia’s ARIA Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2017, Newton-John revealed that her breast cancer had returned and metastasized to her lower back, progressing to Stage IV.
In 2020, the singer was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for her services to charity, cancer research and entertainment. It was just one of many honors in a nearly-50-year career that included four Grammy wins, five No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, 10 additional Top 10 hits, two No. 1 albums and global sales of over 100 million records.