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Pop Star Olivia Newton-John Dies at 73

The four-time Grammy winner and beloved star of ‘Grease’ waged a long battle with cancer

Olivia Newton-John during the annual Wellness Walk and Research Runon September 16, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. The annual event, now in it's sixth year, raises vital funds to support cancer research and wellness programs at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Victoria.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Olivia Newton-John, the sunny, buoyant English-Australian pop icon who sold over 100 million records, died on August 8 at her home in Southern California after a long and valiant battle with cancer. Her husband, John Easterling, announced her passing on Instagram, noting that "Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer... In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the @onjfoundation."

Newton-John became an inspiring example of how to live and age well despite illness, continuing to work as a singer, actress and activist after her diagnoses. She guest-starred twice on Glee in 2010, did over 40 Las Vegas shows in 2014 and performed to help raise $50 million to fight Australia’s wildfires in 2020. In 2019, she received a damehood — equivalent to a knighthood — from the Queen of England for her services to charity, cancer research and entertainment.

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“I think I’ve done it all — and more,” she told AARP in 2019. “I had icing and cream on the icing, and candles on top of that. I’ve achieved everything I could have possibly dreamed of. I’m very grateful.”

She had her first top-10 U.S. hit, “Let Me Be There,” in 1973, followed by five number 1 singles and 15 top-10 hits, including “I Honestly Love You” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Her 1981 smash “Physical” spent 10 weeks at number 1 and was the biggest hit tune of the decade. Out of 12 Grammy nominations, she had four wins.

She was probably most beloved for her star turn opposite John Travolta in the 1978 musical Grease. Their epochal duet “You’re the One That I Want” helped the film, made for $6 million, earn more than $350 million worldwide. Her character’s celebrated transformation from good-girl Sandy to spandex-clad bad-girl Sandy changed her image, and foreshadowed the grit Newton-John would show throughout her life, both in her career and in her personal life.

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Her on-again, off-again health issues began in 1992 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Her cancer reappeared in 2013 and 2017. She became an activist and advocate, opening the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

Newton-John was born in England to a Welsh father and German mother who had fled the Nazis with Newton-John’s grandfather, Max Born, who won the Nobel Prize in physics and trained Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb. Her family moved to Australia when she was 6, and she began performing on local Australian TV at 14 as “Lovely Livvy.” Moving back to England, she formed a duo with singer Pat Carroll. ​

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Her 1971 solo album debut, If Not for You, won notice for its title tune’s sweet take on a Bob Dylan song, but her career really soared after fellow Australian Helen Reddy (“I Am Woman”) encouraged her move to the U.S. and invited her to a dinner party where she met producer Allan Carr, who sought an ingénue to star opposite Travolta in Grease.

“She was so funny, quite warm and oh so beautiful,” Carr told the New York Times in 1978. “I told her immediately she was everything a movie star should be, and she’d be perfect for my movie.”

In 1984 Newton-John married actor Matt Lattanzi, the father of her daughter, Chloe Rose Lattanzi, 36. In 2008, she married businessman Easterling.

“We’re all lucky to get to each birthday because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she told AARP in 2019. “You have to relish each day. Age to me is a gift.”

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