Among the many fans hopelessly devoted to Olivia Newton-John are the famous peers who became cherished friends during her long career. And a number of them linked voices with the superstar singer on her final album, Just the Two of Us: The Duets Collection, Vol. 1, a 17-track set recorded before she died of breast cancer in August 2022 at age 73.
Newton-John soared to fame with such hits as “I Honestly Love You,” “Magic,” “Physical” and Grease tunes “You’re the One That I Want,” “Summer Nights” and “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” After her cancer diagnosis and treatment in the 1990s, she remained in remission for more than 20 years. The disease returned in 2013 and again in 2017, when it metastasized to her spine.
Her final recording, made just months before her death, is a duet with Dolly Parton, 77, a close pal since 1974. They turn in a fresh spin on the country legend’s “Jolene” (watch the moving collaboration on YouTube, here). The album also boasts duets with Grease costar John Travolta, 69 (“Take a Chance”), Michael McDonald, 71 (“Act of Faith”), Paul Anka, 81 (“Put Your Head on My Shoulder”), Barry Gibb, 76 (“Face to Face”) and Mariah Carey, 54 (“Hopelessly Devoted to You”), among others.
Here, five collaborators featured on the album share some of their favorite memories of their dear friend with AARP.
Country singer/songwriter Kelly Lang
Lang, 54, met Newton-John for the first time at a diabetes benefit in Florida, where mutual friend Barry Gibb, 76, was performing. “This lady came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you mind if I sit here?’ Oh my God. I wasn’t expecting to meet Olivia. We became super-close girlfriends. It was like a sisterhood instantly.”
Their paths crossed often. While Lang and her husband, country star T.G. Sheppard, 78, were visiting Gibb in Australia, they attended a gala where he and Newton-John sang the Bee Gees classic “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.” “It really resonated with me,” says Lang, “I had never heard it as a duet, and I was very moved.” Months later, Newton-John was quizzing her about cover tunes she planned to record, and Lang blurted, “Do you want to do a duet with me?” They quickly settled on Gibb’s tune, and their version surfaced later as an obvious finalist for Newton-John’s duets disc.
“She never thought of herself as famous. She didn’t want the attention. She used her platform to heal,” says Lang, a cancer survivor. “Generation after generation will always love Grease. I hope her legacy will also focus on how many souls she and her cancer research have helped.”