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The legendary singer and actress passed away peacefully at her home in California surrounded by family and friends, following a 30 year fight with breast cancer
Olivia Newton–John, best known for playing the leading role Sandy in Grease, has died of cancer aged 73.
Newton-John started out as a country singer, selling millions of records, but it was her role in Grease, when she was 29, that made her a global sensation.
The 1978 musical film was a box office hit, containing some of pop culture’s most iconic duets ever — including You’re The One That I Want and Summer Nights — which Newton-John performed with co-star John Travolta as Danny Zuko.
Travolta, who lost his wife Kelly Preston to breast cancer just last month, is one of the many celebrities to have paid tribute to the late singer. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again,” he wrote on Instagram. “Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”
Another Grease co-star, actress Stockard Channing, who played Sandy’s nemesis, Rizzo, said: “I don’t know if I’ve known a lovelier human being. Olivia was the essence of summer – her sunniness, her warmth and her grace are what always come to mind when I think of her. I will miss her enormously.”
Didi Conn, who played Sandy’s best friend Frenchy in Grease, told BBC’s Newsnight: “She was such a humungous, big, big pop star and her persona was of this beauty and well, let’s just say it, pure and sweet and in the movie we would call her Miss Goody Two Shoes, you know. But simmering under that façade of innocence was a hot mama ready to come out.”
The film’s director Randal Kleiser paid tribute to his 40-year friendship with Newton-John, telling BBC Radio 5 Live: “she never changed, she was always exactly the way everyone imagines her”.
Meanwhile, fellow Australian actress Rebel Wilson — who had played alongside Newton-John in 2011 comedy film A Few Best Men — shared a photo of her with the late star on Instagram. Her caption read: “Seeing you star in the huge Hollywood blockbuster Grease with your natural accent was so instrumental to me as a little girl, helping me to believe that it was possible for an Aussie girl to star in huge international musicals.”
Many fans have noted the impact Newton-John made on their childhoods. Australian fashion journalist and podcast host Laura Brown posted a video of Newton-John, writing: “You know when you’re a kid and you see the most beautiful princess and she stays with you forever?”
The youngest of three, Newton-John spent her own childhood in Australia. Her family moved from Cambridge, UK, to Melbourne when she was six years old in 1954.
Newton-John’s father had been a British spy during the Second World War, and went on to work as a professor of German and as the master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne.
The singer’s first big break came in 1971 with the song If Not For You, written by Bob Dylan, which reached number seven in the UK charts. Between 1974 and 1977, she won four Grammy awards and reached number one in the US seven times.
But Newton-John will not only be remembered for her career in showbiz. She was a leading advocate for cancer research, after first being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.
She raised millions through her charity, the Olivia Newton John Foundation, and in 2020 the Queen honoured her with a damehood.
Newton-John’s husband John Easterling broke the news of her death across her social channels, describing his wife as “a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer”.
Many fans will remember Newton-John’s 2019 interview with CBS News, when she was asked how she was coping with being diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time.
“It was consuming my day and after a time I went ‘you know what’, I need to enjoy my life so I’m going to eat a cookie if I want it,” she said. “Because the joy of life and everyday living has to be a part of that healing process as well. So I’ve chosen that path to be grateful and to feel good about things.”