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The Extraordinary Life of Olivia Newton-John

Following the tragic death of music legend Olivia Newton-John, we look back on her groundbreaking career and the bright personality that had us hopelessly devoted to her for nearly 50 years.

Variety


Olivia Newton-John always had a passion and talent for music. At 14, the British-Australian star started an all-girl band with her classmates and began appearing solo in various Australian TV shows like "The Happy Show." Although footage of these classic 60s singing shows is nearly impossible to find, stills from the show "Sing, Sing, Sing" picture a teenage Newton-John in a white dress passionately lost in song. In those days, she had the nickname "Lovely Lizzy."


Despite some failed projects and under-the-radar singles, Newton-John found early success with her first solo album "If Not For You." She caught the attention of audiences in the UK and Australia, though the United States seemed to be a harder bargain. So, Newton-John worked harder; she released more and more music, put out different albums to different countries, and stole the hearts of audiences with earnest, country hits, from "I Honestly Love You" to "Have You Never Been Mellow." In the 1970s, she secured her world record for the shortest gap between Number 1 albums by a female artist, which she held until 2020.


Everything changed with "Grease." The film that Newton-John felt most wary about participating in immediately took the world by storm and put her and the cast at the top of the charts. Her romantic duets with the dreamy John Travolta gained endless popularity, along with her own heartbreaker "Hopelessly Devoted to You." Even now, over 40 years later, these songs are certified classics and the film, though it has certainly aged, still thoroughly entertains audiences.


For Olivia Newton-John, "Grease" put our Australian icon's career on an axis, pushing her into a transformation not dissimilar to that of her on-screen character Sandy Olsson. Newton-John quite literally went from goody-two-shoes to edgy femme fatale. The early 1980s found her releasing upbeat albums with sensual titles (i.e. "Totally Hot" and "Physical") and leaving her sweet country music in the past. The song "Physical" was even banned by some radio stations due to its blatant connotations of sex, however, Newton-John's clever music video depicting various forms of exercise countered these issues and made the song an aerobics anthem.


As she grew older, Newton-John's status as a pop culture idol and musician slowly transitioned into a more mature role as a mother and activist. Though she still released music, much of her artistry focused on new experiences such as having a child and her battle with breast cancer. And even during the height of her career, the star advocated wholeheartedly for causes she cared about ranging from environmental issues to child mortality. Many of her later albums were used to raise money for charities rather than for material gain. A significant portion of Newton-John's advocacy focused on breast cancer and cancer in general.


Even with these newfound responsibilities, Newton-John never seemed to slow down. Throughout the 90s and 2000s, she released new music constantly and began taking on small roles in film and television. Additionally, she did non-stop live performances both in Australia and the US from 2012 to 2017. And years after "Grease," she continued to team up with John Travolta on new projects as well, including a Christmas album. She even began making music with her daughter Chloe in more recent years.


On August 8th, 2022, Olivia Newton-John passed away at the age of 73. The iconic musician, actress, and advocate had been struggling with a third bout of breast cancer. Celebrities close to her made tributes to the star on social media, including John Travolta, who wrote "My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your Danny, Your John!"


From "Grease" to "Physical," Olivia Newton-John put a real dent in the pop culture world for over nearly 50 years. And even more than that, she touched the lives of real people, working to fight against the very thing she herself struggled with. Though she filled many roles and had many failures with her successes, it's impossible to ignore that Olivia Newton-John lived a truly extraordinary life.

 

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