Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in ‘Grease,’ dies at 73

Aug 8, 2022, 8:59 PM | Updated: 9:34 pm
FILE - Actress and singer Olivia Newton-John attends the 2018 G'Day USA Los Angeles Gala in Los Ang...

FILE - Actress and singer Olivia Newton-John attends the 2018 G'Day USA Los Angeles Gala in Los Angeles on Jan. 27, 2018. Newton-John, a longtime resident of Australia whose sales topped 100 million albums, died Monday at her southern California ranch, John Easterling, her husband, wrote on Instagram and Facebook. She was 73. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Olivia Newton-John, the Grammy-winning superstar who reigned on pop, country, adult contemporary and dance charts with such hits as “Physical” and “You’re the One That I Want” and won countless hearts as everyone’s favorite Sandy in the blockbuster film version of “Grease,” has died. She was 73.

Newton-John, a longtime resident of Australia whose sales topped 100 million records, died Monday at her Southern California ranch, John Easterling, her husband, wrote on Instagram and Facebook.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” he wrote. “We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

From 1973-83, Newton-John was among the world’s most popular entertainers. She had 14 top 10 singles just in the U.S., won four Grammys, starred with John Travolta in “Grease” and with Gene Kelly in “Xanadu.” The fast-stepping Travolta-Newton-John duet, “You’re the One That I Want,” was one of the era’s biggest songs and has sold more than 15 million copies.

“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” Travolta wrote in an online post. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”

“Physical,” the bouncy, R-rated smash released in 1981, was No. 1 for 10 weeks and was named Billboard’s song of the year despite being banned by some radio stations. An aerobics-friendly promotional clip, filmed in the early years of MTV, won a Grammy for best video.

Both musically and image-wise, she reinvented herself during those years. The blonde, ever-smiling Newton-John initially favored mild pop-country songs such as “Please Mr. Please” and “Have You Never Been Mellow” and soft-breathing ballads like “I Honestly Love You,” which in 1975 won Grammys for best female pop vocal and record of the year. But she picked up the tempo in “Grease,” especially after Sandy ditched her white sweaters and blouses for waist-high, black leather pants. “Physical” even made Newton-John blush as she told her would-be lover “There’s nothing left to talk about/Unless it’s horizontally” and finally called out “Let’s get animal! Animal!”

“I recorded it and then suddenly thought, ‘Goodness, maybe I’ve gone too far!'” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2017, recalling how the song had been suggested by manager Roger Davies. “I called Roger and said, ‘We’ve got to pull this song!’ He said, ‘It’s too late. It’s already gone to radio and it’s running up the charts.’ I was horrified!”

Fans flooded social media to mourn her death. “Farewell with love to the legend who will forever be my first crush,” wrote actor Daniel Dae Kim. Added Tracie Thoms: “Olivia Newton-John is an icon. We will miss her dearly.” Gabrielle Union said she and her sister watched “Xanadu” “more times than I could count.”

Australia’s acting Prime Minister Richard Marles described her death as feeling like the end of an era for a generation who grew up watching “Grease” and said, “It feels like the world is a little emptier without Olivia Newton-John as a part of it.”

She had a few hits after “Physical,” but her career declined and Newton-John became more likely to make news because of her private life. In 1992, as she was preparing a concert tour, her father died and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her marriage to actor Matt Lattanzi, with whom she had a daughter, actor-singer Chloe Lattanzi, broke up in 1995 and a years-long relationship with cameraman Patrick McDermott ended mysteriously. McDermott went missing during a 2005 fishing trip in California and his fate remained unknown years later. Numerous reports alleged that he was living in Mexico with a new girlfriend.

“He was lost at sea, and nobody really knows what happened,” Newton-John told Australia’s “60 Minutes” in 2016. “It’s human to wonder. But you know, those are the things in life you have to accept and let go. Because whenever you go through difficult times, there’s always those concerns.”

Newton-John’s recent albums included “Stronger Than Before”; a holiday collaboration with Travolta, “This Christmas”; and the autobiographical “Gaia: One Woman’s Journey,” inspired by her battle with cancer and by the loss of her father.

Dionne Warwick, who featured Newton-John on her 2006 album “My Friends and Me,” wrote online that “another angelic voice has been added to the Heavenly Choir.” And Lea Salonga wrote: “Rest In Peace, Olivia Newton-John. Hers was one of the voices of my childhood.”

Newton-John married John Easterling, founder of the Amazon Herb Company, in 2008. She was involved in numerous charitable causes, serving as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme and as national spokeswoman for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition. She also founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

Newton-John was the daughter of German literature professor Brin Newton-John and Irene Born, whose father was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born. The Newton-Johns moved to Australia when Olivia was 5, but she returned to England in her teens and lived with her mother after her parents broke up. She had early dreams of becoming a veterinarian but was winning singing contests in high school and before age 20 had toured army bases and clubs and recorded her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine.” In 1971, she covered Bob Dylan’s “If Not for You” and began a close partnership with a friend from Australia, John Farrar, who produced the song and later wrote “You’re the One That I Want,” “Magic” and several other hits for her.

She had loved country music, especially the records of “Tennessee” Ernie Ford, since childhood, but her early success didn’t impress critics or some fellow musicians. A Village Voice review likened her to a geisha who “makes her voice smaller than it really is just to please men.” When Newton-John beat out Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the Country Music Association’s top artist of 1973, Tammy Wynette helped found the Association of Country Entertainers, a club designed to exclude Newton-John and other crossover performers.

But Newton-John had a show business admirer who with her became one of movies’ most unforgettable teams. Travolta had starred in the stage version of “Grease” and for the planned film thought Newton-John would be the “ultimate” Sandy, the nice girl who gets tough in the final act and gets her man.

“I worried that at 29 I was too old to play a high school girl,” Newton-John, who insisted on taking a screen test before accepting the part, told The Telegraph in 2017. “Everything about making the film was fun, but if I had to pick a favorite moment, it was the transformation from what I call Sandy 1 to Sandy 2. I got to play a different character and wear different clothes, and when I put on that tight black outfit to sing ‘You’re the One That I Want,’ I got a very different reaction from the guys on the set.”

She is survived by her husband; daughter Chloe Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; and several nieces and nephews.

___

For more AP entertainment news, go to https://apnews.com/hub/entertainment

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Soldier who went missing during Korean War accounted for

BOSTON (AP) — A soldier from Massachusetts who went missing during the Korean War and was later reported to have died in a prisoner of war camp has been accounted for using modern scientific techniques, military officials said. Army Cpl. Joseph J. Puopolo, 19, of East Boston, was accounted for in August, according to a […]
12 hours ago
A model wears a creation as part of the Dolce & Gabbana women's Spring Summer 2023 collection prese...
Associated Press

Kim Kardashian culls Dolce & Gabbana archives for Milan show

MILAN (AP) — Kim Kardashian took Milan by storm on Saturday, curating a new collection for Dolce & Gabbana that took inspiration from 20 years of archival looks. It was a day of debuts in Milan, including Maximilian Davis, a 27-yeaer-old British designer with Afro-Caribbean roots, at the creative helm of Salvatore Ferragamo and Filipino […]
12 hours ago
Simon Stiell sits for an interview to discuss his new role as the executive secretary of the U.N. F...
Associated Press

Interview: New UN climate chief takes the fight personally

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — For the United Nations’ new climate chief, the fight is personal. As a former engineer who says he knows “how to make things work and get things done,” it wasn’t just what Simon Stiell did before he became a top U.N. official, it was where. Stiell was the environment and climate […]
12 hours ago
Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi acknowledges the audience applause after addressing the 77th sess...
Associated Press

China on Taiwan: ‘External interference’ won’t be tolerated

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — China underscored its commitment Saturday to its claim to Taiwan, telling world leaders that anyone who gets in the way of its determination to reunify with the self-governing island would be “crushed by the wheels of history.” The language was forceful but, for Chinese leadership, well within the realm of normal. […]
12 hours ago
FILE - Jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders performs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in N...
Associated Press

Pharoah Sanders, influential jazz saxophonist, dies at 81

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Pharoah Sanders, the influential tenor saxophonist revered in the jazz world for the spirituality of his work, has died, his record label announced. He was 81. Sanders, also known for his extensive work alongside John Coltrane in the 1960s, died in Los Angeles early Saturday, said the tweet from Luaka Bop, […]
12 hours ago
Associated Press

Crowded campsites, high demand cause fights, ‘camp pirates’

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Some Oregon parks officials say high demand for crowded campsites is leading to arguments, fistfights and even so-called “campsite pirates.” Brian Carroll with Linn County Parks and Recreation said park rangers have had to play mediator this summer as would-be campers argue over first-come, first-served campsites at Sunnyside County Park, the […]
12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in ‘Grease,’ dies at 73