Singer-songwriter and actress Olivia Newton-John — a four-time Grammy winner and star of legendary movie musical Grease — has passed away at the age of 73. Newton-John’s husband, John Easterling, announced via his wife’s social media channels that she died peacefully at their ranch in Southern California this morning. Although a cause of death was not officially given, Newton-John had been known to suffer from repeated bouts of stage IV breast cancer.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” his statement reads. “Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the @onjfoundation.”
Newton-John achieved great success as a pop singer, earning the monumental distinction of five No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, including the songs “I Honestly Love You,” “Magic,” and “Physical,” the last of which scored the most weeks atop the chart of any song in the 1980s. The latter two tracks were spawned from Newton-John’s starring role in musical film Xanadu; a box office failure in 1980, the movie nevertheless produced a double-platinum soundtrack.
Despite her musical prowess, Newton-John was really catapulted to universal fame by her starring turn in the 1978 film adaptation of Grease. Newton-John plays innocent exchange student Sandy, who transforms into a “bad girl” to win the heart of John Travolta’s cool greaser Danny Zuko. When Sandy shows up at the movie’s concluding carnival with a leather jacket, teased hair, and a cigarette dangling from her mouth and mutters “tell me about it, stud,” the world was hooked. Her Grease duets with Travolta, “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights,” plus the film’s solo tune, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” all became top-five singles.
John Travolta paid loving tribute to his Grease co-star in an Instagram post. “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much,” Travolta wrote alongside a photo of Newton-John. “We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”
In addition to her talent on stage and screen, Newton-John became an advocate for cancer awareness and research following her own breast cancer diagnosis in the ’90s. She was one of the first celebrities to publicly share her health battle, which included a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy, and breast reconstruction. This interest led to the founding of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia (the city where the actress grew up).
Newton-John was even named a Dame by Queen Elizabeth, an honor bestowed upon her in 2020. Her angelic voice and sweet on-screen presence will not soon be forgotten. In fact, I’m heading off to enjoy my “summer night” with a Grease rewatch now.