Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton John (6707495311) (cropped to look large).jpg
Newton-John at the premiere of A Few Best Men in Sydney, 2012
Born(1948-09-26)26 September 1948
Cambridge, England
Died8 August 2022(2022-08-08) (aged 73)
Santa Ynez Valley, California, US
  • Australia (from 1981)
  • United Kingdom
  • Singer
  • actress
  • activist
Years active1963–2022
  • (m. 1984; div. 1995)
  • John Easterling
    (m. 2008)
ChildrenChloe Lattanzi
Musical career
OriginMelbourne, Australia
Olivia Newton-John Signature.svg

Dame Olivia Newton-John AC DBE (26 September 1948 – 8 August 2022) was a British-born Australian singer, actress and activist.[1] She was a four-time Grammy Award winner whose music career included five number-one hits and many other Top Ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100,[2] and two number-one albums on the Billboard 200: If You Love Me, Let Me Know (1974) and Have You Never Been Mellow (1975). Eleven of her singles (including two Platinum) and 14 of her albums (including two Platinum and four 2× Platinum) have been certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). With global sales of more than 100 million records, Newton-John is one of the best-selling music artists from the second half of the 20th century to the present.[3]

In 1978, Newton-John starred in the musical film Grease, which became the highest-grossing musical film ever at the time and whose soundtrack remains one of the world's best-selling albums of all time. It features two major hit duets with co-star John Travolta: "You're the One That I Want"—which is one of the best-selling singles of all time—and "Summer Nights". Her signature solo recordings include the Record of the Year Grammy winner "I Honestly Love You" (1974) and "Physical" (1981)—Billboard's highest ranking Hot 100 single of the 1980s. Other defining hit singles include "If Not for You" and "Banks of the Ohio" (both 1971), "Let Me Be There" (1973), "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" (1974), "Have You Never Been Mellow" (1975), "Sam" (1977), "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (1978; also from Grease), "A Little More Love" (1978), "Twist of Fate" (1983) and from the 1980 film Xanadu, "Magic" and "Xanadu" (with the Electric Light Orchestra).

Newton-John, who battled breast cancer three times, was an advocate for breast cancer research. She also was an activist for environmental and animal rights causes.

Early life

Newton-John was born on 26 September 1948[4] in Cambridge, England, to Brinley "Bryn" Newton-John (1914–1992) and Irene Helene (née Born; 1914–2003).[4] Her father was born in Wales to a middle-class family. Her mother was born in Germany and had come to the UK with her family in 1933 to escape the Nazi Regime.[5][6] Newton-John's maternal grandfather was German Jewish Nobel Prize–winning physicist Max Born;[7][8][9][10] her maternal grandmother Hedwig was the daughter of German Jewish jurist Victor Ehrenberg, and of his Lutheran wife, whose own father, Newton-John's great-great-grandfather, was jurist Rudolf von Jhering. Her uncle was pharmacologist Gustav Victor Rudolf Born. Through her Ehrenberg line, Newton-John was a third cousin of comedian Ben Elton.[7]

Newton-John's father was an MI5 officer[11] on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park who took Rudolf Hess into custody during World War II.[12][13] After the war, he became the headmaster of the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys and was in this post when Newton-John was born.[14]

Newton-John was the youngest of three children, following her brother Hugh (1939–2019), a medical doctor, and her sister Rona (1941–2013), an actress who was married to restaurateur Brian Goldsmith[15] and was later married to Newton-John's Grease co-star Jeff Conaway (from 1980 until their divorce in 1985). In early 1954, when Newton-John was five, her family emigrated to Melbourne, Australia, on the SS Strathaird.[16] Her father worked as a professor of German and as the master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne.[17]

Newton-John attended Christ Church Grammar School in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra[18] and then the University High School in Parkville.[19]


Career beginnings

Newton-John went to primary school with Daryl Braithwaite who also followed a singing career.[20] At age 14, she formed Sol Four, a short-lived all-girl group, with three classmates, often performing at a coffee shop owned by her brother-in-law.[21]

Newton-John originally wanted to become a veterinarian but then chose to focus on performance after doubting her ability to pass science exams.[22]

In 1964, Newton-John’s first recognised acting talent was portraying as "Lady Mary Lasenby" in her University High School's production of The Admirable Crichton as she became the Young Sun's Drama Award best schoolgirl actress runner up.[23] She then became a regular on local Australian television shows, including Time for Terry and HSV-7's The Happy Show, where she performed as "Lovely Livvy".[24] She also appeared on The Go!! Show where she met her future duet partner, singer Pat Carroll, and her future music producer, John Farrar (Carroll and Farrar later married). In 1965 she entered and won a talent contest on the television program Sing, Sing, Sing hosted by 1960s Australian icon Johnny O'Keefe, performing the songs "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses". She was initially reluctant to use the prize she had won, a trip to Great Britain, but travelled there nearly a year later after her mother encouraged her to broaden her horizons.[2]

Newton-John recorded her first single, "Till You Say You'll Be Mine", in Britain for Decca Records in 1966.[2] While in Britain, Newton-John missed her then-boyfriend, Ian Turpie,[25] with whom she had co-starred in an Australian telefilm, Funny Things Happen Down Under. She repeatedly booked trips back to Australia that her mother cancelled.[21]

Newton-John's outlook changed when Pat Carroll moved to the UK. The two formed a duo called "Pat and Olivia" and toured nightclubs in Europe. (In one incident, they were booked at Paul Raymond's Revue in Soho, London, and were unaware that it was a strip club until they began to perform onstage dressed primly in frilly high-collared dresses.)[26] During this period she and Carroll contributed backup vocals to recordings by a number of other artists, notably the song "Come In, You'll Get Pneumonia" by the Easybeats. After Carroll's visa expired, forcing her to return to Australia, Newton-John remained in Britain to pursue solo work until 1975.[26]

Newton-John was recruited for the group Toomorrow,[27] formed by American producer Don Kirshner. In 1970, the group starred in a "science fiction musical" film and recorded an accompanying soundtrack album on RCA Records, both named after the group. That same year the group made two single recordings, "You're My Baby Now"/"Goin' Back" and "I Could Never Live Without Your Love"/"Roll Like a River". Neither track became a chart success; the project failed and the group disbanded.[28]

Early success

Newton-John released her first solo album, If Not for You (US No. 158 Pop), in 1971. (In the UK, the album was known as Olivia Newton-John.) The title track, written by Bob Dylan, was her first international hit (US No. 25 Pop, No. 1 Adult Contemporary/"AC").[29] Her follow-up single, "Banks of the Ohio", was a top 10 hit in the UK and Australia. She was voted Best British Female Vocalist two years in a row by the magazine Record Mirror. She made frequent appearances on Cliff Richard's weekly show It's Cliff Richard[30] and starred with him in the telefilm The Case.

In 1972, Newton-John's second UK album, Olivia, was released but never formally issued in the United States, where her career floundered after If Not for You. Subsequent singles, including "Banks of the Ohio" (No. 94 Pop, No. 34 AC) and remakes of George Harrison's "What Is Life" (No. 34 AC) and John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (No. 119 Pop), made minimal impact on the Hot 100. Her fortune changed with the release of "Let Me Be There" in 1973. The song reached the American top 10 on the Pop (No. 6), Country (No. 7),[31] and AC (No. 3) charts and earned her a Grammy for Best Country Female[30] and an Academy of Country Music award for Most Promising Female Vocalist.[29]

Her second American album, named Let Me Be There after the hit single, was her third in Britain, where the LP is known as Music Makes My Day. It is also called Let Me Be There in Australia;[32] however, the US and Canadian versions featured an alternate track list that mixed new cuts with selections from Olivia and also recycled six songs from If Not for You, which was going out of print.

From left to right: Dionne Warwick, Don Kirshner, Helen Reddy, and Newton-John in 1974

In 1974, Newton-John represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Long Live Love". The song was chosen for Newton-John by the British public out of six possible entries (Newton-John later admitted that she disliked the song).[33] Newton-John finished fourth at the contest, held in Brighton, behind the Swedish winning entry, "Waterloo" by ABBA. All six Eurovision contest song candidates—"Have Love, Will Travel", "Lovin' You Ain't Easy", "Long Live Love", "Someday", "Angel Eyes" and "Hands Across the Sea"—were recorded by Newton-John and included on her Long Live Love album, her first for the EMI Records label.[34]

The Long Live Love album was released in the US and Canada as If You Love Me, Let Me Know. All the Eurovision entries were dropped for different and more country-flavoured tunes intended to capitalise on the success of "Let Me Be There"; the North American offering used selections from Long Live Love, Olivia and Music Makes My Day, and only the titular cut was new. If You Love Me, Let Me Know's title track was its first single and reached No. 5 Pop, No. 2 Country[2] (her best country position to date) and No. 2 AC. The next single, "I Honestly Love You", became Newton-John's signature song. Written and composed by Jeff Barry and Peter Allen,[30] the ballad became her first Pop number-one (staying there for two weeks), second AC number-one (for three weeks) and third top 10 Country (No. 6) hit and earned Newton-John two more Grammys for Record of the Year[35] and Best Pop Vocal Performance – Female. The success of both singles helped the album reach No. 1 on both the Pop (one week)[36] and Country (eight weeks) albums charts.[citation needed]

In the UK and Australia, "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)" was featured on compilations titled First Impressions and Great Hits! First Impressions respectively.[37][38]

In the United States, Newton-John's success in country music sparked a debate among purists, who took issue with a foreigner singing country-flavoured pop music being classed with native Nashville artists.[27] In addition to her Grammy for "Let Me Be There", Newton-John was also named the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974, defeating more established Nashville-based nominees Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker, as well as Canadian artist Anne Murray.[30]

This protest, in part, led to the formation of the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers (ACE).[39] Newton-John was eventually supported by the country music community. Stella Parton, Dolly's sister, recorded "Ode to Olivia" and Newton-John recorded her 1976 album, Don't Stop Believin', in Nashville, Tennessee.[30]

Encouraged by expatriate Australian singer Helen Reddy, Newton-John left the UK and moved to the US. Newton-John topped the Pop (one week) and Country (six weeks) albums charts with her next album, Have You Never Been Mellow. For 45 years, Olivia held the Guinness World Record for the shortest gap (154 days) by a female between new Number 1 albums (If You Love Me, Let Me Know > Have You Never Been Mellow) on the US Billboard 200 album charts until Taylor Swift in 2020 (140 days with folklore > evermore).[40] The If You Love Me, Let Me Know album generated two singles – the John Rostill-penned title track (No. 1 Pop, No. 3 Country,[31] No. 1 AC)[41] and "Please Mr. Please" (No. 3 Pop, No. 5 Country, No. 1 AC).[41] Her pop career cooled with the release of her next album, Clearly Love. Her streak of five consecutive gold top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 ended when the album's first single, "Something Better to Do", stopped at No. 13 (also No. 19 Country and No. 1 AC). Her albums still achieved gold status, and she returned to the top ten of the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 charts again in 1978.[42]

Newton-John's singles continued to top the AC chart, where she amassed ten No. 1 singles, including a record seven consecutively:[43]

She provided a prominent, but uncredited, vocal on John Denver's "Fly Away" single, which was succeeded by her own single, "Let It Shine"/"He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother", at No. 1 on the AC chart. ("Fly Away" returned to No. 1 after the two-week reign of "Let It Shine".) Newton-John also continued to reach the Country top 10 where she tallied seven top 10 singles through 1976's "Come on Over" (No. 23 Pop, No. 5 Country,[31] No. 1 AC) and six consecutive (of a career nine total) top 10 albums through 1976's Don't Stop Believin' (No. 30 Pop, No. 7 Country).[31] She headlined her first US television special, A Special Olivia Newton-John, in November 1976.[30]

In 1977, the single "Sam", a mid-tempo waltz from Don't Stop Believin', returned her to the No. 1 spot on the AC (No. 40 Country) and also reached No. 20 Pop, her highest chart placement since "Something Better to Do". By mid-1977, Newton-John's pop, AC and country success all suffered a slight blow. Her Making a Good Thing Better album (No. 34 Pop, No. 13 Country) was not certified gold, and its only single, the title track (No. 87 Pop, No. 20 AC), did not reach the AC top 10 or the Country chart. Later that year, Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits (No. 13 Pop, No. 7 Country) became her first platinum album.[44]

Newton-John was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 1979 New Year Honours[45] and Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2020 New Year Honours for services to charity, cancer research and entertainment.[46]

Lawsuit against MCA Records

In April 1975, Newton-John and MCA entered into an initial two-year, four-album deal in which she was expected to deliver two LPs a year for the record company. MCA also had the option of extending the contract for six more records and three more years; and if the artist did not deliver on time, MCA was allegedly allowed to increase the term of the commitment to account for the lateness.[47]

Per her new agreement with MCA, Newton-John's first three albums, beginning with Clearly Love, came out on schedule. Her fourth, Making a Good Thing Better, was late. This delay occurred around the same time she was working on Grease for RSO Records, and the postponement arguably gave MCA—which seemed to want to keep its hold on the performer—the right to exercise its option, extend its contract and stop her from signing with another enterprise. She also did not deliver a "newly optioned" album.[48]

On 31 May 1978, Newton-John and MCA each filed breach-of-contract actions against the other. Newton-John sued for $10 million and claimed that MCA's failure to adequately promote and advertise her product freed her from their agreement. MCA's countersuit requested $1 million in damages and an injunction against Newton-John working with another music firm.[49]

Ultimately, Newton-John was forbidden from offering her recording services to another label until the five-year pact had run its course. The original covenant was not automatically extended, though she had not duly supplied the total sum of vinyls indicated in the contract.[50]

As a result of the lawsuit, record companies changed their contracts to be based on a set number of albums recorded by a musician and not a specific number of years.[51]


Newton-John appearing with John Travolta in 1982

Newton-John's career soared after she starred in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease in 1978. She was offered the lead role of Sandy after meeting producer Allan Carr at a dinner party at Helen Reddy's home.[17] Disillusioned by her Toomorrow experience and concerned that she was too old to play a high school senior (she was 28 during the filming of Grease), Newton-John insisted on a screen test with the film's co-lead, John Travolta.[17] The film accommodated Newton-John's Australian accent by recasting her from the play's original American character, Sandy Dumbrowski, to Sandy Olsson, an Australian who holidays in the United States and then moves there with her family. Newton-John previewed some of the film's soundtrack during her second American network television special, Olivia, featuring guests ABBA and Andy Gibb.[52]

Grease became the biggest box-office hit of 1978.[53] The soundtrack album spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 and yielded three Top 5 singles for Newton-John: the platinum "You're the One That I Want" (No. 1 Pop, No. 23 AC) with John Travolta, the gold "Hopelessly Devoted to You" (No. 3 Pop, No. 20 Country, No. 7 AC) and the gold "Summer Nights" (No. 5 Pop, No. 21 AC) with John Travolta and the film's cast. "Summer Nights" was from the original play written by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey,[54] but the former two songs were written and composed by her long-time music producer, John Farrar, specifically for the film.[55]

Newton-John became the second woman (after Linda Ronstadt in 1977) to have two singles – "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "Summer Nights" – in the Billboard top 5 simultaneously.[30] Newton-John's performance earned her a People's Choice Award for Favourite Film Actress. She was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Actress in a Musical and performed the Oscar-nominated "Hopelessly Devoted to You" at the 1979 Academy Awards.[56]

The film's popularity has endured through the years. It was re-released for its 20th anniversary in 1998[57] and ranked as the second highest-grossing film behind Titanic in its opening weekend.[58] It was re-shown in April 2018 in over 700 American theatres for two days only.[59] The soundtrack is one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time.[60] Following her death in August 2022, AMC announced that the picture would reappear in some of its cinemas over the weekend and that a portion of the proceeds would go to breast cancer research.[61]

Of the film's long-lasting likability, Newton-John contended: "I think the songs are timeless. They're fun and have great energy. The '50s-feel music has always been popular, and it's nostalgic for my generation, and then the young kids are rediscovering it every 10 years or so, it seems. People buying the album was a way for them to remember those feelings of watching the movie and feelings of that time period. I feel very grateful to be a part of this movie that's still loved so much."[55]

Lawsuit against UMG

In June 2006, Newton-John's company ON-J Productions Ltd filed a lawsuit against Universal Music Group (UMG) for $1 million in unpaid royalties from the Grease soundtrack.[62] In 2007, it was announced that she and UMG had reached a "conditional settlement".[63]

New image

In November 1978, she released her next studio album, Totally Hot, which became her first solo top 10 (No. 7) album since Have You Never Been Mellow. Dressed on the cover all in leather, Newton-John capitalised on her character's look that was introduced at the end of Grease; moreover, Totally Hot's singles – "A Little More Love" (No. 3 Pop, No. 94 Country, No. 4 AC), "Deeper Than the Night" (No. 11 Pop, No. 87 Country, No. 4 AC), and the title track (No. 52 Pop) – all demonstrated a more aggressive and uptempo sound for Newton-John.[64] Although the album de-emphasised the country sound, the LP still reached No. 4 on the Country Albums chart. Newton-John released the B-side, "Dancin' 'Round and 'Round", of the "Totally Hot" single to Country radio. The entry peaked at No. 29[65] (as well as No. 82 Pop and No. 25 AC), and it became her last charted solo Country airplay single.[66]

Newton-John meeting Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at a Sydney concert in 1980; with her there is also Roger Woodward and Paul Hogan (in shorts)

Newton-John began 1980 by releasing "I Can't Help It" (No. 12 Pop, No. 8 AC), a duet with Andy Gibb from his After Dark album, and by starring in her third television special, Hollywood Nights. Later that year, she appeared in her first film since Grease when she starred with Gene Kelly and Michael Beck in the musical fantasy Xanadu. Although the film was a critical failure, its soundtrack (No. 4 Pop) was certified double platinum and scored five top 20 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.[67] Newton-John charted with "Magic" (No. 1 Pop, No. 1 AC), "Suddenly" with Cliff Richard (No. 20 Pop, No. 4 AC) and the title song "Xanadu" with the Electric Light Orchestra (No. 8 Pop, No. 2 AC). [ELO also charted with "I'm Alive" (No. 16 Pop, No. 48 AC) and "All Over the World" (No. 13 Pop, No. 46 AC).][68]

"Magic" was Newton-John's biggest pop hit to that point (four weeks at No. 1)[67] and still ranks as the biggest AC hit of her career (five weeks at No. 1). The film has since become a cult classic and the basis for a Broadway show that ran for more than 500 performances beginning in 2007 and was nominated for four Tony Awards including Best Musical.[69]

In 1981, Newton-John released her most successful studio album, the double platinum Physical, which strongly reinforced her image change by showcasing risqué, rock-oriented material. Newton-John explained ..."I just wasn't in the mood for tender ballads. I wanted peppy stuff because that's how I'm feeling."[70] Of the titular cut, Newton-John said ..."Roger Davies was my manager at the time; he played it for me and I knew it was a very catchy song."[71] The title track, written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick, spent ten weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100.[72] This matched the record at that time held by Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" for most weeks spent at No. 1 in the rock era. The single was certified platinum, and it ultimately ranked as the biggest song of the decade. (In 2008, Billboard ranked the song No. 6 among all songs that charted in the 50-year history of the Hot 100.)[73]

"Physical" earned Newton-John her only placement ever on the R&B Singles (No. 28) and Albums (No. 32) charts. The Physical album spawned two more singles, "Make a Move on Me" (No. 5 Pop, No. 6 AC)[74] and "Landslide" (No. 52 Pop).[75]

Newton-John at the opening of a Koala Blue store in 1988

The provocative lyrics of the "Physical" title track prompted two Utah radio stations to ban the single from their playlists.[76] (In 2010, Billboard magazine ranked this as the most popular single ever about sex.)[77] To counter its overtly suggestive tone, Newton-John filmed an exercise-themed video that turned the song into an aerobics anthem and made headbands a fashion accessory outside the gym.[71][78]

She helped pioneer the nascent music video industry by recording a video album for Physical, featuring videos of all the album's tracks and three of her older hits. The video album earned her a fourth Grammy and was aired as an ABC prime-time special, Let's Get Physical,[72] becoming a top-10 Nielsen hit. Newton-John said that "Like everyone, I've got different sides of my personality. I've my dominant self, my need-to-be-dominated self, the sane Olivia and the crazy Olivia. Playing these different characters gave me a chance to show strange parts people haven't seen much."[70]

The success of Physical led to an international tour and the release of her second hits collection, the double-platinum Olivia's Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (No. 16 Pop), which yielded two more top-40 singles: "Heart Attack" (No. 3 Pop)[74] and "Tied Up" (No. 38 Pop). The tour was filmed for her Olivia in Concert television special, which premiered on HBO in January 1983. The special was subsequently released to video, earning Newton-John another Grammy nomination.[79]

Newton-John reteamed with Travolta in 1983 for the critically and commercially unsuccessful Two of a Kind,[80] redeemed by its platinum soundtrack (No. 26 Pop) featuring "Twist of Fate" (No. 5 Pop),[74] "Livin' in Desperate Times" (No. 31 Pop), and a new duet with Travolta, "Take a Chance" (No. 3 AC). Newton-John released another video package, the Grammy-nominated Twist of Fate, featuring videos of her four songs on the Two of a Kind soundtrack and the two new singles from Olivia's Greatest Hits Vol. 2.[81]

That same year Newton-John and Pat Farrar (formerly Pat Carroll) founded Koala Blue.[82][83] The store, originally for Australian imports, evolved into a chain of women's clothing boutiques.[82] The chain was initially successful, but it eventually declared bankruptcy and closed in 1992.[64][82] Newton-John and Farrar later licenced the brand name for a line of Australian wines.[84]

Newton-John at the 1989 Academy Awards

Newton-John, a supporter of Australian rules football Carlton, performed the Australian national anthem at the 1986 VFL Grand Final between Carlton and Hawthorn.[85]

Newton-John's music career cooled again with the release of her next studio album, the gold[86] Soul Kiss (No. 29 Pop),[87] in 1985.[88] The album's only charted single was the title track (No. 20 Pop, No. 20 AC).[88] The video album for Soul Kiss featured only five of the album's ten tracks (concept videos for the album's singles "Soul Kiss" and "Toughen Up" as well as performance videos of the tracks "Culture Shock", "Emotional Tangle" and "The Right Moment").[89]

After a nearly three-year hiatus following the birth of her daughter Chloe in January 1986, Newton-John resumed her recording career with the 1988 album The Rumour. The album was promoted by an HBO special, Olivia Down Under. Its first single, the title track, was written and produced by Elton John. Both the single (No. 62 Pop, No. 33 AC) and the album (No. 67 Pop) faltered commercially[90] as the nearly 40-year-old Newton-John seemed "old" when compared with the teen queens Debbie Gibson and Tiffany ruling the pop charts at that time. (The album was praised by critics as more mature, with Newton-John addressing topics such as AIDS ("Love and Let Live"), the environment and single-parent households.)[91]

The second single, "Can't We Talk It Over in Bed", did not chart, but was released in 1989 by Grayson Hugh, the song's arranger, and became a top-20 pop hit as "Talk It Over".[92]

Motherhood, cancer and advocacy

In September 1989, Newton-John released her self-described "self-indulgent" album, Warm and Tender, which reunited her with producer John Farrar, absent from her previous LP, and also marked a return to a more wholesome image of herself. Inspired by her daughter, who appeared on the cover, the album featured lullabies and love songs for parents and their children.[64] This album, the last one produced by Farrar, also failed to revive her recording career, as the disc reached only No. 124 Pop.[93]

Newton-John was primed for another comeback in 1992 when she compiled her third hits collection, Back to Basics: The Essential Collection 1971–1992, and planned her first tour since her Physical trek ten years earlier. Shortly after the album's release, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer, forcing her to cancel all publicity for the album, including the tour. She received her diagnosis the same weekend her father died.[94] Newton-John recovered[95] and later became an advocate for breast cancer research and other health issues. She was a product spokesperson for the Liv-Kit, a breast self-examination product. She was also partial owner of the Gaia Retreat and Spa in Byron Bay, New South Wales.[96]

Newton-John's advocacy for health issues was presaged by her prior involvement with many humanitarian causes. Newton-John cancelled a 1978 concert tour of Japan to protest the slaughter of dolphins caught in tuna fishing nets.[97] She subsequently rescheduled the tour when the Japanese government assured her that the practice was being curbed.[98] Her concern for these "beautifully evolved creatures" (as she called them in the Warm and Tender liner notes) is also expressed in the 1981 self-penned piece, "The Promise (the Dolphin Song)", described as "one of the most tender, heartfelt vocals of the singer's career."[98] Newton-John said that "The Promise" (from Physical) was inspired by (and even channelled by) dolphins she met at Sea Life Park in Hawaii and attested: "It was strange. The morning after I was in the pools, I woke up and the words and melody were in my head. I think it was a gift from them."[70]

She was a performer on the 1979 Music for UNICEF Concert for the UN's International Year of the Child televised worldwide. During the concert, artists performed songs for which they donated their royalties, some in perpetuity, to benefit the cause. She was appointed a Goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Environment Programme.[99]

In 1991, she became the National Spokesperson for the Colette Chuda Environmental Fund/CHEC (Children's Health Environmental Coalition)[100] following the death from Wilms' tumour of five-year-old Colette Chuda, daughter of Newton-John's friend Nancy Chuda.[101]

Newton-John's cancer diagnosis also affected the type of music she recorded. In 1994, she released Gaia: One Woman's Journey, which chronicled her ordeal. Co-produced by Newton-John for ONJ Productions, Gaia was originally issued by Festival in Australia but also distributed by various independent labels in Japan and Europe. In 2002, there was an American distribution by Hip-O Records, and a subsequent re-release in 2012 by Green Hill featured an alternative cover photo.[102][103] Gaia was the first album on which Newton-John wrote all the music and lyrics herself, and this endeavour encouraged her to become more active as a songwriter thereafter. The single "No Matter What You Do" entered the Australian top 40, and the second single, the environmentally themed "Don't Cut Me Down", was also used in the film It's My Party. The Latin-fuelled "Not Gonna Give into It" eventually became heavily showcased in concert performance; "The Way of Love" was featured in the telefilm A Christmas Romance,[104] and "Trust Yourself" was incorporated into both the TV-movie The Wilde Girls[105] and the theatrical flick Sordid Lives.[106]

Newton-John was listed as president of the Isle of Man Basking shark Society between 1998 and 2005.[107]

In 2005, she released Stronger Than Before, sold exclusively in the United States by Hallmark. This was her second exclusive album for Hallmark Cards after her successful first Christmas album Tis the Season with Vince Gill five years earlier. Proceeds from the album's sales benefited breast cancer research. The album featured the song "Phenomenal Woman" based on the poem by Maya Angelou that featured guest vocals from Diahann Carroll, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Delta Goodrem, Amy Holland, Patti LaBelle and Mindy Smith – all survivors of or affected by cancer.[108]

The following year, Newton-John released a healing CD, Grace and Gratitude.[109] The album was sold exclusively by Walgreens,[110] also to benefit various charities including Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization. The CD was the "heart" of their Body — Heart — Spirit Wellness Collection, which also featured a re-branded Liv-Kit and breast-health dietary supplements. She re-recorded some tracks from Grace and Gratitude in 2010 and re-released the album as Grace and Gratitude Renewed on the Green Hill music label. The Renewed CD includes a new track, "Help Me to Heal", not featured on the original album.[111]

In 2008, she raised funds to help build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. She led a three-week, 228 km walk along the Great Wall of China during April, joined by various celebrities and cancer survivors throughout her trek. The walk symbolised the steps cancer patients must take on their road to recovery.[112]

She released a companion CD, A Celebration in Song, the following month in Australia and later worldwide,[113] featuring new and previously recorded duets by "Olivia Newton-John & Friends", including Jann Arden, Jimmy Barnes, John Farrar, Barry Gibb, Delta Goodrem, Sun Ho, Richard Marx, Cliff Richard, Melinda Schneider, Amy Sky, and Keith Urban.[114] In 2016, Newton-John re-teamed with Amy Sky and Beth Nielsen Chapman to form a trio for the album Liv On.[115]

Newton-John was featured in UniGlobe Entertainment's breast cancer docu-drama, 1 a Minute, released in October 2010.[116] The documentary was made by actress Namrata Singh Gujral and featured other celebrities who had survived breast cancer or who were affected by the disease. During the same month, Bluewater Productions released a comic book featuring Newton-John to coincide with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.[117]

Later career

Newton-John continued to record and perform pop-oriented music as well. In 1998, she returned to Nashville to record Back with a Heart (No. 59 Pop).[57] The album returned her to the top 10 (No. 9) on the Country Albums chart. Its first single was a re-recording of "I Honestly Love You" produced by David Foster and featuring Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds on background vocals[57] that charted on the Pop (No. 67) and AC (No. 18) charts. Country radio dismissed the song, though it did peak at No. 16 on the Country Sales chart. The album track, "Love Is a Gift", won Newton-John a 1999 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Song after being featured on the daytime serial, As the World Turns.[118]

Newton-John and Stephan Elliott at the premiere of A Few Best Men in Sydney, 2012

During October–December 1998, Newton-John, John Farnham and Anthony Warlow performed in The Main Event Tour.[119][120] The album Highlights from The Main Event peaked at No. 1 in December,[121] was certified 4× platinum,[122] won an ARIA Award for Highest Selling Australian CD at the 1999 Awards[123] and was also nominated for Best Adult Contemporary Album.[124] For the 2000 Summer Olympics, Newton-John and Farnham re-teamed to perform "Dare to Dream" during the Parade of Nations at the Opening Ceremony.[125] Broadcast of the ceremony was viewed by an estimated 3.5 billion people around the world.[126]

In December 1998, following a hiatus of about 16 years, Newton-John also resumed touring by herself and in 2000 released a solo CD, One Woman's Live Journey, her first live album since 1981's Love Performance.[127][128]

Newton-John's subsequent secular albums were released primarily in Australia. In 2002, Newton-John released (2), a duets album featuring mostly Australian artists (Tina Arena, Darren Hayes, Jimmy Little, Johnny O'Keefe, Billy Thorpe, Keith Urban) as well as a "duet" with the deceased Peter Allen. In addition, (2) offered a hidden 12th track, a samba version of "Physical", which Newton-John later performed occasionally in concert instead of the more rock-style original. (2)'s 2004 Japanese release includes the bonus track "Let It Be Me", a duet with Cliff Richard, with whom she had previously been coupled on "Suddenly" and Songs from Heathcliff.[129][130]

In 2002, Newton-John was also inducted into Australia's ARIA Hall of Fame.[131]

Produced by Phil Ramone and recorded at the Indigo Recording Studios in Malibu for ONJ Productions, Indigo: Women of Song was released in October 2004 in Australia. The tribute album featured Newton-John covering songs by artists such as Joan Baez, the Carpenters, Doris Day, Nina Simone, Minnie Riperton and others. Newton-John dedicated the album to her mother, who had died the previous year.[132] Indigo was subsequently released in the UK in April 2005 and in Japan in March 2006. A re-branded and re-sequenced version called Portraits: A Tribute to Great Women of Song was eventually issued in the United States in 2011.

Newton-John also released several Christmas albums. In 2000, she teamed with Vince Gill and the London Symphony Orchestra for 'Tis the Season sold exclusively through Hallmark. The following year, she released The Christmas Collection, which compiled seasonal music previously recorded for her Hallmark Christmas album, her appearance on Kenny Loggins' 1999 TNN Christmas special and her contributions to the Mother and Child and Spirit of Christmas multi-artist collections. (Green Hill Records re-released this album with different artwork in 2010.) In 2007, she re-teamed with her Grace and Gratitude producer, Amy Sky, for Christmas Wish (No. 187 Pop) which was sold exclusively by Target in its first year of release.[133]

Newton-John acted occasionally since Two of a Kind. She appeared in a supporting role in the 1996 AIDS drama, It's My Party. In 2000, she appeared in a dramatically different role as Bitsy Mae Harling, a bi-sexual ex-con country singer, in Del Shores' Sordid Lives.[125] Newton-John reprised her role for Sordid Lives: The Series which aired one season on the LOGO television network. The series featured five original songs written and composed by Newton-John specifically for the show.[134] In 2010, Newton-John starred in the film Score: A Hockey Musical, released in Canada.[135] Newton-John portrayed Hope Gordon, the mother of a home-schooled hockey prodigy. The film opened the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.[136]

Newton-John's television work included starring in two Christmas films, A Mom for Christmas (1990)[137] and A Christmas Romance (1994) – both top 10 Nielsen hits. Her daughter, Chloe, starred as one of her children in both A Christmas Romance and in the 2001 Showtime film The Wilde Girls. Newton-John guest-starred as herself in the sitcoms Ned and Stacey, Murphy Brown, and Bette, and made two appearances as herself on Glee.[138]

Newton-John, performing at the Sydney State Theatre in September 2008

In 2008, Newton-John took part in the BBC Wales program Coming Home about her Welsh family history. Also, in 2008, Newton-John joined Anne Murray on Murray's last album, titled Duets: Friends & Legends. Newton-John sang Gordon Lightfoot's hit, "Cotton Jenny", with Murray.[139]

For her first Glee appearance, Newton-John recreated her "Physical" video with series regular Jane Lynch.[140][141] The performance was released as a digital single which peaked at number 89 on the Billboard Hot 100 in May 2010.[142] In Australia, Newton-John hosted the animal and nature series Wild Life[143][144] and guest-starred as Joanna on two episodes of the Australian series The Man From Snowy River.[145][146][147]

Newton-John released another concert DVD, Olivia Newton-John and the Sydney Symphony: Live at the Sydney Opera House and a companion CD, her third live album titled Olivia's Live Hits.[148][149] An edited version of the DVD premiered on PBS station, WLIW (Garden City, New York), in October 2007.[150]

In January 2011, Newton-John began filming the comedy A Few Best Men in Australia with director Stephan Elliott, in the role of mother of the bride. The groom is played by Xavier Samuel.[151]


Newton-John was actively touring and doing concerts from 2012 to 2017 and also performed a handful of shows in 2018.[152][153] Her dates for A Summer Night with Olivia Newton-John even included stops in Asia and Canada and culminated in a rare concert appearance in London in 2013. Her March 2013 UK trek also encompassed Bournemouth, Brighton, Birmingham, Manchester and Cardiff, Wales.[154]

In November 2012, Newton-John teamed with John Travolta to make the charity album This Christmas, in support of The Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre and the Jett Travolta Foundation. Artists featured on the album include: Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Chick Corea, Kenny G, Tony Bennett, Cliff Richard and the Count Basie Orchestra.[155]

A 2013 residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas was postponed due to the May 2013 death of her elder sister, Rona (aged 72), from a brain tumour. Newton-John resumed performing, doing 45 shows beginning in April 2014.[156][157][158][159] Along with the Vegas shows, Newton-John released a new EP in April 2014 entitled Hotel Sessions, which consisted of seven tracks of unreleased demos that were recorded between 2002 and 2011 with her nephew Brett Goldsmith. The CD contains a cover of "Broken Wings" as well as the popular-with-fans original "Best of My Love", which had leaked on the internet many years prior.[160]

Her Vegas stay was eventually extended beyond August 2014,[161][162][163] and her Summer Nights residency finished in December 2016 after 175 shows.[164] Her successful three-year run even prompted a fourth live album, Summer Nights: Live in Las Vegas (2015). In 2015, Newton-John also reunited with John Farnham for a joint venture called Two Strong Hearts Live.[165][166]

Newton-John performing at Viña 2017

In 2015, Newton-John was a guest judge on an episode of RuPaul's Drag Race. That same year, she scored her first number-one single on Billboard's Dance Club Songs chart with "You Have to Believe" with daughter Chloe and producer Dave Audé. The song was a re-imagining of her 1980 single "Magic", which she noted was to celebrate both the 35th anniversary of Xanadu and as a dedication to her daughter. About the latter, Newton-John stated "I met Chloe's dad on the set of Xanadu, so, without that film, Chloe wouldn't be here. She was the real 'magic' that came out of that film!"[167] The song became the first mother-daughter single to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart.[168]

In 2015, Newton-John was inducted into the Music Victoria Hall of Fame.[169]

In 2017, she collaborated with two North American singer-songwriters, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky, on a joint concert tour entitled Liv On and produced a CD by the same name.[170]

On 7 May 2019, Newton-John's elder brother Hugh, a doctor, died at age 80;[171] his death left Newton-John as the sole surviving sibling.

In recognition for "her work as an entertainer and philanthropist", she was bestowed Australia's highest honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, in June 2019.[172]

In December 2019, Newton-John and Travolta also re-teamed for three live "Meet 'n' Grease"[173] sing-along events in the Florida cities of Tampa, West Palm Beach and Jacksonville.[174] Subsequently, a sing-along re-broadcast of Grease aired on CBS television.[175]

In February 2020, Newton-John appeared at the Fire Fight Australia charity event. This was her final public performance.[176]

In January 2021, Newton-John released her final single, "Window in the Wall", a duet about unity which she recorded with her daughter Chloe Lattanzi. The music video for the song peaked at No. 1 on the iTunes pop music video chart the week of its release.[177][178]

In the media

In 2019, it was announced that Newton-John was among hundreds of artists whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[179]

On 2 November 2019, Julien's Auctions auctioned hundreds of memorabilia items from Newton-John's career. The sale raised $2.4 million. Newton-John's Grease outfit garnered $405,700; her pants and jacket were purchased separately by two different billionaires. Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, bought Newton-John's black skintight pants from Grease for $162,000.[180] The anonymous buyer who acquired her famous Grease leather jacket for $243,200 (£185,000) returned the item to her and said: "It should not sit in a billionaire's closet for country-club bragging rights [...] The odds of beating a recurring cancer using the newest emerging therapies is a thousandfold greater than someone appearing out of the blue, buying your most famous and cherished icon, and returning it to you." All proceeds were donated to her cancer and wellness research centre in Australia.[181][182][183]

Personal life


In the mid-sixties, she dated Australian actor and singer, Ian Turpie, her co-star in the 1965 musical film Funny Things Happen Down Under.[21][184] They met in late 1962 when Turpie attended the coffee shop where Newton-John's group Sol Four performed.[25] The relationship continued until Newton-John returned to England in 1966.[25]

In 1968, Newton-John was engaged to but never married Bruce Welch, one of her early producers and co-writer of her hit "Please Mr. Please".[185] In 1972, Newton-John ended her relationship with Welch, who subsequently attempted suicide.[185]

In 1973, while vacationing on the French Riviera, Newton-John met British businessman Lee Kramer, who became both her new boyfriend and manager.[186] Newton-John lived with Kramer on and off and they stayed a couple until 1979; she called their turbulent pairing "one long breakup".[70][187] Kramer subsequently returned to England and married. He also managed vocalist Krishna Das. Kramer died in 2017.[188]

Newton-John married her long-time partner, actor Matt Lattanzi, in December 1984.[189] The couple had met four years earlier while filming Xanadu. They divorced in 1995. According to People magazine, people close to the couple cited the disparity between her spiritual interests and his more earthly ones as a key factor in the dissolution. The couple remained friends. Their daughter, Chloe Rose, was born in January 1986.[125]

Newton-John met gaffer/cameraman Patrick McDermott a year after her 1995 divorce from Matt Lattanzi. The couple dated on and off for nine years. McDermott disappeared following a 2005 fishing trip off the Californian coast.[190] Newton-John was in Australia at her Gaia Retreat & Spa at the time of McDermott's disappearance.[191] A United States Coast Guard investigation, based on then-available evidence and released in 2008, "suggest[ed] McDermott was lost at sea",[192][193] with a friend telling investigators McDermott had appeared sad though not despondent after their breakup.[194] In April 2010, a private investigator, hired by an American television program, claimed that McDermott is alive and had faked his death for a life insurance payout – but did not provide proof beyond their own statement that they were confident.[195] Unsubstantiated claims have been made, particularly in Australian tabloids, that McDermott is living in Mexico.[196]

Newton-John married John Easterling, founder and president of the Amazon Herb Company, in an Incan spiritual ceremony in Peru on 21 June 2008, followed by a legal ceremony nine days later (30 June 2008) on Jupiter Island, Florida.[197]

Residences and citizenship

Although raised in Australia, she remained a British subject through her childhood and did not formally become an Australian citizen until 1981 with an application that was expedited by then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser.[198]

After relocating to America in 1975, Newton-John set up residence in Malibu, California, where for 40 years she owned several properties, including a horse ranch and beach houses.[199][200]

In June 2009, Newton-John and her second husband John Easterling purchased a new $4.1 million home in Jupiter Inlet, Florida.[201] In 2013, a contractor named Christopher Pariseleti committed suicide on the estate, which at the time was up for sale.[202] Following the death on the premises, the property lingered on and off the market for two years but was eventually sold in 2015 to a Swedish advertising executive for $5.1 million.[203]

In 2015, the couple purchased a $5.3 million, 12-acre horse ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley outside Santa Barbara. It was offered for sale in 2019[204] but not sold, and she was living there at the time of her death.

In 2019, Newton-John sold her 187-acre Australian farm, which she had owned for nearly 40 years and is located near Byron Bay in New South Wales.[205] The Dalwood estate sold for $4.6 million; in 1980, Newton-John had paid $622,000 for the property, which had additional land adjoined in both 1983 and in 2002.[206]

When asked in 2017 whether she considered herself to be a British, Australian or American citizen, she said, "I am still Australian."[207]

Illness and death

In May 2017, it was announced that Newton-John's breast cancer had returned and metastasised to her lower back.[208] Her back pains had initially been diagnosed as sciatica.[209] She subsequently revealed this was actually her third bout with breast cancer, as she had a recurrence of the disease in 2013 in addition to her initial 1992 diagnosis.[210] With the 2017 recurrence, the cancer had spread to her bones and progressed to stage IV.[211] Newton-John experienced significant pain from the metastatic bone lesions and had spoken of using cannabis oil to ease her pain. She was an advocate for the use of medical cannabis;[212] her daughter Chloe owns a cannabis farm in Oregon.[210]

On 8 August 2022, Newton-John died from cancer at her home in the Santa Ynez Valley of California, at the age of 73.[213][214] Tributes were paid by John Travolta, Barbra Streisand, Anthony Albanese, and many other celebrities.[215][216] The State of Victoria offered to hold a state funeral for Newton-John, which her family has accepted, though they plan to have her body interred at her ranch in California.[217] As a mark of respect, many places in Melbourne and Sydney lit up many of their landmarks.[218]

Awards and honours




Year Title Role Notes
1965 Funny Things Happen Down Under Olivia [269]
1970 Toomorrow Liv [270]
1972 The Case Olivia TV movie
1978 Grease Sandy Olsson [271]
1980 Xanadu Kira [271]
1983 Two of a Kind Debbie Wylder [271]
1988 She's Having a Baby Herself Uncredited[272]
1990 A Mom for Christmas Amy Miller Television film[271]
1994 A Christmas Romance Julia Stonecypher Television film[271]
1996 It's My Party Lina Bingham [273]
2000 Sordid Lives Bitsy Mae Harling [271]
2001 The Wilde Girls Jasmine Wilde Television film[271]
2010 1 a Minute Herself [274]
2010 Score: A Hockey Musical Hope Gordon [271]
2011 A Few Best Men Barbara Ramme [271]
2017 Sharknado 5: Global Swarming Orion Television film[271]
2020 The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee Olivia [271]


Year Title Role Notes
1963 New Faces Olivia Australian TV series
1963 The Kevin Dennis Auditions Olivia Australian TV series
1964 Sunnyside Up Olivia Australian TV series
1964 Teen Scene Olivia Australian TV series
1964;1965 Sing, Sing, Sing Olivia Australian TV series
1964 The Kevin Dennis Show Olivia Australian TV series
1964 Teentime Ten Olivia Australian TV series
1964-1965 The Happy Show Olivia - Host:Lovely Livvy Australian TV series
1965 Boomeride Olivia Australian TV series
1965-1966 The Go!! Show Olivia Australian TV series
1965 Kommotion Olivia Australian TV series
1965;1966 Time For Terry Olivia Australian TV series
1966 Dick Emery Show Olivia BBC TV series UK
1967 Pat And Olivia Olivia Australian TV special
1967 News Conference Olivia Australian TV series
1967 The Young Entertainers Olivia Australian TV series
1968 Bandstand Olivia Australian TV series
1969 ABC News Report Olivia Australian TV series
1972 The Case Herself BBC special with Cliff Richard & Tim Brooke-Taylor[275][276][277]
1974 Eurovision Song Contest Herself United Kingdom Entry: 4th Place[278][279]
1976 A Special Olivia Newton-John Herself ABC special[280][281]
1977 Only Olivia Herself BBC special[282][283]
1978 Olivia Herself ABC special (Olivia! Guests Abba and Andy Gibb)[284][285][286][287]
1980 Hollywood Nights Herself ABC special[288][289][290]
1982 Let's Get Physical Herself ABC special[291][292]
Saturday Night Live Herself – Host Also musical guest[271]
Olivia in Concert Herself HBO special[293][294]
1982 Olivia Herself Australian TV Special
1988 Olivia Down Under Herself HBO special[295]
1990 Timeless Tales from Hallmark Herself – Host 6 episodes[296][297]
1995 The Man from Snowy River Joanna Walker Recurring role (3 episodes)[298][299][300]
Ned and Stacey Herself Episode: "Reality Check"[301][302][303]
Is This Your Life? Herself Extended interview with Andrew Neil on Channel 4 in the UK[304]
1997 Tracey Takes On... Herself Episode: "Childhood"[305]
Murphy Brown Herself Episode: "I Hear a Symphony"[271][306][307][308]
2001 Bette Herself Episode: "The Invisible Mom"[271][309][310][311]
2002 A Night with Olivia Herself Channel 9 special[312]
2003 Live in Japan 2003 Herself BS-Hi special[313]
2003/07 American Idol Herself – Guest Judge 3 episodes[314]
2004 This Is Your Life Herself Australian TV series
2005 Olivia Newton-John Gold Herself Australian TV special
2008 Sordid Lives: The Series Bitsy Mae Harling Supporting role (12 episodes)[271]
2009 Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List Herself Episode: "Fly the Super Gay Skies"[315]
2010 Glee Herself Episodes: "Bad Reputation", "Journey to Regionals"[271][316][317][318][319]
2015 RuPaul's Drag Race Herself – Guest Judge Episode: "Glamazonian Airways"[271]
Dancing with the Stars Herself – Guest Judge Episode: "Famous Dances Night"[320]




Residency show

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Further reading

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by UK in the Eurovision Song Contest
Succeeded by


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