Olivia Newton-John, the beloved actor and singer who famously starred in Grease, has died following several years-long battles with breast cancer. The news was confirmed by her husband, John Easterling, in a Facebook post that referred to her as a “symbol of triumphs and hope” and highlighted her inspirational work in researching plant-based medicine for cancer treatments. Newton-John was 73.
Newton-John was born in the United Kingdom in 1948, the daughter of an MI5 officer, and her family moved to Australia when she was young so her father could take a job at a university in Melbourne. She began singing semi-professionally as a teenager, performing in Australia and England with her partner Pat Carroll until Carroll returned to Australia and Newton-John began working on a solo album. In 1971 she released If Not For You, a hit covers album, but her second album failed to make as much of an impact (it wasn’t officially released in the U.S.), and she released a third called Let Me Be There in 1973.
A year later, Newton-John represented the U.K. in the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, where she eventually lost to the Swedish entry—“Waterloo” by an up-and-coming band called ABBA—and a tie-in album called Long Live Love was recut for American audiences to sound more like the country-esque Let Me Be There and released as If You Love Me, Let Me Know. That album featured Newton-John’s iconic “I Honestly Love You” and solidified her status as an international star outside of Australia and the U.K., which led to her getting the starring role in director Randal Kleiser’s movie adaptation of the musical Grease.
Grease, of course, is one of the most famous movie musicals of all time, with Newton-John playing a nice girl named Sandy who falls in love with a supposed bad boy named Danny (played by John Travolta). The film’s soundtrack produced more hit singles for Newton-John, including “You’re The One That I Want,” “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” and “Summer Nights,” and it remains an indelible part of the pop culture landscape.
Post-Grease, Newton-John recalibrated her career and starred in the fantasy musical Xanadu, a critical and commercial flop that nonetheless still possesses a bit of a cult following (partially because of Newton-John’s work on the soundtrack and the fact that Xanadu is the final film role of Gene Kelly). She released Physical in 1981, with the pretty overtly sexual title track (and even more overtly sexual music video) underlining the shift in Newton-John’s artistic sensibilities.
In the early ‘90s, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer and spent the last decades of her life advocating for breast cancer research and other humanitarian causes—while still performing and acting. She released more than a half-dozen albums in the past 20 years alone, including a Christmas album with John Travolta, and she popped up in Glee and one of the Sharknado movies.
Newton-John is survived by her husband and her daughter, singer Chloe Lattanzi.