Legendary actor and singer Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of 73, according to a statement posted by her husband, John Easterling.
Newton-John had been a star of the first magnitude for half a century, having turned in stellar performances in films like as Grease that helped define the exuberant pop-music scene of the 1970s and early 1980s. Newton-John is ranked by many music critics as the leading female voice of the 1970s, when she routinely topped the pop-singles chart, including “You’re the One That I Want,” her duet with Travolta in Grease. It was followed in 1981 by “Physical,” which became the biggest hit of her career.
No cause of death was given, but Newton-John had been suffering from recurring breast cancer in recent years, as noted by Easterling, who wrote: “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with [the disease]. 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 an interview with the Today show in 2021, the performer credited the cannabis grown by her husband as an important resource for her in managing her illness.
As news of the star’s passing spread, tributes from fans and colleagues began pouring in from around the globe, including this heartfelt farewell from John Travolta, her co-star in Grease: “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. 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!”
Born in Cambridge, England in 1948, Newton-John was the granddaughter of Nobel-winning physicist Max Born. She moved to Australia as a child but returned to England as a teenager thanks to a prize she won on an Australian talent show. She made her movie debut as a 17-year old in 1965, appearing in Funny Things Happen Down Under. Her first vocal hit was with the Bob Dylan-George Harrison song, “If Not for You.” American fans soon got to know her via her singles “Let Me Be There” and “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” both of which reached the Top 10 on the country and pop charts. She remained a promising country singer until her appearance in Grease in 1978, in the role of Sandy Olsson, a 1950s-era bobby soxer.
Though Xanadu, her 1980 film with Gene Kelly, was badly reviewed, her singles “Magic,” “Xanadu,” and “Suddenly” achieved double-platinum status for the soundtrack album.
Newton-John’s final U.S. tour took place in 2017.