By Jeff Pfeiffer,
When people hear the name Olivia Newton-John, they may instantly picture the acclaimed blond Aussie singer/songwriter and actress in her most famous acting role, that of Sandy in the 1978 big-screen adaptation of the musical Grease. But that is just one part of what has made her such a beloved star for decades.
Born in England in 1948, Newton-John started on her music career after she won a talent contest in Australia. She released her first album in 1971 and had a string of hit songs in the early ’70s, including “I Honestly Love You” (1974) and “Have You Never Been Mellow” (1975).
A few years later, it was the release of Grease that really shot her career into the stratosphere. Not only did she act in the film, but she also lent her voice to several songs that helped Grease become one of the bestselling movie soundtracks of all time, notably the hits “Summer Nights,” with costar John Travolta and other cast members; the solo “Hopelessly Devoted to You”; and the iconic “You’re the One That I Want” duet with Travolta.
Much as her character Sandy let her hair down in Grease, Newton-John likewise began taking chances with her image and her music in the wake of that film’s success. The cover of her 1978 studio album Totally Hot found the singer, not unlike Sandy, dressed in black leather, and in 1980 she costarred with Gene Kelly in the disco fantasy Xanadu. Critics didn’t take to Xanadu, but it remains a cult favorite, and its soundtrack yielded the Newton-John hits “Magic,” “Suddenly” and the title tune. The following year, the singer released her most successful studio album, Physical, headlined by the less-than-mellow hit title song accompanied by a somewhat risqué early music video.
Some of Newton-John’s most important work over the years has come through activism and advocacy, especially her longtime fight for children’s and animal rights. Health issues have also taken on importance to Newton-John, especially since 1992, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She recovered and became an advocate for breast cancer research, with her passion leading to the creation of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. Although her cancer had been in remission for many years, in May 2017 Newton-John revealed that it had returned and metastasized in her lower back. Despite canceling upcoming concerts to focus on her recovery, she was confident that she would return to the stage — which she has. She currently has a handful of performances slated for this year, much to the delight of her hopelessly devoted fans.
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