Best known as Sandy in the 1978 film musical Grease, Olivia Newton-John is an English-born Australian singer, songwriter and actress. A four-time Grammy winner, Newton-John has had five number one Pop singles on the Billboard HOT 100 and 10 number ones on their Adult Contemporary charts. She’s had two number one albums and sold over 100 million records making her one of the top-selling artists of all time.
Three years ago, she started a residency in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel. Currently, she, along with singers Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky, kick off their LIV-ON Concert Tour (named for the CD they released last October to help those coping with grief and loss) at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on February 11th.
Newton-John has been a long-time animal rights and environmental activist and an advocate for health awareness, particularly breast cancer, which she survived in 1992.
She granted this exclusive interview with The Tolucan Times via telephone from Oregon where she was visiting her daughter, Chloe Rose Lattanzi, also a singer.
How did you spend Chloe’s birthday?
It was raining here yesterday and she’s under the weather so we kind of hung out and watched movies. It’s still raining, windy and cold, but so beautiful.
What a great mom you are to take a detour to visit family immediately before starting your LIV-ON Tour, as well as upcoming tours in England.
Of course, she’s my daughter.
How long have you known Beth and Amy, your new CD mates?
I’ve known Amy probably for 30 years. We met in Los Angeles when she was living there and we wrote some songs together. Beth I have known for probably the same amount of time. We are both cancer survivors and we talked when she was going through it, as she had hers after mine.
How did your mutual project evolve, as I understand Amy lives in Toronto and Beth lives in Nashville?
It evolved out of grief really. I lost my sister Rona (Newton-John; a former Toluca Lake resident) to a brain tumor. It was very sad and shocking and of course I had a lot of grief. I wrote a song for her and I explained to my friends that it was the best way for me to explain my feelings. I asked Amy if she would help me with it. While we were talking about it, I said, ‘You know there’s not much music for people going through grief and loss.’ We talked about creating an album. I thought of Beth, a breast cancer survivor, who wrote an amazing song, ”Sand and Water,” when she lost her husband 15 years ago. Beth was very excited when I called her because she had been doing some grief weekends for people who were grieving. I didn’t even know there was a world like that out there.
We got together and wrote songs and re-recorded other songs we had about healing. The title song was written for my hospital (Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre, in Australia) and is about hope, promise, compassion and moving forward after a loss whether it’s a person, a friend, a job or a pet. There’s a song “Stone in My Pocket.” When you first go through loss and grief you feel like you are carrying a boulder. The grief comes in waves. Sometimes it’s a pebble. Sometimes it’s a grain of sand. But the stone in your pocket will always be with you but you will feel it differently.
Where is home?
Home is Florida with John (Easterling, her husband) and then we spend time in California (she lives outside of L.A.). And I’ve had a place in Australia for something like 43 years.
It seems like you are always on the road.
Yes, thank goodness my husband is a traveler. I’ve always loved to travel and now I have a wonderful marvelous traveling companion to do it with.
Part of your travels (with John) have included your charity walk on The Great Wall of China. With your fear of heights, how did you overcome that?
(Laughs). Thank goodness there are stone walls on each side. You don’t worry about it too much; you’re too busy climbing. It’s very extreme. It’s almost straight up and straight down. It was an amazing experience.
When you were younger you wanted to be a vet and you’ve done so much for healthcare and now you are concentrating your music to help people grieve. Where does your compassion come from?
Probably from suffering. We all suffer. I have been through breast cancer and other pretty hairy things in my life and I’ve always had empathy. I think you are born with that. My mother was a very empathetic person. I get that from her. I have always been too sensitive, particularly with animals. I can’t have any kind of cruelty at all.
What kind of music do you listen to?
We put on a calming channel throughout the house. Sometimes it has no lyrics, just music. I listen to all kinds. I try to keep up with what’s current.
We first met briefly at the opening of “Mama Mia” at the Shubert. How did you enjoy the musical?
It was great fun. Interestingly enough, I worked with ABBA very early on in a television show in America. But we went our separate ways. Just recently I ran into one of the girls to catch up.
When you watch a performance, how do you react? Do you want to be onstage?
No, when I am watching somebody else, I just want to enjoy them. I do enough of it (laughs)! I don’t get to go to many shows because I am usually working.
Do you approach your performances any differently than early in your career?
What I think happens is that you don’t approach it, you just evolve and you change in life. I wouldn’t be bouncing around the same as if I was in my 20’s.
Olivia’s LIV-ON Concert with Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky is February 11th at the Saban Theatre.
Sue Facter writes about the luxury brand. Her work appears in USA Today, Los Angeles Times, The Luxe Daily, Greer’s OC, Woman’s Day Australia, as well as on broadcasts and the web.