Pop and country great Olivia Newton-John Passes

Olivia Newton-John. Photo: Michelle Day

Grammy and CMA award winner Olivia Newton John died at the age of 73, after a long battle with cancer.

Yesterday her husband John Easterling announced her passing on social media. She died at her Southern California ranch on Monday, August 8.

Olivia Newton-John had seven top-10 country hits, including “Let Me Be There” (1973) and “I Honestly Love You” (1974). Newton-John was CMA Vocalist of the Year in 1974. Her pop hit “Hopelessly Devoted to You” (1978) was taken from the soundtrack to her much-loved musical. Fat. “Physical” was number 1 on the pop charts for 10 consecutive weeks in 1981. It has sold over 50 million records worldwide.

Olivia Newton-John was born in England in 1948, but her family moved to Melbourne, Australia when she was five. Her parents divorced four years later and she was raised by her mother. At 14, she began singing with three friends in folk and jazz clubs. A year later, his older sister got him a job on a local TV show.

This led to winning a national talent contest. The price included passage to London and a recording contract. Her first pop single appeared in 1966. In England, she formed the duo Pat & Olivia with singer Pat Carroll. When Newton-john returned to solo singing, Carroll’s husband, John Farrar, became his producer.

His early singles included versions of the American folk song “Banks of the Ohio” and Bob Dylan’s country tune, “If Not for You”. The latter became the title of his 1971 debut album. The record also included versions of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night”.

The executives of her record company decided to market her as a country singer. “Let Me Be There” hit the country top 10 in 1973, went gold, and won him a Grammy Award for Country Music. She followed it with the 10 best-selling gold country hits, consecutively, “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)” and “I Honestly Love You” in 1974. The latter won the Grammy as Record of the Year, plus a pop Grammy. She was named CMA Female Vocalist of the Year.

This created controversy in Nashville. Johnny Paycheck, Billy Walker, Jean Shepard, Bill Anderson, Barbara Mandrell and others objected to Newton-John, John Denver, Marie Osmond, Bonnie Tyler, Pia Zadora and other pop artists being embraced by radio country. Newton-John confessed that when she was told she was being marketed as “country” she had no idea what that meant.

When CMA voters chose her over Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker, the pot boiled over. The dissidents formed an anti-CMA organization called the Association of Country Entertainers (ACE) in protest.

“Have You Never Been Mellow” became another gold disc country hit for the singer in 1975. Olivia Newton-John moved to the United States in 1976 and successfully courted Nashville when she recorded at Music City . The utterly country “Please Mr. Please” went on to become another gold record, and she recorded the works of Nashville songwriters such as Mickey Newbury, Dolly Parton, Rory Bourke and Bob Morrison. She also started writing songs herself.

In 1976, she took Linda Hargrove’s “Let It Shine” to the nation’s top 10. “Every Face Tells a Story” and “Don’t Stop Believin'” also became country hits that year. The latter became the title of his first album recorded in Nashville, as well as his 2018 autobiography.

She was 29 when she was reluctantly cast as the teenage ‘Sandy’ in the 1978 film Fat. It became the most successful musical of all time. “You’re the One That I Want” was a duet with co-star John Travolta that won a Platinum pop record. The soundtrack ballad “Hopelessly Devoted to You” went gold and became his last major country-crossover hit.

She received the prestigious Order of the British Empire in 1979. Thus, she became Dame Olivia Newton-john.

The pop hits “Magic”, “Xanadu” (with the Electric Light Orchestra) and “Suddenly” (with Cliff Richard) were released from the soundtrack to his 1980 film Xanadu. A year later, the platinum-selling “Physical” became an aerobics class staple and the biggest pop hit of his career. Olivia Newton-John’s other pop hits of the 1980s include “Make a Move on Me” (1982), “Heart Attack” (1982), “Twist of Fate” (1983), and “Soul Kiss” (1985). Elton John produced and co-wrote his single “The Rumor” in 1988.

By this time, she had accumulated numerous accolades from the American Music Awards, Academy of Country Music, ASCAP, NARM, People’s Choice Awards, Billboard, Box and World record. It has become a world tourist attraction. Eight of his albums have obtained gold and/or platinum certificates. She earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In 1983-92, she and Pat Carroll Farrar operated Koala Blue, a chain of boutiques selling Australian clothing and other goods. She married actor Matt Lattanzi in late 1984 and they had daughter Chloe in 1986. The couple amicably divorced in 1995.

The star’s commitment to animal welfare and ecological responsibility culminated in her appointment in 1990 as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme. His 1989 album Warm and tender contained lullabies inspired by her daughter. The disc was packaged in recycled cardboard and contained advice on how to help the environment.

Olivia Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. After successful chemotherapy, alternative medicine, partial mastectomy and spirituality, she became a strong advocate for breast cancer awareness. She founded a women’s cancer center in Australia. In 1994, she released the album Gaia: One Woman’s Journeywhich recounts his ordeal.

She resumed recording country music in Nashville in 1997. She co-wrote with Gary Burr, Victoria Shaw, Annie Roboff, Chris Farren, Steve Seskin and other Music Row smiths. His result Back with a heart The CD was released the following year. “Love Is a Gift” from the album won Newton-John a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Song after being featured on the soap opera As the world turns.

She teamed up with Shaw, Garth Brooks, Faith Hill, Bryan White, Billy Dean, Neal McCoy and Michael McDonald on “One Heart at a Time” in 1998. The record was a boon for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

It’s the seasona Christmas album with Vince Gill, was released by Hallmark in 2000. His 2006 album Grace and Gratitude coincided with the release of its line of wellness products for women, both by Walgreen’s. In 2008, she married businessman John Easterling in an Inca ceremony in Peru.

Her cancer returned in 2013, but she still persevered. In 2016, she teamed up in a women’s trio with Beth Nielsen Chapman from Nashville and Amy Sky from Canada. The album was titled live on. All three singer-songwriters were breast cancer survivors. Newton-John returned to Music City to sing for Chapman during the latter’s induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2016.

Olivia Newton-John was diagnosed again in 2018, and this time she found the cancer had metastasized to her back. She retired from performing and sought other forms of treatment. She advocated cannabis therapy; his daughter started a marijuana farm in Oregon.

In addition to her husband, Olivia Newton-john is survived by her daughter Chloe Lattanzi, her sister Sarah, her brother Toby and 15 nieces and nephews. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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