Olivia Newton-John (born 26 September 1948) is an Australian singer and actress who most people know from her signature role in "Grease." However, there is a lot more to Olivia than that smash musical. Let's find out more about this lovely Aussie.
Olivia was born in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. While she later moved to Australia and indeed spends much time there now, England is her true home.
|Olivia came to represent the youth culture in the late 1970s.|
Olivia's mother Irene was born in Berlin, German, and Irene was the eldest daughter of famous physicist Max Born. In fact, her maiden name was Irene Born.
|Olivia filming the "Physical" video.|
Olivia's sister Rona was married to "Grease" actor Jeff Conaway. Jeff had longstanding health issues and passed away in 2011.
Olivia's father was involved in the Enigma code project of World War II. He achieved some fame as the officer who took Rudolph Hess into custody after his solo flight to England on 10 May 1941.
Olivia moved from England to Australia in 1954, when she was six. She spent the next decade in Australia, giving rise to the enduring legend that she is a native Australian. Olivia has played into this misconception throughout her life and probably genuinely thinks of herself as Australian by this point.
|Olivia with Michael Beck, her co-star in "Xanadu" (1980).|
A precocious singer, Olivia formed an all-girl singing group with some classmates in the early '60s. They performed in coffee shops owned by her brother-in-law.
A few local radio and television appearances soon followed, such as "The Happy Show" and "Go Show."
Olivia met John Farrar and Pat Carroll on Go Show. They would both figure prominently in her career.
|The fabled days of the hiphuggers.|
Olivia wound up back in England after she won a talent contest on the "Sing, Sing, Sing" television program.
|Olivia with John Travolta in "Grease."|
Olivia almost returned to Australia out of loneliness. However, she decided to stay when her pal Pat Carroll joined her there.
Olivia and Pat formed a duet, "Pat and Olivia."
Pat eventually returned to Australia, but by then Olivia was more comfortable and decided to stay in England.
At loose ends, Olivia then joined "Toomorrow," a girls group formed by rock empresario Don Kirshner (who had formed the Monkees). The idea was to create a synthetic girl group like the Monkees. This is an enduring trick in the music business that continues into the 2000s, with groups such as Little Mix adopting the same tactic.
During this time, Olivia became a friend of the Shadows, the group fronted by Cliff Richard, and almost married guitarist Bruce Welch.
The group Toomorrow starred in a film named after the group. It was not a success, and it is hard to find copies of the film today. The group then disbanded.
Once again on her own, but now with experience and demos in her back pocket, Olivia turned to solo recordings. Her first single was Bob Dylan's "If Not For You." It was a big hit, and the album reaching No. 14 on the Australian pop chart at the end of 1971 while the single topped out at No. 25 in the United States. "If Not For You" also began Olivia's absolutely otherworldly success on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart by topping it. It was clear right from the start that Americans had an affinity for the sincere-sounding Australian transplant from England.
Olivia's next single was "Banks of the Ohio," a Top 10 hit in Great Britain and Australia.
Olivia was on Cliff Richards' weekly show, "It's Cliff Richard," and also made a telefilm with him called "The Case."
A little-known fact is that the same year that ABBA won the famous Eurovision contest of 1974 with "Waterloo," Olivia also entered. She sang "Long Live Love." Reflecting her actual background, and not her adopted one, Olivia represented the UK and not Australia. As such, Olivia was the "hometown favorite," as the finals were held in Brighton Beach, England that year. Despite being considered a favorite by many, came in fourth. ABBA went on to global success, but somewhat ironically became most popular in Australia and had relatively little success in the U.S., while Olivia dominated in the U.S. but had lesser success elsewhere.
Olivia then released an album of the Eurovision contest songs, entitled "If You Love Me, Let Me Know." It was a huge breakthrough for Olivia, reaching No. 5 on the pop charts and No. 2 on the country charts. The album topped both the US and Canadian charts.
Olivia then had a smash No. 1 pop hit with "I Honestly Love You" in 1974. It also topped the Adult Contemporary chart, beginning a long string of adult contemporary No. 1 hits for her.
At this point, nobody could decide if Olivia was a country star or a pop star. This caused a lot of controversy in the country music field, but pop fans liked her, too. She was one of the first true crossover artists (along with Glen Campbell).
Olivia released another country album despite the controversy.
At this point, Olivia left the UK after about a decade of living there (again) and moved to the United States in 1975.
While the controversy raged over whether Olivia was more country or pop, she actually had her greatest success on the Adult Contemporary charts. She racked up ten No. 1 songs on that chart, including a record seven in a row beginning with "I Honestly Love You."
Her string of number ones on the AC chart actually was eight if you include her prominent backup vocals (more a duet) on John Denver's "Fly Away."
By now, Olivia was a huge international star. She had her own television special, "A Special Olivia Newton-John," in November 1976.
Olivia released her first compilation, "Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits," in 1977. Her string of success was wearing thin, though, and it only hit No. 13 on the charts. While still wildly successful, Olivia needed a new image.
With her career in a bit of a slump, Olivia used her Australian connections to snag a role in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Grease." It was an odd choice of casting, because the character of Sandy was not Australian and was, well, much younger than Olivia, who was around 30 years old but playing a high school student. However, the casting worked.
The film's astronomical success (it became the top box office hit of 1978 and the most popular musical of all time) rejuvenated Olivia's career. This began a new run of success for her entirely apart from her earlier phenomenal run.
Grease's soundtrack spent twelve weeks at No. 1.
Olivia's old pal John Farrar wrote two of the most popular songs on the "Grease" soundtrack, "You're the One That I Want" and "Hopelessly Devoted to You." The first went to No. 1, the second to No. 3.
The former song was sung with co-star John Travolta, who thus got a number one hit himself.
For her performance in "Grease," Olivia was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical and received a People's Choice Award for Favourite Film Actress. The role was altered for her to make her character Sandy an Australian exchange student - though Olivia had spent more time in England than Australia.
Olivia later sued for unpaid royalties from the soundtrack.
Suddenly, sweet, innocent girl Olivia became known in the public eye as the leather-clad vixen from the film's conclusion. It was the kind of transformation from innocent to experienced, accepted by the public, that former child stars usually have to dream about, but for Olivia, it was handed to her on a silver platter.
This gave Olivia a certain freedom to pursue other roles that were a bit more mature. The first of these was "Xanadu" (1980), a fabled disaster of a film.
"Xanadu" is legendary in Hollywood circles as representing the height of the disco era. It was a troubled production that spawned several hit songs and an odd dance number by Olivia with screen legend Gene Kelly. It has become a true cult hit and remains a guilty pleasure for many.
Olivia's new sexier image extended to her recordings, which included songs such as "A Little More Love" and "Make A Move On Me" that had an edge.
"Xanadu" is also legendary for being a bomb, but in fact it did well financially over time for the studio. In fact, many classics (including many treasured Disney animated feature films) were failures at the box office at first, and only later made money. Prime examples are "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) and "Pinocchio" (1939).
"Xanadu" is one of my personal favourite films, and in fact is not as dated as many other films from its period due to its exquisite animation sequence, the presence of legendary dancer Gene Kelly, and some outstanding pop tunes that remain popular to this day (such as Farrar's "Magic," which Olivia sang in (Dave Audé's 2015 single "You Have to Believe" and hit No. 1 on the U.S. dance chart).
After the humongous success of "Grease" and the mixed reception of "Xanadu," Olivia had her greatest album success in 1981 with "Physical."
This inaugurated Olivia's "headband" phase, which elicits very mixed reactions among fans. Apparently, the idea came from the workout craze of the time, but many didn't like the affectation and thought it looked silly. Still, you can't argue with success.
The title song from the "Physical" album spent a phenomenal ten weeks at No. 1 on the US pop charts, and was one of the top ten hits of the entire decade of the 1980s.
"Magic" was another huge hit for Olivia, off the "Xanadu" soundtrack and written by her friend John Farrar.
"Physical" ostensibly was about working out, but the suggestive lyrics caused it to be banned here and there.
At the peak of fame, Olivia then made another film with John Travolta, "Two of a Kind." Unfortunately, the public didn't like it, though it produced another hit single, "Twist of Fate."
Olivia was still friends with Pat Carroll, and formed a company with her called "Koala Blue." It featured Australian imports, mostly women's fashions.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much demand for Australian women's fashions, and the company eventually went bankrupt.
Olivia married Matt Lattanzi, who had been one of her backup dancers on "Xanadu," in December 1984. They remained married for a full decade.
Despite the divorce of Olivia and Lattanzi, the union produced Chloe Lattanzi.
Chloe was the light of Olivia's life, but Chloe has had a lot of difficulty escaping the enormity of Olivia's shadow, with many well-publicized issues.
After having Chloe, Olivia never really got her musical career back on track, though she had no difficulty drawing big audiences during her tours.
A string of mediocre studio albums followed in the 1990s, with very few hits.
Olivia's difficulties, however, only really began when she was diagnosed with cancer in the early 1990s. She overcame it, and in gratitude funded a cancer center. Unfortunately, the cancer returned in 2017.
Olivia also became an advocate of protecting dolphins.
She became a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Programme.
Olivia began writing her own songs, some of which found their way on to her album "Gaia."
Olivia tried to re-start her country career in the late '90s, with middling success. One of her songs, though, did win a daytime Emmy after it appeared on "As the World Turns."
While not having many big hits, Olivia was still singing and recording during the 1990s and 2000s. She also embarked on several tours, and her fans loved seeing her.
She also starred in Del Shores' television show "Sordid Lives." Olivia sang some original songs that Olivia composed herself.
Around this time, Olivia embarked on a relationship with gaffer/cameraman Patrick McDermott. The affair lasted for almost a decade, until McDermott mysteriously disappeared at sea.
Daughter Chloe had some well-publicized health problems in the 2000s, suffering from anorexia.
Chloe and Olivia got through their difficulties, and managed to hit No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Club Play chart in 2015 with their duet "You Have to Believe," a novelty song produced by Dave Aude.
"You Have to Believe" mostly featured Olivia singing and Chloe strutting about in a short skirt. They were both featured performers.
Olivia has been performing in Las Vegas in recent years, and the duet with her daughter featured some local Las Vegas celebrity impersonators.
Overall, Olivia has over 25 Top 40 singles. Over half of them went Top 10.
Trivia: if you listen closely to her single "If Not For You," you can hear Olivia's dog knock over the microphone stand.
Olivia is included in VH1's 100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll. Apparently, they decided she wasn't a country singer.
Nowadays, Olivia splits her time between the US and Australia.
Olivia was awarded an O.B.E. (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the 1979 Queen's New Years Honours List for her services to the performing arts.
|Olivia with Elton John (no relation) at the "Grease" premiere party.|
Olivia also earned the A.O.(Officer of the Order of Australia) in the 2006 Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to the entertainment industry as a singer and actor, and to the community through organizations supporting breast cancer treatment, education, training and research, and the environment.
Olivia continues to record and occasionally appear in films. She is sure to remain a legendary star for as long as she chooses to perform.