By Amelia Jacob, Film & Television Digital Editor
Yesterday evening, the family of award-winning singer and actress Olivia Newton-John announced that she had passed away, aged 73, at her home in California. The actress had a highly-publicised battle with breast cancer for over 30 years, raising awareness of women’s health issues as well as contributing to animal rights activism and environmentalist pursuits. Her family’s statement highlights her status as a “symbol of triumphs and hope” in the social canon.
Newton-John was born in Cambridge in 1948 but moved to Australia as a child with her family. As a teenager in Melbourne, she embarked on a singing career which eventually metamorphosed into the duo ‘Pat and Olivia’ with singer Pat Carroll. This partnership would take Newton-John all over Europe, finally settling in Britain alone in 1975.
Her prominence on the British music scene also grew exponentially during this time, leading to Newton-John representing the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. Unfortunately, she lost to ABBA’s Waterloo, coming in a respectable fourth.
However, Newton-John’s ascent into global stardom was cemented with her break-out performance in the rock musical Grease, a film so famous it hardly needs an introduction. Her performance as saccharine girl-next-door Sandy, who has a hidden feistiness – ”Tell me about it, stud.” – catapulted her into the theatrical hall-of-fame.
Sandy epitomised a girl-next-door aesthetic Newton-John would forever be known for, despite altering her pop career to align with the sexier aspects of Sandy’s character following the film’s release.
It is hard to believe that upon the film’s release, the New York Times reported that “it’s not easy [for Newton-John] to make oneself stand out on a screen bursting with Mr Travolta’s simian charisma”, as her performance is undoubtedly iconic in its own right, and much parodied and referenced in the 80s zeitgeist and beyond.
After Grease’s cultural impact, Newton-John largely remained churning out new music. Other film roles of hers include Xanadu, as well as her reunion with John Travolta for Two of a Kind. The camp romp of Xanadu has become a cult classic since its release, with Newton-John starring opposite Michael Beck as his fantastical love interest. Additionally, Two of a Kind, whilst failing critically, was praised for Newton-John’s contributions to the soundtrack.
In later years, Newton-John enjoyed further musical success, as well as a quieter lifestyle following multiple health issues. Her other pursuits included successfully campaigning for the Japanese government to stop the slaughter of dolphins caught in fishing nets, as well as guest-spots of shows such as Glee (2009-2015) and Ru Paul’s Drag Race (2009-), additionally emphasising her status as a figure whole-heartedly embraced by the LGBTQ+ community.
Following her death aged 73, I can only encourage you to crank up your old DVD player and re-watch Grease (1978). Marvel in Newton-John’s dulcet tones in ‘You’re The One That I Want, and admire the capabilities and beauty of a star that will be sorely missed in the music and film scene.
Featured Image: IMDB
Which one of Olivia Newton-John's performances was your favourite?