Olivia Newton-John, the singer and Grease star whose pop dominance in the 1970s and ’80s still reverberates in the music industry today, has died at the age of 73. According to a statement posted to her official Facebook page by her husband, John Easterling, Newton-John “passed away peacefully” on the morning of August 8 at her ranch in Southern California, surrounded by family and friends.
Born in England in 1948, Newton-John immigrated to Melbourne, Australia, with her family at 6 years old. Newton-John’s pop career started in her teens on Australian TV shows and singing competitions, but her career as a recording artist didn’t begin until she released her first single in the U.K. in 1966. Eight years later, she represented the U.K. in the only Eurovision Song Contest that ever truly mattered, which is to say she came in fourth and lost to ABBA’s “Waterloo” in 1974. That same year, Newton-John was named the Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year, beating out Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Newton-John dominated the charts in the American country-music scene for a stretch of the 1970s, but some would argue her icon status was truly cemented in 1978, when Newton-John led a cast of her fellow late-20s, early-30s performers in the hit high-school musical Grease.
In her Golden Globe–nominated performance as new kid in school turned Pink Lady turned sexually liberated teen smoker Sandy, Newton-John and her co-star, John Travolta, led the ensemble of the biggest box-office hit of the year (and one of the biggest slumber-party movies to date). The soundtrack was a Billboard chart topper, and her solo number, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” was nominated for an Academy Award.
Newton-John followed her Grease success with a role in 1980’s Gene Kelly roller-disco fever dream Xanadu, and though the movie was critically maligned, her sirenlike vocals on the film’s soundtrack, including “Magic” and the title song “Xanadu,” led to more Billboard hits. All of these were eclipsed by her 1981 album, Physical, and its single of the same name, which defined the high-tempo sound and sexy, Spandexy aesthetics of so much of ’80s pop and fitness culture.
Throughout her life, Newton-John was involved in charities and awareness campaigns for threatened marine life and children’s causes. In 1992, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she became an advocate for breast-cancer research. In 2008, she helped found the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre. After over 20 years in remission, Newton-John’s breast cancer returned in 2017. She was awarded a damehood by the queen in 2020. Newton-John is survived by her husband and daughter, as well as her siblings, nieces, and nephews.