Tribute to Olivia Newton-John: An Australian icon remembered

Published: 8/8/2023 | Updated: 3/10/2023

It's hard to believe it's been a year since the world said goodbye to our beloved Olivia Newton-John. Her sweet voice, radiant smile and fighting spirit forever etched in our hearts. Today, as we mark the first anniversary of her passing, we not only remember her remarkable career but also find comfort in celebrating the warmth and love she brought to the world.

In honour of Breast Cancer Awareness: Donate here to support the life and dreams of Olivia Newton-John.

Singer / actor Olivia Newton-John in 1994 TV series "Wildlife". In photo Olivia holding tiger cub.                       
Animals                  
Entertainment / TV Shows
Singer / actor Olivia Newton-John in 1994 TV series "Wildlife". In photo Olivia holding tiger cub. Animals Entertainment / TV Shows

Olivia Newton-John's early days

Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England on 26 September 1948. When she was five years old, her family emigrated to Melbourne, where her father worked as a Professor of German at the University of Melbourne and served as the head of the Presbyterian college where the family attended church. Newton-John was enrolled at Christ Church Grammar in South Yarra and University High School in Parkville.

Olivia Newton-John pictured at her primary school, which she attended alongside Daryl Braithwaite.
Olivia Newton-John pictured at her primary school, which she attended alongside Daryl Braithwaite.

Newton-John's first big break came after she won a talent contest on the TV show, Sing, Sing, Sing which earned her a trip to London. In 1963, at age of fifteen, Olivia formed the all-girl group Sol 4 and appeared on local daytime TV shows in Australia. Eventually arriving in London, she teamed up with friend Pat Carroll to create the duo "Pat & Olivia," touring army bases and clubs across the UK and Europe.

In 1966, Newton-John released her debut single, a cover of Jackie DeShannon's Till You Say You'll Be Mine. From here she continued to flourish as an artist, releasing her first solo album If Not For You in 1971, whose title track was written by music legend, Bob Dylan. With successful follow-up singles and frequent appearances on TV and in magazines, these early entertainment days laid the foundation for her legendary career in music and entertainment.

1976: Olivia Newton-John, dancers performing number on the ABC tv special 'A Special Olivia Newton-John'.
1976: Olivia Newton-John, dancers performing number on the ABC tv special 'A Special Olivia Newton-John'.

"Music can heal the body, calm the mind and lift the spirit but above all, it can connect us to our hearts." 

Grease: The turning point

Olivia's career catapulted to stardom when she accepted the iconic role of Sandy Olsson in the hit musical Grease. The film, released in 1978, quickly became a cultural phenomenon and Olivia's portrayal of the innocent yet sassy Sandy earned her a Golden Globe nomination as "Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical of Comedy."

People often ask how old Olivia Newton-John was when she stepped into Sandy's shoes? She was 29 years old at the time, her youthful spirit defied her age, making her the perfect choice to play the lovable schoolgirl character.

It's interesting to note who might have played Sandy if not for Olivia. Initially, the role of Sandy was rumoured to have been offered to Ann-Margret, Marie Osmond and Susan Dey. However, fate had other plans and Olivia Newton-John's star was destined to shine in the role that would ultimately define her career.

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in the 1978 film Grease.
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in the 1978 film Grease.

The unforgettable chemistry

Grease not only cemented Olivia Newton-John's status as a global superstar but also gave rise to one of the most memorable on-screen couplings in cinematic history. Her electrifying chemistry with John Travolta, who played Danny Zuko, had audiences across the globe swooning.

"John and I had great chemistry from the first time we met..."

But did this dynamic duo reunite for Grease 2? The answer, unfortunately, is no. Olivia and John Travolta did not appear in the sequel, Grease 2, which was released in 1982. Instead, the sequel featured Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield in the lead roles. While Grease 2 had its own charm, it couldn't quite replicate the wonder of the original, where Olivia and John's chemistry was, plain and simple, irreplaceable, forming one of the most iconic couples in cinema history.

Olivia Newton-John almost turned down Grease

It's often said that the best decisions are the ones that come from the heart. Olivia Newton-John's decision to take on the role of Sandy in Grease was no exception, but it almost didn't happen - can you imagine?! Olivia was initially hesitant to accept the part, concerned about playing a high school student at the age of 29. She admits she was worried about the age difference between herself and the character. However after meeting John Travolta, she was 100% in.

Olivia beyond Grease

While Grease catapulted Olivia Newton-John to international superstardom, her career was far from limited to this iconic role. She continued to dazzle the world with her music, her acting and her love and compassion for others.

Olivia's music touched so many hearts. Hits like Physical, Hopelessly Devoted to You, and Magic resonated with audiences across generations. Her voice was a soothing melody in troubled times, a reminder that love and joy were always within reach.

"I believe love is what makes the world go round. No matter how old or young, love is why we are here. It is the very essence of one's being."

Beyond her musical prowess, Olivia was a dedicated advocate for health and wellness. She bravely faced her own battles with breast cancer and used her experience to raise awareness and support for cancer research and treatment. The Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne stands as a testament to her commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.

Olivia Newton-John with patient Giovanni Fongaro. Picture: Nicole Cleary
Olivia Newton-John with patient Giovanni Fongaro. Picture: Nicole Cleary

"I want to be remembered for making music that touched people. And I hope my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute finds a cure for cancer, or even better, how to prevent it."

Donate here to support the life and dreams of Olivia Newton-John.

A heartfelt goodbye

As we remember Olivia Newton-John on the first anniversary of her passing, our hearts are heavy knowing that we can no longer enjoy her artistry and kindness. But we should also be filled with gratitude for we were fortunate enough to be in the company of such ageless grace, courage and warmth.

In a world where celebrities often come and go, Olivia Newton-John remains a shining example of a talent and a spirit that no doubt will transcend time.

Olivia, your light continues to shine brightly in our hearts. Thank you for the music, the memories and the love. 

Singer Olivia Newton-John.
Singer Olivia Newton-John.

Tributes to Dame Olivia Newton-John

"It has been my honour and continues to be my honour to be your baby and best friend. You are an angel on earth and everyone touched by you has been blessed. I love you forever, my life giver, my teacher, my mama." Chloe Lattanzi

Chloe Lattanzi reveals 'promise' she made late mother Olivia Newton-John
Chloe Lattanzi reveals 'promise' she made late mother Olivia Newton-John

"My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever!  Your Danny, your John!" - John Travolta

"Since I was ten years old, I have loved and looked up to Olivia Newton John. And, I always will… She was, and always will be, an inspiration to me in so many, many ways." - Kylie Minogue

"Tonight, the stars will shine a little brighter and I am heartbroken!  Livvy, as I call her, was one of those rare people who had a profound effect on the world and the people in it. Her purity was real, her passion for life was unwavering. A Grammy Award winning recording artist, an extraordinary wife, mother and humanitarian, Liv's tireless work has changed millions of lives and her legacy will live on forever. To me, Liv is family. My heart is broken. There simply will never be another like her." - Ian 'Molly' Meldrum

Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John

The whole world will feel this heartbreak today because the entire world felt Olivia's unmatched light. A force for good. A force of nature. Strong and kind. My mentor, my friend, my inspiration, someone who always guided me… always there. Family to me…. I love you forever." - Delta Goodrem

Goodrem will be portraying Olivia Newton John in a biopic about her life. Picture: Supplied
Goodrem will be portraying Olivia Newton John in a biopic about her life. Picture: Supplied

"My great friend Olivia Newton John has passed away. She was the perfect Lady, gorgeous, with great poise and with a certain Aussie sophistication. Her spandex trousers in Grease were my inspiration for my 'Da ya think I'm Sexy' era. RIP Olivia" - Sir Rod Stewart.

By Kirsten Jakubenko

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