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Grease And Xanadu Star Olivia Newton-John Is Dead At 73

Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease
(Image credit: Paramount Pictures)

We’ve lost another multi-hyphenate talent from the entertainment realm. Along with being a four-time Grammy Award-winning singer, Olivia Newton-John scored notoriety for her roles in the movies Grease and Xanadu, among other film and TV projects. Sadly, word’s come in that Newton-John has died at the age of 73.

Olivia Newton-John’s husband, John Easterling, informed TMZ that his wife “died peacefully at her ranch in Southern California” on Monday morning, surrounded by friends and family. While no official cause of death was provided, Newton had been dealing with breast cancer on and off for three decades, which included it having gone into remission for a long time, but returning in 2017. According to an unnamed source close to the actress:

After a 30-year cancer journey, she lost her battle to metastatic breast cancer.

Born on September 26, 1948, Olivia Newton-John first hit the entertainment scene as a singer, with some of her early hits including her cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You,” “Let Me Be There” and “Have You Ever Been Mellow.” Prior to Grease, Newton-John appeared in the Australian-New Zealand movie Funny Things Happen Down Under and the British sci-fi movie Toomorrow, and she also performed as herself in various TV specials and Eurovision Song Contest. However, it was her role as Sandy Olsson in 1978’s Grease that propelled her popularity especially far.

Adapted from the same-named musical that launched in 1971, Grease, which can be streamed with a Paramount+ subscription, told the story of Sandy, a transfer student from Australia, striking up a summer romance with greaser Danny Zuko, played by John Travolta. The two cross paths again when Sandy starts attending Danny’s school, resulting in their relationship evolving into something deeper (decades later, Olivia Newton-John shared her take on that wild theory about Grease’s ending). Olivia Newton-John earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Sandy, and one of the songs that Sandy sings in Grease, “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” which was written by John Farrar, earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. Two of Newton-John’s duets with Travolta, “You’re the One That I Want” and “Summer Nights,” were also widely praised, with the former being one of the best-selling singles of all time. A Grease prequel called Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies is on the way as a Paramount+ show.

Two years after Grease’s release, Olivia Newton-John starred in the musical Xanadu as Kira, a mysterious woman who becomes romantically involved with Michael Beck’s Sonny Malone. Xanadu wasn’t anywhere near the critical or commercial success that Grease was, but nowadays it’s considered a cult classic. The soundtrack, on the other hand, was a hit, with Newton-John’s songs “Magic” and the title song “Xanadu” being particularly well received. Then in 1981, “Physical” was released, and it became Newton-John’s biggest song ever, earning accolades like spending 10 weeks at the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and being certified Platinum by the Record Industry Association of America.

Olivia Newton-John’s other acting work included Two of a Kind, A Mom for Christmas, Sordid Lives and The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee, her final film appearance. She also appeared as herself on shows like Glee, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Dancing with the Stars, serving as a guest judge on the latter two. In 2019, Newton-John and John Travolta reunited with each other in their original Grease costumes. On the subject of her breast cancer, the actress said to The Guardian in 2020 (a year after she shot down rumors that she was dying) that she saw the condition as her “life’s journey,” as it gave her “purpose and intention and taught me a lot about compassion.” She added:

It has been a gift. I don’t wish it on anyone else. But for me, it’s been important in my life.

CinemaBlend sends its condolences to Olivia Newton-John’s family and friends during this difficult time. She will be missed.

Adam Holmes
Senior Content Producer

Connoisseur of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, John Wick, MonsterVerse and Doctor Who lore. He's aware he looks like Harry Potter and Clark Kent.