What You Never Knew About Olivia Newton-John

Olivia Newton-John lived life as a true, complete artist. From immortalizing herself in Hollywood history as the sweet-turned-sexy babe Sandy Olsson from her landmark breakthrough in "Grease" to dominating music charts as a Grammy-winning singer for about five decades, Olivia left behind a rich legacy when she passed away on August 8, 2022. She was 73. A statement from her husband John Easterling relayed to fans worldwide that the singer-actress "passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California" and was surrounded by her loved ones in her final moments (via CNN). The "You're the One That I Want" hitmaker had lived with cancer for three decades, having been diagnosed for the first time in 1992, per The Guardian

Besides being a beloved screen figure, Olivia was renowned for championing advocacy and pushing for environmental action. A Cambridge native, she was honored as a Dame in 2019, recognized for the services she rendered to "charity, cancer research and entertainment" (via ABC News). 

Though a series of terrible tragedies too defined her life, Olivia held a positive approach towards it during her final years; she said in a 2020 interview, "I think every day is a blessing. ... we all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we just need to be grateful for that." Here's flipping through the life story of Olivia Newton-John, a cultural icon whose memory will endure for all time. 

She won a singing talent show as a teen

Olivia Newton-John loved singing — a skill she had embraced and begun honing during her teens. "That's all I've ever done since I was 15, so it's my life," she told CNN in a 2017 interview. A year before her musical journey officially kicked off, Olivia had formed a girl group with a few friends of hers — they called it the Sol Four (per The Guardian). 

In an early validation of her talents, Olivia won a talent contest led by Australian music legend Johnny O'Keefe in 1964, on the show "Sing, Sing, Sing," as noted by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia. The winning prize was a trip to England, which Olivia was not keen on: "My mother dragged me literally by the ear. I didn't want to leave my boyfriend," she told The Guardian. 

The late star was born in England but had moved with her family to Australia at the age of 5. Growing up, she scored a bit of Australian television work, per Variety, before finding fame in England and beginning to perform there with her friend and collaborator Pat Carroll. The duo called themselves Pat and Olivia, and toured clubs in the country (via 7News). Ironically, for all her initial hesitation to move to England, Olivia ended up with the moniker "Miss Goody Two-Shoes from England" for much of her showbiz career (via the Irish Examiner). 

She found love and married at the age of 59

Olivia Newton-John was the sweetheart of millions she left enthralled with her breakout role in the 1978 film "Grease." But she had eyes for only one man: husband of 14 years John Easterling. In an emotional statement following the legendary star's passing, Easterling called his late wife "a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years" (via The Guardian). Olivia, too, had only high praise for Easterling, whom she married in 2008: "He says yes to everything, he says yes to life!" she gushed to People in an interview. It was her encounter with true love at the age of almost 60 that led Olivia to believe that "you're never too old to find love." 

Before Easterling, Olivia had an almost decade-long marriage to actor Matt Lattanzi, whom she reportedly met on the sets of Xanadu (per People). Through their marriage, which ended in divorce in 1995, Olivia and Lattanzi shared one daughter Chloe Lattanzi. 

A second part of Olivia's romantic life, which involved a possible tragedy and remains shrouded in questions to date, involved an ex-partner named Patrick McDermott. Per the New York Post, McDermott was a long-term boyfriend of the "Come on Over" singer and mysteriously disappeared during a fishing trip in California in 2005. Olivia, who called the situation "traumatic," told People, "One of the hardest things is not knowing." 

She had several miscarriages before becoming a mother

Just three days before her death on August 8, 2022, Olivia Newton-John made a dazzling Instagram appearance on the profile of her daughter Chloe Lattanzi, who wrote: "I worship this woman. My mother. My best friend." Olivia's only child, whom she shared with ex-husband Matt Lattanzi, Chloe was 9 

years old when the couple divorced in 1995 (per People). Mother and daughter shared a deep bond, which went beyond family and transcended onto the screen. Both performers, Olivia and Chloe collaborated on multiple projects, a notable one being the 1994 holiday film "A Christmas Romance," in which Chloe played Olivia's daughter. The pair even came together for a rendition of Olivia's 1980 hit "Magic" from her film "Xanadu," following up with the 2021 duet "Window in the Wall" (via The Hollywood Reporter).

In her 2019 memoir "Don't Stop Believin'," Olivia revealed that she went through several miscarriages during her motherhood journey. The first was in 1982, before she married Lattanzi, reported the Daily Mail. "Each time my heart was broken," she wrote (via Woman Working). After Chloe's birth, Olivia and Lattanzi were apparently keen on adopting a child from Romania: "I think it was my gut instinct that this was something I needed to do," she said in her book (via Radar Online). However, in a tragic twist of fate, her passion to bring another child home was overshadowed by the death of her goddaughter and Olivia never made the trip.

She famously underwent an ancient psychedelic ritual in Peru

Olivia Newton-John maintained an interest in plant-based healing for years. In her own journey with cancer, cannabis came through as a relaxant for her — a better painkiller than morphine could ever be, per Good Housekeeping – and she advocated for research into the stigmatized plant's medicinal use. 

But her experience with such substances went deeper, back when she was on a trip to Peru with her then-friend and to-be husband John Easterling. Then-59-year-old Olivia was offered a dash of ayahuasca, a potent Amazonian hallucinogenic believed to have healing properties (per Britannica), by Easterling as part of an ancient Peruvian ritual. The potion had a strong effect on the "Grease" star, who recalled hallucinating and having visions. 

"If I hadn't had that experience, I might not be married to John now," she told The Guardian, adding that the ceremony changed her life. You notes that Olivia, under the influence, apparently envisioned herself and Easterling in a past life during the ancient period of the native Inca people. "It re-calibrates your brain," she expressed. According to People, the couple began dating after the Amazon trip and returned to Peru to privately tie the knot in 2008. They had a second wedding in Florida later that year. 

She was unsure about starring in Grease

The cult classic "Grease" may not have turned out like it did, had Olivia Newton-John not taken a leap of faith into the film that ultimately defined her career. "I could not play a high school student at 28," she said, voicing her concerns from the time the 1978 film was being cast (via The Sunday Post). 

That wasn't all — she was, by then, enjoying a great peak in her music career, having earned a Grammy with her chart-topping ballad "I Honestly Love You" and serenading listeners with her dulcet-voice with hits like "Something Better To Do" and "Don't Stop Believin'" (via Taste of Country). "And I did not want to mess it up by doing another movie that wasn't good," she reportedly said in an interview (via Marie Claire). Her 1970 film "Toomorrow," which she starred in before "Grease," had bombed at the box office. 

Then there was also the accent issue; an Australian, Olivia had her reservations about putting on an American accent for "Grease." She thought she wouldn't be able to do it (via The Hindu). But the makers — and most of all actor John Travolta, who thought Olivia was "the perfect Sandy, the ultimate Sandy," per NPR — apparently wanted her so desperately that the character of Sandy was changed so she would be an Australian in the film. A screen test later, which she thoroughly enjoyed, Olivia was in — and the rest is film history! 

It was John Travolta who insisted Olivia be cast in Grease

"Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!" wrote John Travolta in a heart-touching tribute to his "Grease" co-star and longtime friend Olivia Newton-John, as she passed away on August 8, 2022. Travolta and Olivia, as Danny and Sandy, are eternalized as a couple in pop culture history with their 1978 musical "Grease." And it was all thanks to Travolta, who made this iconic cinematic pairing happen! 

Olivia was the top choice to play the role of Sandy Olsson, for not just director Randal Kleiser and producer Alan Carr, but also her co-star Travolta. "There was only one person on the planet that could be Sandy, and that was Olivia Newton-John. And I was hell-bent to get her in this movie," he once said in an interview (via Marie Claire). 

Olivia was initially hesitant about partaking in the film but apparently a single meeting with Travolta, with his "piercing blue eyes and the warmest smile on the planet," changed all that (via The Sunday Post). "How could you say no to John Travolta?" There was fiery chemistry between them from the get-go — and all the stars just aligned. As for whether Danny and Sandy ever were a real-life item, Travolta said "it almost happened a few times," but they ultimately ended up remaining great friends. To People, he described their relationship as "wonderful and full of shared memories."

She grew to become an advocate for medical cannabis

In the three decades that she lived with cancer, Olivia Newton-John grew to find relief in something other than professional medical treatments: cannabis. Her husband John Easterling, who You reports is an Amazonian herbal specialist and a vocal advocate of the psychoactive drug, introduced Olivia to the plant's effects. Though she admitted being a bit hesitant about experimenting with the stigmatized plant medicine — since she disliked "the feeling of any kind of mind-altering thing," per Good Housekeeping – she slowly began its use and appreciated the positive relief it brought her. 

Marijuana apparently helped Olivia with a host of difficulties, from pain to anxiety and even sleeplessness. "Opiates kill people. Cannabis doesn't," she said (per You). According to GH, plant medicine was of particularly great help to her when after suffering a fracture in 2018, she had to learn how to walk again. She used the cannabis her husband grew on their ranch under his enterprise Amazon Herb Company, reported The Guardian

Olivia's daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, also reportedly oversees a marijuana farm in Oregon. "We have a family cannabis business together," Chloe told The Hollywood Reporter. Olivia told the outlet that she took her dosage in the form of tincture. 

She lost her sister to cancer in 2013

Olivia Newton-John's own experience with cancer was circumscribed by those of people around her she held close, particularly her sister. Rona Newton-John, who had been living with brain cancer, passed away at the age of 70 in 2013. "Rona died of a very aggressive brain tumor and mercifully suffered no pain," Olivia said at the time, per USA Today

Rona, an actress like her sister, was married to actor Jeff Conaway, famous as Olivia's co-star from "Grease" (via 7News). "Your sister is someone you can share things about the family that no one else understands," Olivia told People in an interview on her sister's passing. Rona's tragic death coincided with Olivia's own diagnosis of breast cancer the second time over in 2013.

Incidentally, Olivia's first cancer diagnosis in 1992 occurred soon after the death of her father, whom she lost to liver cancer. It was also around the time that Olivia suffered the heartbreaking loss of a goddaughter, who died at the age of five from cancer. "It was all at once. Everything just came at me," Olivia told People in 2000. Throughout her lifetime, Olivia gained renown as one of the most active patrons of cancer research, her efforts converging at the Olivia Newton-John Foundation and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in Australia (via NBC News). 

She was a Billboard-dominating artist with 4 Grammy wins to her name

"I've had many lives in music. I've had country when I started, then I crossed over into pop. ... I have such a large repertoire to choose from," Olivia Newton-John once told CNN, in rather self-aware reflection of her musical genius. The Hollywood star began her tryst with singing at an early age and grew to become a recording artist Billboard called one of the most popular of the 1970s and 1980s. 

Her first single dates back to 1966, a few years before she burst onto the international scene with her 1974 number "Let Me Be There." The country song was a massive success and won her a Grammy – her first in a line of four. After that, there was only upward to go for Olivia! Further hits like "If Not for You," "I Honestly Love You," "Have You Never Been Mellow," and her seminal 1981 album "Physical" cemented Olivia's place as a versatile singing icon. 

With 100 million records sold, she is counted among the most successful solo artists. She dominated the prestigious Billboard Hot 100 with 40 titles during her lifetime, according to Billboard. With successes like "You're the One That I Want" and "Magic," Olivia also lent her voice to her career-defining films "Grease" and "Xanadu" respectively. The outpouring of grief from the music industry over Olivia's death has been substantial, with fellow legends from ABBA to Richard Marx all mourning her loss. 

She was diagnosed with cancer thrice, living with the disease for 30 years

Even as cancer pursued her for three decades, Olivia Newton-John kept sparkling through life and refused to let the diagnosis get her down. The hitmaker was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, per The Guardian. She opened up about her condition when rumors began swirling that she was "dying of cancer" and she was compelled to "just come out with it" (via ET Online). 

The beloved singer-actress was diagnosed two more times, in 2013 and then in 2017. Her second diagnosis was something she kept out of public knowledge for years before the cancer returned, the reason being that she thought to herself at the time: "The first time I talked about it. The second time I thought, this is not something I need to share with people" (via YouTube). 

By the end, Olivia was living with Stage 4 breast cancer. "Three times lucky, right?" she remarked in a tell-all interview with The Guardian in 2020. Revealing that she looked at her cancer not as a death sentence but a gift, Olivia added, "I choose not to see it as a fight either ... I want to get my body healthy and back in balance." Olivia remained committed to activism around cancer research, also advocating for cannabis' medicinal use in treatment. Referring to herself as a "cancer thriver" (via ET Online), she had professed a "dream that we could find kinder ways of treating cancer."