We’ve got chills, and they’re multiplying because of Olivia Newton-John. The world-famous actress gained stardom after playing Sandy in the 1978 classic, Grease. However, the natural-born performer was entertaining audiences long before that. Between starting a girl group and appearing on TV, she was a busy teenager.
Newton-John is not only a talented actress and singer, but she also has a unique family history. She’s a cancer survivor, a mom, and a role model to many. While the details of Newton-John’s life have largely unfolded in the public eye, there is more to her story than you might know.
From England to Australia
Born in 1948 in Cambridge, Olivia Newton-John was the youngest of three children. Her father, Bryn Newton-John, was an MI5 officer during World War II. He then became a teacher at the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys when he started his family. Newton-John’s mother, Irene, stayed at home with the children.
While many believe Newton-John was born in Australia, she actually moved there from England when she was six. Her father took a Headmaster position at Ormond College in Melbourne. She was so young at the time that she developed an Australian accent over the years, prompting the misconception regarding her origins.
Newton-John started singing and dancing when she was a toddler, but she took her performance skills to the next level when she formed a girl group at 14 with three classmates. The short-lived band was called Sol Four. They often performed at a coffee shop owned by her brother-in-law.
Although her group didn’t work out, Newton-John became a regular on Australian radio and television shows like The Happy Show, where she performed as Lovely Livvy. Newton-John also appeared on The Go!! Show. It was there that she met her future duet partner, Pat Carroll.
She’s a Winner
Newton-John decided to test her talents by entering a talent contest on Sing, Sing, Sing, hosted by 1960s Australian icon Johnny O’Keefe. She performed “Anyone Who Had a Heart” and “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” Naturally, Newton-John won, but she was reluctant to use her prize, a trip to England.
Newton-John’s family traveled there every year anyway because her mom wanted her to broaden her horizons, but her life was now in Australia, and she didn’t want to go. Despite her hesitations, Newton-John went to England to record her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” for Decca Records in 1966.
While in England, Newton-John was young and in love, but her boyfriend, Ian Turpie, who had co-starred in the Australian film, “Funny Things Happen Down Under,” was back in Australia. She repeatedly tried to book trips to see him, but her mom canceled them so she couldn’t see him.
However, her outlook changed when Pat Carroll moved to England. The two formed a singing duo, Pat and Olivia. They toured nightclubs around Europe. Unfortunately, Carroll’s visa expired, forcing her to return to Australia. Newton-John thought about going back too but decided to stay and pursue a solo career.
She Accidentally Performed in a Strip Club
While touring with Carroll, the duo was booked at Paul Raymond’s Revue in Soho, London. The two dressed in frilly, high-collared dresses. The two thought it was a nightclub like the other venues they had performed in but quickly realized it wasn’t.
When Newton-John and Carroll took the stage, they soon realized it was a strip club. The two were a bit uncomfortable but continued their performance, fully clothed. Once they finished, the girls got out of there because the strip club scene wasn’t exactly up their alley.
After singing with a few different groups, Newton-John decided to go solo. She released her first album, If Not for You, in 1971. Bob Dylan wrote the title track, and it became her first international hit. Newton-John was gaining more and more fame.
Newton-John released a self-titled album a year later, but her solo career floundered a bit after “If Not for You.” Her subsequent singles made little impact on the charts. Luckily, her fortune changed with the release of “Let Me Be There,” and she won a Grammy.
She Sang at Eurovision
While her Eurovision run was overshadowed by ABBA’s winning song “Waterloo,” Newton-John represented the UK the same year with the song “Long Live Love.” The public chose the song out of six possible entries for her. She later admitted that she didn’t like the song choice.
After the contest, Newton-John recorded the six song options for her Long Love Love album, her first with EMI Records. However, when Newton-John’s album was released in the US and Canada, the Eurovision songs were removed and replaced with country-style tunes. The title track reached number two on the country charts.
People Were Torn Over Her Style
In America, Newton-John’s country success sparked a debate among country fans. They took issue with a foreigner singing music equated with native Nashville musicians. Country enthusiasts were annoyed that she won the Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year in 1974.
Newton-John beat out big names like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Tanya Tucker. People protested her music by forming the short-lived Association of Country Entertainers. The country music community eventually supported Newton-John with the help of Dolly Parton’s sister, Stella, who recorded Ode to Olivia.
As her music career took off in the States, Newton-John and MCA (later became Universal Music Group) entered into an initial two-year, four-album deal. She signed on to deliver two LPs a year for the record label, and they could increase terms if she didn’t deliver on time.
Newton-John’s first three albums came out according to schedule, but the fourth album was late. The delay occurred because she was working on Grease for RSO Records, giving MCA the right to extend its contract, stopping her from signing with another company.
She Sued MCA
Newton-John did not deliver a “newly optioned” album as promised in her contract. Instead, she and MCA each filed breach-of-contract actions against each other. She sued them for $10 million, claiming MCA failed to promote her music adequately, which freed her from the agreement.
MCA countered, asking for $1 million in damages. Ultimately, Newton-John was forbidden from offering her recording services to another label until the five-year contract ended. The lawsuit caused recording companies to make contracts based on a set number of albums instead of the number of years.
She Almost Rejected the Role
In 1978, Newton-John’s career soared to new levels after she starred opposite John Travolta in Grease. The film put her name on the map for more than her singing career, but she almost passed on the opportunity. Producer Allan Carr offered her the part at Helen Reddy’s dinner party.
At 29, Newton-John was concerned that she was too old to play a high school senior. She insisted on doing a screen test with Travolta. Luckily, Travolta befriended her and convinced her to take the part. Newton-John said his charm was a deciding factor.
They Changed Sandy’s Storyline
Due to Newton-John’s British-Australian accent, producers changed the Broadway show’s original Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olsson, an Australian who vacations and then moves to the US. In the Broadway production, Sandy is rejected from Catholic school, which is why she ends up at Rydell.
Having Newton-John play an international student gave the film a more interesting flare. Grease became the biggest box-office hit of 1978. The soundtrack spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at the top of the charts and yielded five number-one singles that are still iconic.
Filming Wasn’t Easy
There are few moments in movie history more iconic than Sandy’s transition from little miss goody-two-shoes to smoking hot greaser at the school carnival. However, Newton-John admitted that there were a few mishaps while filming the classic scene. While dancing around, Newton-John had a wardrobe malfunction.
Who would have guessed that Newton-John’s zipper broke on those tight black pants? The crew had to sew her into them to finish the scene, but she was worried that all her dancing would rip them again. The pants probably weren’t made for a lot of movement.
Love Is in the Air
Sandy and Danny weren’t the only ones crushing! When the cameras were down, Newton-John and Travolta had a spark between them. In an interview, Travolta said he fell for Newton-John while filming Grease, and the feeling was mutual. It made their on-screen chemistry believable.
Despite having feelings for each other and a steamy makeout session at a 1978 party, Newton-John and Travolta never officially dated. She said they were both in relationships with other people, and not getting together kept the tension and chemistry alive on screen.
A Family of Brainiacs
While Newton-John is the star of her family, she isn’t the most notable person on her family tree. Her grandfather, Max Born, was an accomplished physicist who helped establish the Institute of Theoretical Physics in the 1920s. Born had many accomplishments, including conceiving the name “quantum mechanics.”
Newton-John’s grandfather was also close friends with Albert Einstein; they met in Berlin before WWI. Born also won a Nobel Prize in physics for his research in quantum mechanics. Newton-John had a big legacy to live up to, but that’s not all her family is known for.
Escape From Germany
Newton-John’s mother’s family is Jewish. Her grandfather and grandmother lived in Germany as the Nazi regime came to power. Born and his family’s happiness was short-lived. He would receive calls in the night of people singing Nazi hymns.
When Adolf Hitler came into office, the lives of Jews got worse, and Born planned his escape. By 1933, Born had been stripped of his position at the university, and his family needed to flee Germany. Everything Born worked for was taken away, and the family escaped to England.
Her Father Was a British Spy
Newton-John’s father was a member of the MI5. Due to his fluent German, he was assigned the task of interrogating captured German soldiers during WWII. His knowledge of upper-class German society helped him gain their trust. He would be friendly to them instead of using bullying tactics.
Newton-John said her dad would “wine and dine infamous prisoners, generally high-ranking officials in the Third Reich, in order to pry information out of them.” Her dad helped break German Enigma codes, and he aided in capturing Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s right-hand man.
Her Musical Genes Came From Her Dad
Even spies and codebreakers have hobbies outside of their secret jobs. Newton-John’s father had a musical theater background. He once played Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and sang the part of the count in The Marriage Figaro. He loved putting on a show.
Newton-John’s parents started dating because her mom heard her dad singing at Cambridge and fell in love. She said her mom had feelings for her father before seeing him. Music has always been a big part of their family, and Newton-John carried on her father’s legacy.
A Tragic Loss
As Newton-John rose to international stardom, Brinley was often referred to as “Olivia’s dad.” She had always been close with her dad because of their shared love for performing. Newton-John felt devastated and worried about her dad when he was diagnosed with liver cancer.
She knew he didn’t have much time left. In 1992, Newton-John’s father passed away, and it was a horrible time. The tragic loss crushed her, and in that same week, Newton-John got even worse news as she was about to embark on a world tour.
A Shocking Diagnosis
The same week her father passed away, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was gearing up for a comeback after planning her first tour in ten years. Unfortunately, the diagnosis caused her to cancel all publicity for the album, including the tour.
Newton-John had an operation to remove the tumor and underwent chemotherapy. Seven months after her diagnosis, she was cancer-free and returned to Australia to recuperate with her family. Her recovery was challenging, but it changed her outlook on life.
Love on Set
Newton-John had many great loves in her life, but she didn’t marry for the first time until she met Matt Lattanzi. He was a dancer in her movie Xanadu, and she became enamored with him. They started dating shortly after meeting on set and dated for four years.
Newton-John and Lattanzi tied the knot in December 1984. The couple endured many battles together, including her father’s death and her cancer diagnosis. After two years of marriage, they welcomed their daughter, Chloe Rose. She was Newton-John’s only child.
A Break in the Relationship
After Newton-John recovered from her first battle with breast cancer, her marriage to Lattanzi started to crumble. They tried to make things work, but after ten years together, Newton-John and Lattanzi announced their divorce in 1995. He was a supportive man, but they couldn’t reconcile.
According to their friends, Newton-John and Lattanzi had different spiritual interests, and his more earthly ones were a key factor in the breakdown of their relationship. Although her first marriage didn’t work, it wasn’t the last time she walked down the aisle.
Getting Back in the Game
A year after her divorce, she met cameraman Patrick McDermott. The couple started dating on and off for nine years. Although they never got married, it was one of Newton-John’s most high-profile relationships. While things between them were up and down, they didn’t hide their love.
While appearing on an Australian talk show, Patrick gushed about Newton-John. He said she was an incredible and special human. McDermott added that if people could be a little bit more like her, the world would be a better place.
McDermott was an avid fisher and went on a fishing trip in 2005. Newton-John was at a spa retreat when he left. Unfortunately, McDermott never returned. A US Coast Guard investigation suggested he got lost at sea.
One of his friends said McDermott seemed sad before he left because he and Newton-John were broken up. She was devastated over his disappearance even though they weren’t dating at the time. A crime show claimed he faked his death for a life insurance payout, but there was no proof.
By the time Newton-John was 25, she had already collected three Grammys. She has won an impressive number of awards, including American Music Awards and Country Music Association awards, but none of them have been as prestigious as her Grammys.
She took home her first Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, and in 1973, she won Video of the Year. Newton-John also won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance in 1974 and Video of the Year again in 1982. She was nominated for eight other Grammys but didn’t win.
A Secret Wedding
After her relationship with McDermott ended and he vanished, Newton-John chose to keep her future relationships more private. She started dating John Easterling in 2006. Newton-John said she had been dating again but didn’t see love in her future because she wasn’t expecting to fall in love.
However, when she met Easterling, everything changed. They met at an environmental show where he was displaying his botanicals. He and Newton-John had mutual friends and hit it off. A year later, they tied the knot in a secret spiritual wedding.
The Cancer Returned
Over the years, Newton-John continued to create music and perform around the world. She was heavily booked for shows across the US and Canada in 2017 when she found out her cancer returned and spread to her lower back. She had to cancel all her shows.
This time around, Newton-John had to go through radiation therapy. She was declared cancer-free again, but it returned for the third time in 2018. Newton-John took some time away from the spotlight to focus on her health. In 2019, she told her fans she was doing well.
She Lost Her Siblings
Newton-John had the great honor of doing a Las Vegas residency at the Flamingo, but she had to postpone some of the shows due to her sister’s death in May 2013. Her sister was 72 when she died from a brain tumor. Newton-John took time off to grieve.
Life was not easy after her sister passed away, but tragedy struck again. In 2019, Newton-John’s older brother died at age 80. He left Newton-John as the sole surviving sibling of the family. Although she had many years with her siblings, it didn’t make their deaths easier.
How Old Is Olivia Newton-John?
Newton-John was the youngest of her siblings, and she turned 73 in September 2021. The star has yet to slow down and released a new single in January 2021. It doesn’t seem like she has plans to retire in the near future.
Although she went through three rounds of cancer, Newton-John recovered and has talked about using cannabis oil to ease the pain caused by the metastatic bone lesions left behind. She is also an advocate for medical cannabis, and her daughter Chloe owns a cannabis farm in Oregon.
As a breast cancer survivor, Newton-John has always been an advocate for research and donates to related organizations. In 2019, Julien’s Auctions held an auction for Newton-John’s memorabilia. The sales raised about $2.4 million. Her iconic Grease outfit sold for $405,700.
Everyone wanted to get their hands on a piece of movie history, and two billionaires lucked out. The pants and jacket were sold separately. Sara Blake, founder of Spanx, purchased Newton-John’s skintight black pants for $162,000. The jacket went to an anonymous buyer for $243,200.
Getting a Piece of Her Past Back
Although an anonymous buyer bought her jacket, they returned it to Newton-John. The buyer told her, “It should not sit in a billionaire’s closet for country-club bragging rights. The odds of beating recurring cancer using the newest emerging therapies is greater than” someone purchasing the jacket.
The buyer told Newton-John that the iconic piece of clothing deserved to be with the “woman who played Sandy.” Newton-John felt humbled to have the jacket and couldn’t believe the generosity of the buyer. All the auction proceeds were donated to cancer research facilities in Australia.
Making New Music
They say, “like mother like daughter,” which is true for Newton-John and her daughter. Chloe also has some musical talent, and she has put it to good use. In 2021, Newton-John and Cloe recorded a duet called “The Window in the Wall” about healing in difficult times.
The pair previously released “You Have to Believe,” a cover of Newton-John’s hit single “Magic” from Xanadu. They released their first song in 2015, but Newton-John said she never gets tired of singing with Chloe. They both have gorgeous voices, and Chloe released a solo album in 2016.
She Has a Green Thumb
Newton-John might be known for her glamourous life because she has walked many red carpets and rubbed elbows with the rich and famous, but while she has a lavish life, Newton-John isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty by working on her organic garden, growing produce, and tending to her chickens.
Newton-John is passionate about the environment and has always voiced her love for the outdoors and living more sustainably. She was even appointed as the first Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program in 1991.
Besides caring for the environment, Newton-John is also an animal lover. If you look at her social media pages, it’s clear she has a deep love for animals of all shapes and sizes. Newton-John has posted pictures of baby chickens on her farm, cats wearing crowns, and snuggly puppies.
Newton-John also hangs out with her horses and anything else with four legs. She has been a longtime activist for animal rights issues, participating in various charities and fundraising efforts. Newton-John has also expressed her adoration for Australian wildlife.
The Greatest Reunion of All Time
It’s not every day that two of the world’s most iconic movie characters reunite for a one-off rendition of their most famous song. In 2002, 24 years after the initial release of Grease, Newton-John and Travolta joined each other on stage to sing “You’re the One That I Want.”
She flew halfway across the United States to the Paramount Lot in Hollywood, where numerous stars and crew members from the movie watched them belt out the iconic song. Newton-John had been on her North American tour but didn’t want to miss the moment.
Grease was the seventh highest-grossing live-action musical of all time, and the film was re-released in 2018 for its 40th anniversary. While many fans were excited to relive the magic, it was also met with criticism because people said the plot was sexist.
Newton-John hit back at critics by saying there is “nothing deep in there about the #MeToo movement.” She was frustrated that people took the iconic movie and turned it into something negative because of the changing times. Newton-John reminded everyone that it was filmed in the ’70s.
She Has Plenty of Real Estate
After relocating to America in 1975, Newton-John settled in Malibu, California. She has owned various properties in the area, including a horse ranch and several beachfront homes. Growing up in Australia, she was used to a warmer climate, and California felt like home.
In 2009, she and her second husband purchased a $4.1 million home in Jupiter, Florida. They decided to sell the property, but tragedy struck. In 2013, a contractor named Christopher Pariseleti committed suicide on the estate. It caused the sale to be delayed for several years.
Selling Her Australian Farm
Newton-John has always called Australia her home, and for more than 40 years, she had a 187-acre farm near Byron Bay in New South Wales. However, she decided to sell it in 2019 for $4.6 million. She originally purchased it in 1980 for $622,000.
Today, Newton-John and her husband live in Santa Barbara, where they purchased a $5.3 million 12-acre horse ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. While she no longer has her massive farm in Australia, she still gets to enjoy the farm life in California.
Olivia Newton-John’s Net Worth
As of 2021, Newton-John’s estimated net worth is about $60 million. She has enjoyed a successful recording and film career, with record sales of an estimated 120 million. Newton-John is one of the best-selling artists in history, with more than 25 studio albums.
Most of her net worth came from starring in iconic films like Grease, Xanadu, Sordid Lives, and The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee. Besides her work as an actress and singer, Netwon-John is also a producer. She produced the 2001 TV movie, The Wilde Girls.
While she might have moved away from England when she was six, Newton-John is still respected by her home country. In 2019, the British government announced that she was the recipient of damehood for her services to charity, cancer research, and entertainment.
Newton-John said, “I am extremely excited, honored, and grateful beyond words to be included with such an esteemed group of women who have received this distinguished award before me.” Now she legally goes by Dame Olivia Newton-John. It’s a fitting title for the legendary star.
Her Daughter Is Also a Star
Star power must run in Newton-John’s family because her daughter is just as talented. Chloe appeared on MTV’s Rock the Cradle in 2008, in which eight children of former pop stars competed in a singing competition. Chloe took home third place.
While she might not have won the contest, Chloe showed off her vocal talents on her 2016 solo album titled No Pain. Her 2010 debut single “Wings and a Gun” was released digitally in Japan. Chloe now focuses on her cannabis farm instead of music.
Guess Mine Is Not the First Heart Broken
For many years, Newton-John was a symbol of hope and strength for sharing her long journey with breast cancer. She was battling her third round of cancer, which had metastasized to her lower back in 2017. Sadly, after five years of trying different medicinal treatments, Newton-John passed away on August 8, 2022.
The beloved star of Grease was surrounded by family and friends in her last moments. Many celebrities paid tribute to the star, including John Travolta. He said, “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. I love you so much.”