Olivia Newton-John, the singer and actress best known for playing Sandy in the musical classic Grease, died on Monday at her home in Southern California, surrounded by family and friends. She was 73.
Newton-John's husband, John Easterling, confirmed her passing on her social media channels, writing, "Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer."
Newton-John is survived by her husband and daughter, Chloe Lattanzi.
Born on September 26, 1948 in Cambridge, England, Newton-John moved with her family to Melbourne, Australia, when she was six years old. There, she began her career as a pop star, before eventually making her screen debut in the 1970 sci-fi musical comedy, Toomorrow. That experience was so off-putting that it nearly prevented Newton-John from saying yes to the next movie offer that came her way: 1978's Grease.
Producer Allan Carr offered Newton-John the role of Sandy in the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical after meeting her at a dinner party. "I really wasn't sure I wanted to do the movie, because I'd made a movie before in England, and it didn't work. I was very frightened about doing a movie," Newton-John recalled during the Academy's Grease 40th anniversary screening in 2018. "And then they sent John to meet me. And who could say no, right?"
Grease starred Newton-John as good girl Sandy Olsson opposite John Travolta as bad boy greaser Danny Zuko, who reunite at Rydell High following a secret summer romance and sing and dance their way through the '50s-set love story.
"There was utterly no one else," Travolta recalled at the 40th anniversary screening. "If you were a young man in the '70s, if you remember that [If You Love Me, Let Me Know] album cover of Olivia with that shirt on, with those big blue eyes staring at you... every boy's, every man's dream was, 'Oh, I'd love for that girl to be my girlfriend.' So, when I had the privilege to have input on the casting, I said, 'There is no other person in the universe other than Olivia Newton-John to play Sandy.'"
Grease made movie stars of both its leads and became one of the highest-grossing live-action musicals of all time. The soundtrack spawned two No. 1 hits, both sung by the co-stars, including "You're the One That I Want" and "Summer Nights." "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which Newton-John performs in the movie, was nominated for Best Original Song at the 51st Oscars.
The following year, Newton-John became Dame Olivia Newton-John when Queen Elizabeth anointed her an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. She is also a four-time GRAMMY Award winner, including winning Record of the Year in 1974 for "I Honestly Love You" and Video of the Year in 1982 for "Physical."
Following Grease, the actress went on to star in another musical with 1980's Xanadu, which has become a camp classic in the decades since, and reunited with Travolta for 1983's Two of a Kind. Her final film role was playing a version of herself in the 2020 comedy, The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee. But it is Sandy for which she will forever be remembered.
"My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much," Travolta posted on Instagram, alongside the photo of Newton-John from her If You Love Me, Let Me Know album cover. "We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!"