Olivia Newton-John – Hopefully Devoted
by Lisa Lynn Morgan
TThe news came through her Facebook page. It read, “Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time. 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. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund (ONJFoundationFund.org).”
It was a tremendous honor and pleasure to interview her in 2016, on behalf of Coachella Valley Weekly, and although very brief, she was one of the most gracious and accomplished women I have ever had the pleasure to speak to. May we all strive to fill our days bringing as much hope, light, and healing to the world as she did.
As Published in Coachella Valley Weeky March 3, 2016: In a pop culture where scandal, controversy, and shock value are a “trending” commodity, Olivia Newton-John is a breath of fresh, startlingly positive, and ageless air. Her career has spanned more than five decades and is drenched in as much philanthropy as much as it is in success on several platforms.
Born in Cambridge, England in 1948, and transplanted in Melbourne, Australia with her family at the age of 5, the grand-daughter of Nobel Prize winning physicist, Max Born, found herself on her own career path after winning a talent contest on the popular TV show, “Sing, Sing, Sing.” When she was fifteen years old, she formed an all-girl group called Sol Four. By 1963, Olivia was appearing on local daytime TV shows and weekly pop music programs in Australia. She eventually teamed up with her friend from Melbourne, Pat Carroll (now Farrar), to create a double act, “Pat & Olivia.” The duo toured army bases and clubs throughout the UK and Europe. Olivia cut her first single for Decca Records in 1966, a version of Jackie DeShannon’s “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine,” and in 1971, she recorded a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You.”
The title track of Olivia’s U.S. album debut, “Let Me Be There,” became her first top ten single which led to Academy Of Country Music Award’s, “Most Promising Female Vocalist” award, and a Grammy Award as “Best Country Vocalist.” This would only be the beginning of a legendary career. With more than 100 million albums sold, Olivia’s successes include four Grammy Awards, numerous Country Music, American Music and Peoples Choice Awards, ten #1 hits including “Physical,” which topped the charts for ten consecutive weeks, and over 15 top 10 singles. In September 2008, Billboard Magazine listed “Physical” at #6 on their Top 100 Songs Of All Time list, and in 2010 listed it as “The Sexiest Song of All Time”.
Olivia’s roll in the 1978 movie/musical “Grease” propelled Olivia into super-stardom. This film’s best-selling soundtrack featured the duets “You’re The One That I Want” and “Summer Nights,” with John Travolta, as well as her mega-hit, “Hopelessly Devoted To You.” “Grease” remains the most successful movie musical in history. She went on to dance with Gene Kelly in “Xanadu,” she hosted the popular internationally syndicated “Wild Life” television show, was bestowed an O.B.E. (Order Of The British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth in 1979, and was named the first Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Environment Programme. In 1991, Olivia served as the national spokesperson for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition (CHEC), which was founded after the tragic death of her daughter Chloe’s best friend from a rare childhood cancer. Her devotion and shared commitment to CHEC’s (now Healthy Child, Healthy World) mission and goals enabled the organization to receive worldwide attention and support. (For more information visit www.HealthyChild.org).
While her sweet disposition and philanthropic heart could be misinterpreted as the result of a charmed life, Olivia has proven herself in hard times as well. She is the tenacious survivor of breast cancer, and a champion for early detection and research for a cure. In the 90’s, her victory over breast cancer inspired her self-penned and produced album, “Gaia,” an extremely personal musical expression of her experiences with cancer. As of June 2016, Olivia has been a breast cancer “thriver” for 23 years.
In April 2008, Olivia led a team of fellow cancer survivors, celebrities and Olympians on a trek along the Great Wall of China and raised more than $2 million to find a new way to treat cancer and build the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center (ONJCWC), which opened in June 2012. The center provides a comprehensive range of services and facilities for cancer treatment, education, training and research including a wellness center for the mind, body and spirit (www.oliviaappeal.com). In 2014, the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute opened on the grounds of the ONJCWC. The strategic co-location of research laboratories and research-training within a clinical environment enables clinicians and researchers to work together to integrate clinical medicine with basic and translational cancer research for the ultimate benefit of cancer patients. Olivia also launched Liv Aid ®, a breast self-examination aid that assists women to exercise breast self-exams correctly (www.Liv.com). Olivia credits her own breast self-exam as the first step to her eventual diagnosis of breast cancer.
Olivia has been acknowledged many times by charitable and environmental organizations such as the American Red Cross, the Environmental Media Association, the Women’s Guild of Cedar’s Sinai Medical Center. In 1992 she created National Tree Day, which is responsible for planting more than 10 million trees in Australia. Most recently she co-founded One Tree, One Child, an international school initiative with the goal of having every child under the age of ten plant at least one tree.
From being invited by the Vatican on behalf of Pope John Paul II to perform at the “Jubilee Celebration for the Sick and Healthcare Workers” to performing at the Opening Ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics as well as receiving the honor of carrying the Olympic Torch during the Olympic Torch Relay, the list of accolades for her life’s work outside of music and movies is a bit mind boggling especially when you consider that she has also opened retail stores, a highly acclaimed retreat and spa, and written books as well. Seems the only thing left on her to do list to attain Super Hero status would be to save the Rain Forest. But wait… she has been hard at work at that as well, along side husband, “Amazon John” Easterling, and has been honored for that as well by the Rainforest Alliance and Concept Cure.
In April 2014, Olivia began her residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas with “Summer Nights,” a musical journey through her career in movies and music. To coincide with the show, she released Hotel Sessions an EP collection of songs recorded in hotel rooms in Melbourne over a ten-year period with her nephew Brett Goldsmith. The CD is dedicated to her late sister Rona Newton-John, who was always supportive of Olivia and Brett working together. Due to the popularity of the Las Vegas show, Olivia’s residency has been extended through January 2016 and, a 2-CD set, Summer Nights – Live in Las Vegas was released earlier this year.
In April of 2015 Olivia toured arenas in Australia with fellow Aussie icon, John Farnhm, with the aptly titled show, “Two Strong Hearts.” The Australia tour was followed by a sold-out tour of Japan prior to her return to Las Vegas to resume her residency at the Flamingo Las Vegas.
All that being said, it was nothing short of a small miracle and a huge gracious heart (not to mention her obviously incredible work ethic) that CV Weekly was able to catch up and chat with the beautiful phenom for a few minutes.
CVW: How is the residency at the Flamingo in Las Vegas treating you?
Olivia: “I really enjoyed it – it means a lot of things to me. It means I can give a portion of the ticket sales to go to my hospital. I sleep in the same bed every night and I can have a routine with my husband and my animals Raven (her male German Shepherd) and Magic (her female cat). I really miss them when I’m traveling so that’s what’s especially nice about Vegas. It’s like having a normal life, but you go to work at night. I’ve really enjoyed it, and the audience has been terrific.”
CVW: You recently had a #1 Billboard Dance Club hit with your daughter – a remake of “MAGIC” from XANADU called “You Have to Believe”. Tell me about that experience.
Olivia: “It was a dream for me. I’ve worked with Chloe at every stage of her life. When she was around 9 we did a TV movie; when she was a teenager, she toured with me in Japan; when she was 29, we made the video. Each decade, I’ve been able to do something different with her. This latest project was a big success, and went to number one. It was all her idea – she wrote the new lyrics to the song. Now she’s doing another album with the same producer.”
(Check out the song and interview at http://youtu.be/HhefCVRavaA)
CVW: I’m told you have a new album coming out – Liv On?
Olivia: “I didn’t think we were talking about that yet – that won’t be until June. We just pushed it back a bit, so I don’t want to talk about it too early. But you can say that I’ve done an album with two of my wonderful girlfriends Beth Nielsen Chapman and Andy Sky.”
CVW: You and Chloe are absolutely stunning in the new video and neither one of you look remotely your age. It seems the two of you are in a zone, genetically speaking. Do you have any advice about health and beauty that you can pass on to the rest of us?
Olivia: (Laughs) “I think we were very blessed with my mother who looked great in her 80’s believe it or not. I’m hoping I can keep those genes going. I think it comes down to taking care of yourself inside and out…not only using the right moisturizer, but thinking bright thoughts because that shows on your face too. You have to be happy inside and out. I’ve always used good products on my skin, I don’t drink a lot, I don’t smoke, I exercise … I like to walk and do something every day that gets me out. I enjoy life; I’m happy.” (Sorry ladies, she did not reveal which moisturizer)
CVW: I imagine that mind set was instrumental in conquering breast cancer.
Olivia: “That’s a joyful thing I’m grateful for every day. I’ll be 23 years cancer free in June. I’ve always been an advocate of proper self exam for early detection. You don’t want to wait a year for your doctor to tell you something is wrong. You need to be in touch with your own body, and if there is something wrong, you’re the first person who will notice the difference. If you’re familiar with your own breasts and you feel a change, you should have it looked at. But you should also look at all the ways that you can heal. There are ways other that surgery and chemo now available. Boosting your immune system is probably most important. Make your own decisions and be in charge of your own body. Do what feels right for you. Trust your instincts.”