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Song of the Day Artist Tribute: Olivia Newton-John

Chile Vina del Mar Song Festival
Esteban Felix/AP
/
AP
Olivia Newton John performs during the Viña del Mar International Song Festival at the Quinta Vergara in Viña del Mar, Chile, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Believed to be one of the largest musical events in Latin America, the annual five-day festival was inaugurated in 1960. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

Olivia Newton-John may be best-known for playing Sandy in the 1978 mega-hit musical, “Grease,” but she already had a successful career beforehand, and she would continue to have one afterward.

Newton-John died August 8 in California after a decades-long bout with cancer. She was 73.

Newton-John was born in Britain in 1948 and emigrated to Australia with her family as a child. Sshe was a talented singer and actor on Australian TV as a teen. In 1965, she moved to Great Britain with money won in a talent contest. She bounced around the music scene with mixed success until 1973. That’s when her song “Let Me Be There” reached the Top Ten in the United States on the pop, adult contemporary and country charts.

“I Honestly Love You” became her first number one single in the U.S. The song won Grammys for Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance – Female in 1975.

Then came “Grease.” It was the top-grossing movie of 1978. She played Sandy, a good-girl transplant from Australia who falls for Danny, a greaser-bad boy, played by John Travolta. By the end of the movie, they both change. Danny becomes an athlete and Sandy a greaser girl.

After that, Newton-John changed her career, as well. Her songs and wardrobe took on more adult tones. She wore black leather on her next album cover, “Totally Hot.” Then came our Song of the Day, “Physical” in 1981. Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick wrote it with Rod Stewart in mind. Then, Tina Turner turned it down. The song was an immediate hit for Newton-John, staying at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks.

Olivia Newton-John went on to write and perform for years. In 2020, she received damehood from Queen Elizabeth for her services to charity, cancer research and entertainment.