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Cambridge-born Grease star Dame Olivia Newton-John dies at the age of 73

Cambridge-born star Dame Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of 73.

The singer died “peacefully” at her ranch in Southern California on Monday morning, surrounded by family and friends.

Olivia Newton-John in 1994. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA (58518410)
Olivia Newton-John in 1994. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA (58518410)

Dame Olivia is best known for her starring role in the 1978 film Grease, in which she starred opposite John Travolta as Sandy.

Her performance saw her nominated for multiple awards including two Golden Globes, and various other film accolades.

Writing on Instagram, Mr Travolta said that her “impact was incredible” and signed off his tribute to the actress as “your Danny”.

“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” he wrote.

“Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. 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!”

The soundtrack to Grease is one of the world’s best-selling albums of recorded music and features the two hit duets from Dame Olivia and Travolta: Summer Nights and You’re The One That I Want.

The latter also ranks as one of the best-selling singles of all time.

Dame Olivia was born in Cambridge to Welshman Professor Brin Newton-John and his German-born wife Irene, who was the daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born.

Dame Olivia Newton John with Dame Mary Archer at the launch of the Pink Rose Valentine's Appeal to raise funds for Breast Cancer in 2009. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dame Olivia Newton John with Dame Mary Archer at the launch of the Pink Rose Valentine's Appeal to raise funds for Breast Cancer in 2009. Picture: Keith Heppell

The youngest of three children, she moved with her family to Melbourne, Australia, when she was five.

By her mid-teens, she was already carving out a career as a budding star, having formed a girl group with classmates called Sol Four at the age of 14 before winning a talent contest on Australian TV show Sing, Sing, Sing and a trip to the UK.

Although initially hesitant to travel back to the UK, she took the trip a year after winning the programme, on the advice of her mother and, once there, she recorded her first single in 1966, Till You Say You’ll Be Mine.

Dame Olivia then formed a partnership with a friend from Melbourne, Pat Carroll, with the pair touring Army bases and clubs throughout the UK and Europe as the double act Pat and Olivia.

Her second single, a cover of Bob Dylan’s If Not For You, reached the top 10 in the UK and Australia, giving her an early taste for success before her next single, Banks Of The Ohio, topped the charts in Australia.

In 1974, she represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Long Live Love, and came in fourth place in the year Abba won with Waterloo.

She experienced further pop music success in the years following Eurovision, before the career-defining role in Grease arrived in 1978.

Olivia Newton-John in 2005. Picture: PA (58518408)
Olivia Newton-John in 2005. Picture: PA (58518408)

A multi-platinum selling artist, her two singles and two albums earned the certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

In a statement posted to Instagram, her husband John Easterling wrote: “We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

Aside from her showbusiness career, Dame Olivia became a prominent breast cancer campaigner, after being given the first of three cancer diagnoses in 1992.

Following her initial battle with the disease, she had a partial mastectomy and reconstruction.

She remained cancer-free until a recurrence in 2013, but revealed she had been diagnosed with cancer for the third time in three decades in September 2018.

At the time, she told Australian news programme Sunday Night that doctors had found a tumour in her lower back in 2017.

The singer said she was treating the illness “naturally” and was using cannabis oil made from marijuana her husband grows in California to alleviate the pain.

She also underwent radiation treatment and cut sugar from her diet in a bid to overcome the cancer. She said: “I believe I will win over it.”

She also said she hoped Australia would legalise medical marijuana.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” Mr Easterling said in his Instagram post.

“Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.”

Mr Easterling added that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Dame Olivia’s foundation.

She is survived by her husband as well as her daughter Chloe Lattanzi.

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