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Olivia Newton-John AO OBE

b. 1948

Olivia Newton-John AO OBE (b. 1948) came to Australia as a five-year-old with her father, Brin Newton John, who had worked on the Enigma project at Bletchley, and her mother, Irene Born, who was the daughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born. They settled in Melbourne, where Brin Newton-John was a German lecturer and master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne. Having won a talent contest on the early television show Sing, Sing, Sing Olivia formed an all-girl group called Sol Four and by 1963 was appearing regularly on television variety programs in Australia. She cut her first single for Decca in England in 1966, but her first big hit came in 1971, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘If Not For You’ which was followed with ‘Banks of the Ohio’, a hit in the USA and Australia. Her US album debut, Let Me Be There, produced a smash single of the same name and won her the first of her four Grammy awards. She has since sold more than 100 million albums; had ten number one hit singles including ‘Physical’, which topped the charts for ten consecutive weeks in the early 1980s; had more than 15 top ten singles and won many other industry accolades. Newton-John’s popularity had plateaued when in 1978 she achieved superstardom via the film Grease with John Travolta. She played a schoolgirl, although she turned 30 during filming. Grease became one of the most successful movie musicals of all time. Newton-John performed three songs on its soundtrack, including the smash solo hit ‘Hopelessly Devoted (To You)’. Two years later, she starred in Xanadu, which has since achieved a moderate cult status. In 1983, with her former singing partner Pat Farrar, Newton-John opened her first US store, Koala Blue, specialising in Australian products. In 1992 she created National Tree Day, which is responsible for planting more than 10 million trees in Australia, and in 2000 she sang with John Farnham at the opening of the Olympic Games in Sydney. In early 2005, with several business partners, she opened the Gaia Retreat & Spa in Byron Bay. Never long absent from Australian magazines, which have chronicled her marriages, motherhood and illnesses, since the birth of her daughter in 1986 Newton-John has devoted her energy to children’s organisations and cancer institutions, notably funding the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre (ONJCWC) in Melbourne in 2012. The centre provides a comprehensive range of services and facilities for cancer treatment, education, training and research and in keeping with the star’s widely publicised interest in natural therapies it includes a wellness center for the mind, body and spirit. In 2012 she was named a National Trust National Living Treasure and in 2013 she featured in the Australia Post ‘Legends’ stamp series. In April 2014 she began an extended series of performances at the Flamingo, Las Vegas.A year later, she toured Australia with John Farnham as ‘Two Strong Hearts’. In early 2017 it was announced that the breast cancer Newton-John first weathered in 1992 had metastasized.

Gary Heery took this photograph, superbly evoking both its time and the appeal of its subject, in California. It was the year Grease was released, and the year Olivia Newton-John turned 30.

Updated 2018