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FEATURED TRIBUTE: The twists and turns of Grease star Dame Olivia Newton-John’s life

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#AceNewsDesk – Despite all the success in Dame Olivia Newton-John’s career — and there were many — there were plenty of hard times as well.

A man and woman smile at the camera.
Grease cast members John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John at a 40th anniversary screening of the film in 2018.(Reuters: Mario Anzuoni)none

Most famous for her role as Sandy in Grease, Newton-John passed away, peacefully, at her Californian home on Monday, aged 73.

During her life, she won four Grammys, among other awards, and had several number one hits. 

Yet, despite her success, her life had many twists and turns and not everything was perfect.

Here are some of the twists and turns in the performer’s life: 

Disappearance of her former partner

Shortly after her 11-year marriage to dancer and actor Matt Lattanzi ended in divorce, Newton-John began an on-and-off relationship with cameraman Patrick McDermott but that union ended with a very public mystery. 

After the couple dated, on and off, for nine years, McDermott was believed to have disappeared at sea. 

He was on an overnight fishing trip off the California coast in 2005 soon after the couple had broken up.

At the time, US Coast Guard investigators concluded that he most likely drowned at sea.

It was speculated McDermott had moved to Mexico with a new girlfriend and, in 2010, a private eye claimed he was living on a boat off the coast of Acapulco.

A woman in a red and pink gown sings into a microphone
Olivia Newton-John’s boyfriend disappeared not long after the pair parted ways. (Reuters: Kimimasa Mayama)none

However, those claims have never been proven. 

In 2016, Newton-John told Nine’s 60 Minutes “nobody really knows what happened”. 

“It’s human to wonder,” she said. 

“But, you know, those are the things in life you have to accept and let go. Because, whenever you go through difficult times, there’s always those concerns.”

Fashion line collapse

Olivia Newton-John leans against a wall with her hands in her pockets
Olivia Newton-John once co-ran a fashion label, Koala Blue, with close friend and former co-singer Pat Farrar.(AP: Julie Parkes)none

Newton-John is well known for the iconic, black, body-hugging outfit she wore as Sandy in Grease. Less well-remembered, perhaps, is that she launched a fashion label of her own with her close friend and former singing partner, Pat Farrar. 

Koala Blue — standing for Korner of Australia LA — was a leisurewear line established by the pair in the late 80s and the name was a nod to their Australian roots.

At the time, Newton-John said she felt homesick while on tour. 

The brand expanded to 60 stores across the world, including outlets in Hong Kong, Canada, Japan, France, the US and Australia.

However, according to the Australian Financial Review, the chain collapsed in 1992 after being placed in receivership a year earlier. 

“We expanded so fast [that,] when the recession hit, we really got hurt,” Newton-John said at the time. 

Radio ban and MTV edit

It was four decades ago ago, after the release of one of her biggest hits, Physical, Newton-John told journalists she didn’t realise what the song was about initially. 

A blonde woman in a red dress smiles at the camera while another younger woman stands behind
Dame Olivia Newton-John with her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi.(Reuters)none

The song — described as too raunchy for 1981 — had several radio stations refuse to play it.

In an interview with Australian Women’s Weekly, Newton-John said the song had her banned from Utah.

“Compared to what I’m listening to on the radio now, it’s more like a lullaby,” she said 40 years after the song’s release. 

The original edit of the music video showed the then 33-year-old working out in a gym in front of a group of men. 

However, it was revealed, in a twist at the end of the clip, that the men with her were actually gay as they coupled off holding hands. 

The twist caused MTV to cut the ending. 

Despite all this, the song still spent 10 weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. 

Family and personal health

Newton-John was born on September 26, 1948, in England, the third child of Brinley and Irene Newton-John.

Her eldest sibling, Hugh, is a respected Melbourne doctor and the middle child was Rona, to whom Newton-John was close.

In 1992 — on the same weekend that their father, 78, died of cancer — Newton-John herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

She underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction, took herbal formulas, meditated and focused on a vision of complete wellness.

Newton-John then lost her mother, at age 89 years, in 2003. Irene had been central to her daughter’s international success, encouraging her to head overseas at the tender age of 16 and going along as her chaperone.

Sadly, in 2013, Newton-John lost her beloved sister to brain cancer, when Rona was aged 70 — on May 25 in Australia, the same day as their late mother’s birthday. 

“I will miss her forever — my beautiful, smart, talented, funny, brave sister Rona,” Newton-John wrote on her Facebook page at the time. 

A year earlier, in 2012 — and 20 years after her first breast cancer diagnosis — she had opened the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne in 2012 and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute in the same Heidelberg campus in 2014.

Both of those initiatives have gone on to do wonderful work in Newton-John’s name, not only providing a comprehensive cancer diagnosis and treatment centre but also carrying out breakthrough research and clinical trials.

“As a cancer thriver, Dame Olivia Newton-John drew strength from complementary therapies that improved her wellbeing and maintained her positive spirit,” the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre website acknowledges.

The star also supported her only child, singer and actress Chloe Lattanzi — who had struggled with drug addiction, alcohol dependency, anorexia, body dysmorphia and depression — which she opened up about in an interview with Studio Ten in 2020.

However, Chloe, then 34, said — in the same interview — that her appearance on the Australian version of Dancing With The Stars was starting a “new chapter in her life”.

Three years ago, Newton-John was again reported to be broken-hearted when she lost her brother, Hugh, on May 7, 2019. Hugh was said to be a fine musician and a brilliant physician. 


#AceNewsDesk report ………..Published: Aug.09: 2022:

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