Earlier this week the family of Dame Olivia Newton-John announced the heartbreaking news that the former Eurovision star and British-Australian entertainment icon had peacefully passed away at her California home after her decades-long fight with breast cancer. With time to reflect, we pay tribute to the life of one of Eurovision’s greatest success stories.
The early years
Originally from Cambridge, England, Olivia Newton-John was born to Welsh and German parents. However at the age of 6, the family relocated to Melbourne, Australia where the beginnings of Olivia’s rise to stardom blossomed. At only 14-years of age, Olivia formed her first girl-group, So! Four with her school friends. From there she became a household name starring in numerous Australian TV and talent shows.
Within time, she won a trip back to the United Kingdom and thus won the attention of international audiences for the first time with the release of the self-titled album, Olivia Newton-John. The singer’s dazzling combination of wholesome aura and silky, Country-Pop twang to rival contemporaries such as Doris Day and Dolly Parton, amassing new fans. While in the UK Olivia became close friends and worked with fellow United Kingdom Eurovision star, Cliff Richard along with his band, The Shadows. Of course, paving the way for Olivia to also participate in the biggest global music competition.
Olivia Newton-John in the Eurovision Song Contest 1974
Following the recommendation of Cliff Richard, the BBC internally selected Olivia to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision 1974, hosted in Brighton. This was not the first time Australia had unofficial representation in the contest. Back in 1972 the United Kingdom was also covertly flying the Australian flag for The New Seekers and their entry, ‘Beg, Steal or Borrow‘. After Olivia’s confirmation, the broadcaster hosted a six-song national final with the public choosing the winning entry, ‘Long Live Love’. However in later years, Olivia revealed her personal favourite was actually, ‘Angel Eyes‘.
During the contest. ‘Long Live Love’ placed 4th with 14 points; another famous Eurovision act, ABBA were the eventual winners, who went on to become one of the biggest music groups of all time. Much like the song, Olivia also preferred another outfit choice to the winning public choice of the memorable baby blue chiffon dress.
Of course Eurovision was only the beginning. Soon the holy grail to crack America beckoned. One of the few international stars to achieve it, let alone Eurovision alumni. After ditching the ‘girl-next-door’ image, In 1978 Olivia starred in the film-adaptation of Broadway hit Grease alongside John Travolta. with the soundtrack spending 12 weeks at number 1 and spawning two UK number 1 singles in, ‘Summer Nights‘ and ‘You’re The One That I Want‘. Overall Olivia Newton-John has amassed over 100million streams with 27million in the US. From this she has topped the Billboard charts five times and achieved two number 1 albums in the States. Her most popular song, ‘Physical’ named Song of the Decade by Billboard after spending 10 weeks at number 1 in the Billboard Hot 100. Meanwhile earning 4 Grammy awards and two Golden Globe nominations.
In later years, the Queen recognised this achievement in entertainment, as well as Olivia’s philanthropy work with cancer research and charity, with a Damehood in the 2020 New Year’s Honours List.
Tributes to an icon
The lasting legacy most people will remember Olivia for, was her dedication to environmentalism and cancer research. Since her own first diagnosis in 1992, she and her husband launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation, as well as the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre, donating millions in personal funds to invest in treatments for the disease. Many people across the world connected with Olivia’s story and the poise and determination she carried in the hope to also help others too. This is reflected in the numerous outpourings from fellow Eurovision stars and the people closest to Olivia.
The thoughts of the entire ESCXTRA.com Team are with Olivia Newton John’s family and friends at this difficult time.