You could almost hear the collective sigh as our phones pinged earlier this week. Olivia Newton-John, Sandy from Grease, had passed away from breast cancer. She had previously battled the disease in 1992 before, in 2017, announcing it had returned. But Olivia by no means lost the battle or succumbed to the disease.
Newton-John was best known for Grease, which hasn’t held up very well today in some people’s eyes. The story of Sandy, a squeaky clean goody-two-shoes transforming herself into a foxy, leather-clad lady isn’t quite the feel-good story you’d think. With lyrics such as “Tell me more, tell me more, Did she put up a fight?” and “Well, she was good you know what I mean,” Grease hasn’t quite stood the test of time, but Newton-John always did.
Born in 1948 in Cambridge, England, Newton-John’s family relocated to Australia in 1954. Newton-John originally wished to become a vet, thanks to her love for animals, but she struggled with science and turned to music instead.
Newton-John had a successful career in music before Grease; she moved to London in 1966 and released three albums before being cast in in the Hollywood classic opposite John Travolta. She also won four Grammys in her career.
Grease was 1978’s biggest box office success and is still widely regarded as one of the best Hollywood musicals, largely thanks to the chemistry between Newton-John and Travolta. Newton-John also received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in the film.
Her Sandy was still an icon, not only for her generation but the for all that followed. She represented the duality in all of us: we too could transform ourselves into a more confident, sexier version of ourselves. We could be both good and bad, naughty and nice, hot and cold.
Sandy’s metamorphosis was equally mirrored in her own public image as her next albums, Totally Hot and Physical, leaned heavily into her newly-found, sexy confidence. Through her image, Newton-John empowered us all and allowed us to reinvent ourselves. Not only that, she made it look easy. If she could do it, both on screen and privately, we could too.
Her iconic black Sandy outfit from the last scene of Grease was auctioned in 2019 and sold for a whopping $405,000. It has become a lasting piece of film history, synonymous of sexual freedom and having it all.
Social media was filled with tributes from fans and colleagues alike yesterday. John Travolta, Danny to her Sandy, took to Instagram to post a touching tribute to her.
“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better. 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!”
Stockard Channing, who starred in Grease as Rizzo described her as the “essence of summer, stating “I don’t know if I’ve known a lovelier human being.
“Her sunniness, her warmth and her grace are what always come to mind when I think of her. I will miss her enormously.”
Singer Rod Stewart credited his ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy’-era to Newton-John. Oprah Winfrey called Newton-John’s positivity “just infectious.”
Newton-John also founded a cancer charity, the Olivia Newton John Foundation which has raised millions of pounds for cancer research.