Olivia Newton-John has died at the age of 73 English-Australian singer, songwriter and actress Olivia Newton-John has died at age 73. She was one of the the biggest pop stars in the 1970's and early 1980's.

1980s pop goddess Olivia Newton-John has died at age 73

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Singer Olivia Newton-John, one of the biggest pop stars in the 1970s and early '80s, has died. She was 73 years old. NPR's Mandalit Del Barco reports that the Australian singer was known for her sweet voice and her film roles, especially in "Grease."

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: In the 1978 movie musical "Grease," Olivia Newton-John starred as the good girl Sandy Olsson, who falls for a bad boy played by John Travolta.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")

JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Danny Zuko) Sandy.

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (As Sandy Olsson) Danny?

TRAVOLTA: (As Danny Zuko) What are you - what are you doing here?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUMMER NIGHTS")

JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (As Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, singing) Summer days drifting away to, oh, those summer nights.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As the T-Birds, singing) Oh, well, oh, well, oh, well, oh.

DEL BARCO: On TV's "Merv Griffin Show" in 1981, Travolta said he lobbied hard for Newton-John to make her film debut as his costar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MERV GRIFFIN SHOW")

TRAVOLTA: I wanted this girl bad in "Grease" because I had done the show on Broadway. So I said, the perfect Sandy, the ultimate Sandy would be Olivia Newton-John.

DEL BARCO: But the Australian singer told "The Today Show" in 2019 she'd been skeptical. She was 28 years old playing a high school student.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

NEWTON-JOHN: I couldn't do an American accent, and I was too old, and I had all these reasons why I couldn't do it. We did a screen test. The chemistry was there, and it worked. And when John came to see me at my house. And how could you say no to John Travolta?

NATALIE MORALES: He convinced you.

NEWTON-JOHN: Right, exactly.

DEL BARCO: Travolta got her to wear skintight pants and a leather jacket to play Sandy as a cool girl by the time they sang together at the end of the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT")

JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (As Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, singing) You're the one that I want.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) You are the one I want.

JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (As Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, singing) Ooh, ooh, ooh, honey.

DEL BARCO: The soundtrack for "Grease" was wildly successful. Her duet with Travolta was a bestselling single.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT")

JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (As Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, singing) Oh, yes, indeed.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (Singing) Yes, indeed.

DEL BARCO: Olivia Newton-John was born in England in 1948 and grew up in Australia, where she started her career as a teenager. She was a regular on local radio and TV shows before winning a talent contest. She ended up recording country pop songs in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET ME BE THERE")

NEWTON-JOHN: (Singing) All I ask you is let me be there.

MIKE SAMMES: (Singing) Oh, let me be there.

DEL BARCO: For "Let Me Be There," she won her first Grammy Award in 1973. The following year, she got two Grammys for "I Honestly Love You." Newton-John continued with mellow pop songs before getting her fourth Grammy in 1982 for the suggestive single "Let's Get Physical."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GET PHYSICAL")

NEWTON-JOHN: (Singing) Let's get physical, physical. I want to get physical. Let's get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.

DEL BARCO: Newton-John told NPR over the phone in 2012 that the song made her uncomfortable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NEWTON-JOHN: I thought it was a great song but then had a panic attack and called my manager and said, you can't put this out. It's too over the top, and it's too risque. And he says, too late. It's gone to radio. So then I said, well, you know what? I think we need to make it more about exercise.

DEL BARCO: So for her music video, she wore a sweatband, leotards and legwarmers. After other hits and other movies, she dropped out of the spotlight to raise her daughter and to devote herself to promoting environmentalism and breast cancer awareness after she was diagnosed with the disease. She faced several more bouts of cancer with alternative therapies, medical marijuana, humor and optimism. On "The Today Show," she said her positive attitude helped.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY")

NEWTON-JOHN: What you think creates your reality. So that's a decision. You have to make that decision. You know, you can be a victim, or you can be a winner and enjoy your life. It hasn't been easy, of course. I mean, I'm human, and I go through fear and all the things everyone going through a cancer or any other difficult diagnosis. But it's a choice how you deal with it.

DEL BARCO: To help others stay calm, Olivia Newton-John and her business partners opened a luxury health and wellness retreat and spa in Australia. Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU")

NEWTON-JOHN: (As Sandy Olsson, singing) Hopelessly devoted...

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