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Olivia Newton-John dies at age 73

ABC News logo ABC News 8/8/2022

Olivia Newton-John, who gained worldwide acclaim for her starring role in "Grease," died Monday morning at age 73, according to her family.

"Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends," her family wrote in a statement shared on social media. "We ask that everyone please respect the family's privacy during this very difficult time."

"Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer," the statement continued.

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Originally diagnosed with breast cancer in the '90s, Newton-John was in remission for more than 20 years before it returned in 2013. She revealed in 2018 that the disease returned and metastasized to her spine.

MORE: John Travolta reacts to 'Grease' co-star Olivia Newton-John's death

A singer, songwriter, actress and activist, Newton-John, the granddaughter of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born was born in 1948 in Cambridge, England. When she was 5, her family relocated to Melbourne, Australia, and by her teens, she'd landed her big break, winning a talent contest on the TV show "Sing, Sing, Sing."

By 1966, Newton-John had signed a deal with Decca Records, but her major breakthrough wouldn't come until 1973, with the country-flavored hit "Let Me Be There." That same year, the Academy of Country Music named her its most promising female vocalist, and in 1974, the Country Music Association agreed, crowning her its female vocalist of the year.

The next year, the singer's career would gravitate more toward pop, as she released one of her signature songs. "I Honestly Love You," which won Grammys for record of the year and best female pop vocal performance in 1974.

John Travolta, left, and Olivia Newton-John arrive at the The Penfolds Icon Gala Dinner in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 2006. © Branimir Kvartuc/AP, FILE John Travolta, left, and Olivia Newton-John arrive at the The Penfolds Icon Gala Dinner in Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 2006.

Generations of fans -- particularly young girls -- would come to identify with Newton-John as she took on her most iconic film role in 1978, playing Sandy alongside John Travolta's Danny Zuko in the big-screen adaptation of the musical "Grease." The two would become one of cinema's most beloved couples, performing the duets "You're the One That I Want" and "Summer Nights" together. Newton-John added to her solo staples with "Hopelessly Devoted to You."

"My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better," Travolta wrote on Instagram following Newton-John's death. "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!"

In 1980, Newton-John teamed with the legendary Gene Kelly for the roller-skating fantasy "Xanadu." The movie became a cult classic, and also gave the actress another chart-topping hit from its double-platinum soundtrack.

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Newton-John and Travolta rekindled their onscreen romance for "Two of a Kind" in 1983, and while the film wasn't successful, once again, the actress' music was. The soundtrack went platinum and "Twist of Fate" was a top-five hit.

On the small screen, Newton-John would become a music-video pioneer, turning her super-sexy single "Physical" into a campy romp through saunas, aerobics and workout rooms, alternating ultra-fit male models with an out-of-shape every-man who could lose a few pounds. The clip propelled the song to 10 weeks at the top of the chart, and "Physical" won the 1982 Grammy for video of the year.

Olivia Newton-John, alongside John Travolta, pose in a film still from "Grease," released in 1978. © Rb/Redferns, FILE Olivia Newton-John, alongside John Travolta, pose in a film still from "Grease," released in 1978.

Newton-John charted many No. 1 hits throughout her career and sold more than 100 million albums, continuing to work right up until the recurrence of her cancer forced her postpone her 2017 tour. Earlier, she staged a well-received Las Vegas residency at the Flamingo for two years, starting in the spring of 2014.

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In her own eyes, Newton-John saw her family and her humanitarian work as her greatest accomplishments. She and her former husband, actor Matt Lattanzi, welcomed their daughter Chloe in 1986, and Newton-John later helped establish the "Healthy Child, Healthy World" organization after the daughter of Newton-John's friend died of a rare form of cancer.

During her battle with breast cancer, Newton-John worked to raise awareness for the disease and established the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in her hometown of Melbourne in 2012.

In this Sept. 10, 2010, file photo, Olivia Newton John poses for a portrait during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. © Matt Carr/Getty Images, FILE In this Sept. 10, 2010, file photo, Olivia Newton John poses for a portrait during the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada.

In 2020, she launched the Olivia Newton-John Foundation to fund research for treatments and therapies to cure cancer.

​​"There are lots of ideas on how we can help people with cancer and treat cancer, but there's been no real science behind the studies," she told "GMA" at the time. "So the idea is to raise money to fund the research on the other kinds of things that are kinder, including a lot of plant medicine."

Newton-John is survived by her husband John Easterling, daughter Chloe Lattanzi, sister Sarah Newton-John, brother Toby Newton-John and her nieces and nephews.

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