Olivia Newton-John Still Captures Many Hearts a Year After Her Death
I will never forget when I read the news that the beloved idol of my youth and today, as an adult, Olivia Newton-John had passed. I was trolling around on social media as I often do until I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it posted on her Facebook page. It was so fresh it hadn’t even hit the wires yet. I was devastated, heartbroken and immediately started bawling. Now I normally don’t get this way when it comes to celebrity deaths, but she has held a special place in my heart for a very long time.
Back to when I was a kid (granted, I was born in ’74), remember those plastic bowling pin sets you were probably lucky enough to get for Christmas? Well, I remember creating my own roller-skating rink with them and would skate around in my basement pretending I was a muse, much like her role in Xanadu. While most people were Grease lovers, I really gravitated toward Xanadu. Granted, the movie was blasted by critics, and yeah, I’ll admit it is pretty cheesy, but how can you pass up that amazing soundtrack? While on the subject of this cult classic, I think it would be fair to mention that not only did my beloved Olivia die on Aug. 8, 2022, Xanadu happened to be released on Aug. 8, 1980! What are the odds of that?
In case you aren’t totally aware of the acclaimed blonde Aussie singer-songwriter with the sweetest smile, she was born in England in 1948 to an English father and German mother. Since her father worked as an M15 officer and headmaster of several universities, they moved around quite a bit before landing in Australia. Her music career started after winning a talent contest, which brought her back to England, where she met her duet partner Pat Carroll. The duo worked the club circuit in the late 1960s, and Olivia released her first solo album in 1971 and went on to have a slew of hits in the ’70s that ranked on both the pop and country charts, songs like “I Honestly Love You” and “Let Me Be There.”
It was in 1978 when she made her screen debut as the sweet naive Sandy in Grease along with future longtime friend John Travolta. I mean, who could forget those hot “Summer Nights”? With the movie and soundtrack being a mega hit, she’d try her hand in the movies again; this time it was Xanadu in 1980, but we will come back to that. In 1981, her massive album Physical hit the airwaves and spawned the No. 1 single of the same name. Over her career, she recorded 26 studio albums, 15 Top 10 singles, including five No. 1 singles on Billboard, and won four Grammys.
Some of Newton-John’s most important work over the years came on the activism and advocacy fronts. She was a longtime supporter of children’s and animal rights and won many honors while fighting for those causes. Health issues also took on importance to Newton-John, especially since 1992, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She recovered and became an advocate for breast cancer research, with her passion leading to the creation of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia. During this time she was also holding a residency in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel & Casino. Although her cancer had been in remission for many years, in May 2017 Newton-John revealed that it had returned and metastasized in her lower back. She beat the disease three times, but ultimately succumbed to it at her home in the Santa Ynez Valley of California at the age of 73.
Now, back to Xanadu. As mentioned above, critics hated it, but this roller disco fantasy film lives on to be a cult favorite. It was even adapted into a successful Broadway play. If you love of this movie as much as myself or are new to it (I own four copies of the soundtrack!), we have five things you may, or possibly may not, know about the film.
Marvel, as in Marvel Comics, released an illustrated story of the film that not only contains the movie in comic form but also many behind-the-scenes features, bios on the stars, how the special effects were created and so much more.
The animation sequence during the song “Don’t Walk Away” was created by Don Bluth Productions, by Don Bluth himself, as the company wasn’t even a year old yet. You may recognize the same style of art in the movies Secret of NIMH and All Dogs Go to Heaven, plus the Dragons Lair video game, to name a few.
The soundtrack produced by Jeff Lynne of Electronic Light Orchestra, or ELO for short, was his first movie soundtrack. Not only did Lynne and ELO have the hits with the opening track “I’m Alive” and “All Over the World,” but Lynn also wrote the title track to the movie, “Xanadu,” which earned him and Olivia a No. 1 hit. It also spawned the No. 1 hit “Magic.”
It was actor Gene Kelly‘s last movie. He choreographed the dance sequence “Whenever You’re Away From Me” between him and Olivia. It was nearly identical to a scene he did with Judy Garland in For Me and My Gal (1942).
Famed costume designer Bobbie Mannix did over 260 costumes for this film that had to range the gamut of 1940s-era swing look to a modern 1980s punk look to the flowing breezy muse dresses. She also did The Warriors in 1978, which happened to also star Michael Beck. The muse dresses at one point were also part of a clothing line that anyone could get.
Love and light, Olivia; the world sure lost a shining star a year ago today, on Aug. 8, 2022. We love you, we honestly do.