The breadth and depth of Olivia Newton-John's singing and acting career allow for comparison to Madonna and Bette Midler, but neither of these artists has reached the explosive height of popularity that Newton-John hit with her 1981 smash single, 'Physical,' or her 1978 hit film, GREASE. With four Grammy Awards under her belt, Newton-John enjoys the recognition of her peers as well as her multitude of fans.
Born in England in 1948, the daughter of a Cambridge professor and the granddaughter of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Newton-John was off to Australia by age five, and this move was her ticket to become known as a singer and TV personality before she turned 16. In Melbourne she met John Farrar, who would produce the majority of her recordings, including her first U.S. single, 1971's 'If Not for You,' written by Bob Dylan.
At the end of 1973, Newton-John launched a string of five straight gold singles, beginning with 'Let Me Be There,' which won her a Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal Performance. Two singles later, 'I Honestly Love You' won her two Grammys after it became her first U.S. pop Number One hit in late 1974. Her next single, 'Have You Never Been Mellow,' reached gold and Number One as well.
Where does one go from there? After a brief respite from the Top Ten, Newton-John joined forces with John Travolta in 1978 on the most successful musical film of all time, GREASE. After topping the charts with the platinum single 'You're the One That I Want,' two more singles from GREASE went gold, and one of them, 'Hopelessly Devoted to You,' received an Oscar nomination.
Where does one go from there? The lifestyle change that Newton-John undertook in GREASE crossed into real life, as the wholesome country girl donned leather for her next album, TOTALLY HOT, which produced another gold single. Her second film, XANADU, gave her a huge Number One hit, 'Magic,' which was her tenth gold single.
And from there? There was only one way to move up from there, and that was to record a song that would top the pop charts for ten weeks, tied for the longest ever before Billboard revamped its computation of chart standings in 1991. 'Physical' went platinum on its way to becoming the biggest single to date, and its video won Newton-John her fourth Grammy. She still had one gold record in her, 'Make a Move on Me,' and a couple of other Top Ten hits.
Newton-John has her generous and courageous side as well. She has championed a number of environmental causes, as well as a foundation to find a cure for a rare childhood cancer. Breast cancer struck Newton-John in the early 1990s, and her openness about the experience (most evident in her album GAIA) has earned her great admiration.
Now, back on the road and selling tickets like hotcakes, Newton-John has a life of rich experience to reflect on in her shows. Her daughter, Chloe, often joins her on stage, and this addition to the legacy of Olivia Newton-John's work is as fitting as any she has built up over the years.
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