Olivia Newton-John Biography

26 September 1948, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England. Newton-John’s father was a professor of German at King’s College who, in 1953, accepted the position of dean at Ormond College in Melbourne, Australia. Olivia’s showbusiness career began when she won a local contest to find ‘the girl who looked most like Hayley Mills’ in 1960. At the age of 14 she formed the Sol Four with school friends. Though this vocal group disbanded, the encouragement of customers who heard her sing solo in a cafe led her to enter - and win - a television talent show with the song ‘Everything’s Coming Up Roses’. The prize was a holiday in London, although she delayed this to work as a hostess on the children’s television show The Tarax Happy Show, and co-host the daily variety show The Go Show with singer Pat Carroll. She left for England with her mother at the end of 1965, and gained an audition with Decca Records, during which she recorded her debut single, Jackie DeShannon’s ‘Till You Say You’ll Be Mine’.

Released in May 1966 the single failed to generate any interest and Decca soon let the young singer go. Staying on in England, she gigged with the visiting Carroll and returned to Australia briefly to appear on a television special and shoot her first movie role, 1966’s Funny Things Happen Down Under. Returning to England she joined Karl Chambers, Vic Cooper and Ben Thomas in Toomorrow, a group created by bubblegum-pop potentate Don Kirshner to fill the gap in the market left by the disbanded Monkees. As well as a science-fiction movie and its soundtrack, Toomorrow was also responsible for ‘I Could Never Live Without Your Love, ’ a 1970 single, produced by the Shadows’ Bruce Welch - with whom she was romantically linked. Although Toomorrow petered out, Newton-John’s link with Cliff Richard and the Shadows was a source of enduring professional benefit. A role in a Richard movie, tours as special guest in The Cliff Richard Show, and a residency - as a comedienne as well as singer - on BBC Television’s It’s Cliff! guaranteed steady sales of her first album, and the start of a patchy British chart career with a Top 10 arrangement of Bob Dylan’s ‘If Not For You’ in 1971.

More typical of her output were singles such as ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, penned by John Denver, ‘Banks Of The Ohio’ and, from the late John Rostill of the Shadows, 1973’s ‘Let Me Be There’. This last release was sparked off by an appearance on the USA’s The Dean Martin Show and crossed from the US country charts to the Hot 100, winning her a controversial Grammy for Best Female Country Vocal. After an uneasy performance in 1974’s Eurovision Song Contest, Newton-John became omnipresent in North America, first as its most popular country artist, though her standing in pop improved considerably after a chart-topper with ‘I Honestly Love You, ’ produced by John Farrar, another latter-day Shadow (and husband of the earlier-mentioned Pat Carroll), who had assumed the task after the estrangement of Newton-John and Welch. Newton-John also became renowned for her duets with other artists, notably in the movie of the musical Grease in which she and co-star John Travolta performed ‘You’re The One That I Want’. This irresistibly effervescent song became one of the most successful UK hit singles in pop history, topping the charts for a stupendous nine weeks. The follow-up, ‘Summer Nights’ was also a UK number 1 in 1978. ‘Xanadu’, with the Electric Light Orchestra, the title song of a movie in which she starred, was another global number 1. However, not such a money-spinner was a further cinema venture with Travolta (1983’s Two Of A Kind). Neither was ‘After Dark’, a single with the late Andy Gibb in 1980, nor Now Voyager, a 1984 album with brother Barry Gibb.

With singles such as ‘Physical’ (1981) and the 1985 album Soul Kiss on Mercury Records she adopted a raunchier image in place of her original perky wholesomeness. During the late 80s/early 90s much of her time was spent, along with Pat (Carroll) Farrar, running her Australian-styled clothing business, Blue Koala. Following The Rumour, Newton-John signed to Geffen Records for the release of a collection of children’s songs and rhymes, Warm And Tender. The award of an OBE preceded her marriage to actor and dancer Matt Lattanzi. She remains a showbusiness evergreen, although her life was clouded in 1992 when her fashion empire crashed, and it was announced that she was undergoing treatment for cancer. She subsequently revealed that she had won her battle with the disease, and in 1994 released an album that she had written, produced and paid for herself. At the same time, it was estimated that in a career spanning nearly 30 years, she had sold more than 50 million records worldwide. Sales rocketed in 1998, when the Grease movie was re-released, and both the soundtrack and single, ‘You’re The One That I Want’, returned to the upper reaches of the charts. She now records frequently and has found a comfortable niche catering for her loyal following.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.