Born September 26, 1948, in Cambridge, England; daughter of Bryn (a university president) and Irene (Born) Newton-John; married Matt Lattanzi (an actor), 1984; children: Chloe. Education: Quit school at the age of 16 to sing professionally in England. Addresses: Home-- Malibu, CA. Management-- The Bill Sammeth Organization, 9200 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 1001, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
Known for her clear, gentle voice, Olivia Newton-John has achieved stardom in the areas of pop, middle-of-the-road, and country music. Several movie and television roles in both singing and non-singing parts contribute to her list of accomplishments. In the early 1970s Newton-John, with her appealing looks and voice, became a superstar almost overnight. While critics knocked her music for being superficial and overly sentimental, the number of her fans and record sales grew rapidly. A decade after she first realized success, Newton-John dropped out of the spotlight to raise a family and promote more of her personal social causes, which include environmentalism and recycling.
Although she is widely thought to be Australian, Newton-John was actually born in Cambridge, England, where she was raised until the age of five. After moving to Australia her mother insisted that she keep her British passport, which was to come in handy later. As a teenager, Newton-John won an Australian talent contest that, as its prize, sent her to England. While there, she and another female performer from Australia, Pat Carroll, formed a singing duo and achieved a reasonable amount of success. The couple disbanded, though, when Carroll's visa ran out and she had to return to Australia. With her British passport Newton-John was able to continue with her career in England, now as a solo performer.
While in England Newton-John pursued a series of odd singing jobs, including joining a curious group called Tomorrow (some sources say Toomorrow), which was supposed to be England's answer to the successful U.S. pop group The Monkees. She appeared with Tomorrow in a science-fiction film, an endeavor she would like to overlook. Returning a little more to the mainstream, Newton-John began appearing on British singer Cliff Richard's television series, which helped her promote her first single, a cover of Bob Dylan's "If Not for You." A few more singles brought her acclaim in Great Britain, but it was not until the 1973 release of Let Me Be There that Newton-John became popular in the United States.
The title single for Let Me Be There went on to win the singer a Grammy Award for best country female performance. Although she had originally positioned herself as a folk performer, Newton-John's uncomplicated style crossed over into the country music category as well. The performer also received two Grammys for her work on the 1975 release "I Honestly Love You." By this time, Newton-John had moved to Los Angeles, California, and was busy touring and performing in Las Vegas, Nevada. Her albums were consistently going gold and platinum.
While fans perpetuated her stardom, critics were less enthusiastic. Artistically, Newton-John was considered superficial, vacuous, and lacking in musical integrity. Some claimed, as Chris Stoehr summarized in the Detroit Free Press, that "her music crosses over into several audiences because it has no style of its own." In that same article, Newton-John defended herself by asking, "Why do people like certain things? I don't know. Neither do the critics, that's for sure. It was not instant, you know, my success.... I was just a performer the audience found pleasant. And after all, the audience's opinion is the only one that counts, isn't it?"
In 1977, at one of singer Helen Reddy's parties, Newton-John was "discovered" by movie producer Allan Carr. The producer was pondering whom to cast in his upcoming film, Grease, and was struck by Newton-John's beauty. It is said that he practically begged her to take the female lead, which she did for a bargain $125,000. A little apprehensive, the performer began preparing for a role she reportedly hoped would make her the Doris Day of the era. Playing Sandy opposite actor John Travolta gave her newfound fame and visibility. The popular movie was accompanied by a successful soundtrack, which launched Newton-John and Travolta's duet single "You're the One That I Want"; the song landed a number one position on the charts.
In the film, Newton-John's character changes from a timid ingenue to a temptress who ultimately outgreases Travolta's bad boy role. In Newton-John's professional life, it could be said that this same sort of transformation was taking place. Allegedly no longer content to be a sweet, gentle-voiced crooner, Newton-John began to pump up her act. In 1978 she released the provocative recording Totally Hot, followed by the equally sexy Physical in 1981. Physical contributed three hit singles to the U.S. charts. Newton-John then went on a successful tour where she danced in tight-fitting workout gear. The artist also worked with friend and former co-star Travolta to tone her body into muscular perfection. The switch from innocent to racy occurred, Newton-John admitted in the Detroit Free Press, because "you change over the years; you grow and change. I hope that I wouldn't be the same at 33 that I was at 23. I didn't go out and take lessons in being something else; I've just grown."
Newton-John's career toned down rather quickly from the frenzied peak of the early 1980s. She starred in a film with Travolta in 1983 called Two of a Kind, which faded from view without much notice. After that the singer seemed to be in a kind of semi-retirement. She married longtime companion Matt Lattanzi in 1984, and the couple had a daughter, Chloe. In 1988 Newton-John released another album, The Rumour, but mostly the actress was attending to her family and charitable concerns. "It sounds kind of boring to say I've been at home," Newton-John told People about her whereabouts from 1983 to 1991, "But that's the truth."
The singer came out of her virtual seclusion to star in a made-for-television-film, A Mom for Christmas. In the movie, she plays a mannequin who becomes real in order to take care of a girl without a mother. In 1989 she recorded an album of soothing songs for infants called Warm and Tender after realizing that she could find no music with which to comfort her young daughter. And in 1992 Newton-John released Back to Basics: The Essential Collection 1971-92, which includes four new tunes. That same year she announced that she had been diagnosed with an early and treatable form of breast cancer and reportedly put new musical projects on hold.
Though basically estranged from the limelight, Newton-John has increasingly turned to environmental projects as well as undertakings such as designing a 10,000-square-foot beach house in Malibu, California. She is unclear as to whether she will return to a life of singing stardom. Enjoying family life, Newton-John admitted in People that "all I need to hear is 'Good night, Mommy, I love you,' and there's no question everything is worth it."
by Nancy Rampson
Olivia Newton-John's Career
Singer with Pat Carroll and Cliff Richard in England; member of pop group Tomorrow (some sources say Toomorrow); recorded hit singles, including "If Not for You" and "Take Me Home Country Roads," early 1970s; moved to United States and recorded several successful albums; toured United States and other countries; actress and singer in films Grease, 1978, Xanadu, 1980, and Two of a Kind, 1983; actress in television film A Mom for Christmas, NBC, 1991. Owner of boutiques named "Koala Blue" (shops went bankrupt, 1991).
Olivia Newton-John's Awards
Grammy awards, 1971, for "Banks of the Ohio," 1973, best country vocalist, for "Let Me Be There," and 1974, record of the year and best pop vocal performance, both for "I Honestly Love You"; Country Music Association Award, 1973, for best country female vocal performance, and 1976, for best female singer; eight American Music awards; named officer of the Order of the British Empire.
- Selective Works
- Let Me Be There MCA, 1973.
- If You Love Me, Let Me Know MCA, 1974.
- Long Live Love MCA, 1974.
- First Impressions MCA, 1974.
- Have You Never Been Mellow MCA, 1975.
- Clearly Love MCA, 1975.
- Come On Over MCA, 1976.
- Don't Stop Believin' MCA, 1976.
- Making a Good Thing Better MCA, 1977.
- Olivia Newton-John's Greatest Hits EMI, 1977.
- Grease Soundtrack RSO, 1978.
- Totally Hot MCA, 1978.
- Xanadu Soundtrack MCA, 1980.
- Physical EMI, 1981.
- Greatest Hits EMI, 1982.
- The Rumour 1988.
- Warm and Tender Geffen, 1989.
- Back to Basics: The Essential Collection 1971-92 Geffen, 1992.
- Pareles, Jon, and Patricia Romanowski, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press/Summit Books, 1983.
- Detroit Free Press, May 17, 1979; August 22, 1982; July 15, 1992.
- Fortune, May 22, 1989.
- High Fidelity, July 1989.
- New York, December 4, 1989.
- New York Daily News, May 1, 1977.
- Parade Magazine, July 1, 1979; December 4, 1988.
- People, February 24, 1975; July 31, 1978; December 24, 1990; August 19, 1991; June 22, 1992.
- Redbook, November 1990.