Olivia Newton-John, ‘Grease’ Star and Granddaughter of Jewish Nobel Laureate, Dies at 73

The English actress, most famous for her starring role in the 1978 musical 'Grease', died of the breast cancer she had battled since 1992

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Flowers adorn Olivia Newton-John's Hollywood Walk of Fame star in Los Angeles, on Monday.
Flowers adorn Olivia Newton-John's Hollywood Walk of Fame star in Los Angeles, on Monday.Credit: Damian Dovarganes /AP

Olivia Newton-John, the iconic pop singer of the 1970s and ’80s, died at her home in Southern California Monday of the breast cancer she had battled for three decades. She was 73.

Newton-John was most famous for her starring role as Sandy Olsson, alongside John Travolta’s Danny Zuko, in the 1978 musical “Grease,” and as the singer of the 1982 hit song “Physical.”

Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England, to Brinley Newton-John and Irene Born, the daughter of Max Born, a Jewish Nobel laureate and one of the founders of quantum mechanics. Born, who was a friend of Albert Einstein, moved to England after being suspended from his position at a German university by the Nazi regime, likely saving his life. There, his wife worked to help Jewish refugee women find employment.

“My mother was very proud of her Jewish heritage and talked about it a lot,” Newton-John told an Israeli news network three years ago. “It’s interesting: Some of my closest girlfriends are Jewish.”

Actress and singer Olivia Newton-John attends the 2018 G'Day USA Los Angeles Gala in Los Angeles, in 2018.Credit: Richard Shotwell /AP

Newton-John had built a prolific and historic career as a pop singer over the decades, performing at Eurovision the year that ABBA won for “Waterloo,” earning an Oscar nomination for her performance in one of the most successful movie musicals of all time, headlining her own Las Vegas show and releasing chart-topping pop hits.

In 1992, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and became an advocate for cancer research. Newton-John went into remission for 21 years, but the cancer returned in 2013 and again in 2017. In a 2017 interview with NBC’s “Today Show,” she revealed that John Travolta had remained a longtime friend and had been supporting her throughout her ordeal with cancer.

Over the last two years, the song “Hopelessly Devoted To You,” which was sung by Newton-John in “Grease” and hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released, regained popularity on TikTok with original covers and talk-box remixes.

Newton-John is survived by her husband John Easterling and her daughter from her first marriage, Chloe Lattanzi.

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