Remembering Olivia Newton-John: The Iconic Musical Girl Next Door

came out in 1978. I was eight months old. The craze surrounding the movie musical missed me as I was more into blended peas and a stuffed monkey. A few years later, I was not swept into the Olivia Newton-John fandom because I had Star Wars and Masters of the Universe action figures to play and the accompanying cartoons to watch.

Even if I missed the excitement the fist time around, Grease turned out to be a movie that kept resonating every generation after its release. I probably watched it sometime in the 1980s, but it was the type of picture that ended up being screened at may gatherings and has had countless revivals at theatres. It was the highest grossing movie of the year when it was released in 1978, but it somehow became an even bigger deal as the decades went on.

The 1970s saw a great nostalgia for the 1950s in entertainment with big hits like American Graffiti, Happy Days and Sha Na Na. But Grease had an edge to it with it mostly being about horny teens (being played by actors very much in their 20s and 30s) and some frank discussion about sex. Somehow, with the highly energetic songs and cheerfulness spread throughout, it has mostly been considered a family movie and has probably been watched at a way too young age by most of us. While a lot of the other big 1950s set entertainment is a memory now, Grease has found a way to endure and is considered an all-time favourite by many. Somehow a movie soaked in 1950 nostalgia has remained relevant.

Olivia Newton-John is a major reason for why Grease has remained a favourite for many. Newton-John was perfectly cast as the innocent girl-next-door Sandy Olsson, because she was a lead that would capture the male audience's hearts, but also female audiences could see themselves in her. There was also a sexiness mixed with her innocence, which helped with the edge the movie was trying to convey with all its innuendos and sexy time talk. 

Fans of Grease will likely confess it is corny and campy, and it is hanging out in Mars when it comes to how close it depicts an authentic high school and teenagers. But the movie still finds an audience today because Newton-John and John Travolta have a sizzling chemistry together. You believe they are in love, and they shine every moment they share the screen. Plus, as goofy as many of the lyrics are in the movie, they ended up being smash-hits because Newton-John and Travolta shine in their performances both in singing and dancing. It is a spectacle, and the two leads elevated the picture to iconic status.

The legacy of Grease would be enough to make Olivia Newton-John a major star in entertainment history, but she was also a major musical pop star in the 1980s. Even though I was busy watching The Wuzzles, there were many teenage boys in the 1980s that had a huge crush on her, but her music was a huge hit that connected with several demographics.

'Physical' was a massive hit song that dominated the charts. On top of that, Newton-John was one of the first to be creative and show personality with her music video as it would become a hit that got repeated play on the then new MTV. The music video, much like Grease, found a mix of being both sexy along with large dollops of goofy humour. While I wouldn't have seen it when it first came out, the video was popular enough it was still being showcased in the late 1980s, and that got me smitten with Olivia Newton-John. It is one of the best music videos ever.

After the massive success of the video, leg warmers and fitness gear became a hot Halloween costume. While the fitness craze was already in full gear when the video debuted, the popularity of the video and Newton-John likely added a few more gym memberships and viewers of the 20 Minutes Workout.

Newton-John's greatest success was definitely in her musical career as she had five number one hits, sold over 100 million albums, and won four Grammy awards. But her movie legacy extends past Grease, because even though it was a flop at the time, Xanadu is huge cult hit now that still gets attention. Newton-John gets to share the screen with the legendary Gene Kelly as they dance together in what is his final big screen performance. The moment with the king of song and dance must go down as a major movie moment, even if the picture is kind of goofy and silly.

Even if I wasn't really aware of Olivia Newton-John during the height of her career, I can now appreciate her legacy and consider her an icon in entertainment. But there is something I was not aware, but now have even more respect for her.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, and has played a huge role in being an inspiration for those struggling with breast cancer and has devoted significant time and money into finding cures for the disease. I also loved that she called herself a 'cancer thriver' and she has proven to be a very inspirational and strong celebrity.

I send my very best to those that loved and knew Olivia Newton-John. She was a legend in music, entertainment, and life.

RIP Olivia Newton-John (September 26, 1948 to August 8, 2022)