Olivia Newton-John (born Sept. 26 1948) and her family, parents Brinley, a Royal Air Force intelligence officer and codebreaker during WW2, and Irene (nee Born), daughter of the Nobel prize-winning nuclear physicist Max Born, (who was a close friend of Albert Einstein), elder brother Hugh and sister Rona, emigrated to Australia in 1953. Her father was an academic, a Professor of German Literature, who took up the position as Dean of Ormond College at Melbourne University. Olivia’s early life was impacted by the divorce of her parents in 1958 and the relocation of her father to another state when he assumed the post of Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University (NSW). Irene worked in public relations to support her family and Olivia and her siblings moved into an apartment, but her brother soon headed off to university to study medicine and her sister Rona dropped out of school to pursue an acting career, and married soon after, leaving a young Olivia without the company of her siblings or her father. Family portrait top to bottom, Brin, Hugh, Irene, Rona, and Olivia.Olivia’s early musical influences were Joan Baez, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles and Nina Simone and she began performing at the age of 14 in a folk group known as the Sol Four in Melbourne coffee lounges in 1962, where she first met young rising star Ian Turpie, who would become her first serious boyfriend. Appearances on such local TV shows as Kevin Dennis Auditions, Sunnyside Up, and Ian Turpie’s Go!!Show, (below with Turpie), convinced Olivia that her future lay in show business, and much to her father’s chagrin, she dropped out of school.As a regular performer on the Go!!Show she was usually backed by the house band the Strangers, whose lead guitarist John Farrar, would write and produce many international hits for Olivia in the future, it was also here that Olivia met young singer Pat Carroll (below with Olivia), who would become her best friend, business partner, and trusted confidante.By 1966 Irene was concerned about the intensity of her daughter’s relationship with Ian Turpie, at the tender age of 17, so she decided that her and Olivia would return to the UK, Olivia was devastated and only acknowledged the wisdom of this move retrospectively many years later in 2002, when she was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. A sample clip from the archives, of the TV show Time For Terry, featuring ONJ, Ian Turpie and Terry O’Neill hamming it up in a 1920’s jazz era/flappers medley of songs below, it ain’t polished, but it was live!
Upon arrival in London mother and daughter leased a small flat in Hampstead, Olivia was signed to Decca but her first single, a Jackie de Shannon song entitled Till You Say You’ll Be Mine, sank without a trace, but her friend Pat Carroll found her way to London, and the two Aussies moved into a flat in Shepherd’s Bush. It was the era of Swinging London, Olivia and Pat went to the trendy clubs of the time – Scotch of St. James, Bag O’ Nails and the Cromwellian, and shopped in the boutiques of Carnaby Street, Chelsea and Kensington.Males dominated the music scene but there were several exceptions to the rule – Essex girl Sandie Shaw was slim, coltish, short-sighted, dark-haired and shoeless with a fey voice, Cilla Black was a giggly redhead from Liverpool with a very powerful voice, Lulu was a bouncy pocket rocket from Glasgow with a rasping, bluesy voice, Marianne Faithful, Olivia’s immediate rival at Decca, was a convent-educated blonde with an angelic face, enigmatic smile and a whisperly quiet voice, and Irish girl Dusty Springfield, with blonde-beehive and Kohl-rimmed panda eyes, possessed a stunning bluesy, soulful voice that put her at the top of the heap.Over the next twenty years Olivia would help to write the blueprint for Australian artists to launch a global career, to reinvent their image to sustain long-term success, and in doing so she provided a positive role model for women, in an industry which has often exploited them. Initially she projected a sweet country/Eurovision-style image, but smoothly segued to a sexier persona via her starring role in Grease (above with John Travolta) and global blockbuster hits Physical and Xanadu, she is Australia’s highest selling solo female artist with album sales of over 100 million, but she believes her most important legacy is raising millions to help eliminate cancer, which took the life of her elder sister Rona in 2013, (Rona and Olivia below) and has personally afflicted her for some time.
On Tuesday August 9th Olivia Newton-John sadly passed away at the age of 73, after courageously fighting cancer for over thirty years.
In her illustrious career Olivia sold over 100 million records and with Kylie Minogue and Helen Reddy was one of the most successful female Australian recording artists of all time. She was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 1979 she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and in 2020 she became a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to charity, cancer research, and entertainment.
Olivia will be remembered as one of Australia’s most popular and successful international performers, she had worked tirelessly in recent years to raise funds in support of research into the early detection, treatment, and cure of breast cancer, and to establish the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness Research Centre at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital, an iconic Australian in every way, Livvy will be missed.