A lot of A-list celebrities hail from Down Under, including Simon Baker, Cate Blanchette, Toni Collette, Russell Crowe, Portia de Rossi, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman, Miranda Kerr, Nicole Kidman, Heath Ledger, Elle Macpherson, Geoffrey Rush, Keith Urban, Naomi Watts, and Sam Worthington.
But none are more beloved by fellow-Australians than Olivia Newton-John, the first Aussie to capture American hearts with hit songs like “I Honestly Love You” (1974) and “Have You Never Been Mellow” (1975).
In 1978 Olivia was catapulted into super-stardom when she appeared in Grease as Sandy Olsson, the goody-two-shoes-girl-next-door who trades in her wholesome “Sandra Dee” image for some skin-tight, black spandex pants, red peep-toe high-heeled sandals, an off-the-shoulder top, teased hair, and horror-of-horrors, a cigarette, in order to win the heart of the leader of the T-Bird gang, Danny Zuko, played by John Travolta.
More than thirty years later Grease is still the most successful movie musical in history, and songs like “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” “Summer Nights,” and “You’re The One That I Want” still put a smile on my face as they transport me back to the happy, simpler times of my youth.
Then in 1980 Olivia sprinkled us with “Magic,” encouraging us to believe in ourselves.
You have to believe we are magic.
Nothin’ can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don’t let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive
Your destiny will arrive
I’ll bring all your dreams alive
The following year brought another No. 1 hit “Physical.” Although the lyrics are considered tame by today’s standards, Olivia had second thoughts back then about singing them because they were more suggestive than anything the reigning Queen of Soft Rock Music had ever done before.
The “Physical” music video is hysterically funny. It shows Olivia in a leotard in the gym with a room full of overweight, flabby men. As she sings the lyrics that include, “Let me hear your body talk,” she’s whipping these guys into shape until they eventually morph into hot-bodied men with washboard abs. The video has a great twist at the end when the guys walk out of the gym arm in arm with each other instead of with Olivia.
It’s hard to believe that the mild sexual innuendos and innocent reference to gays actually caused the video to be censored or banned in some broadcast markets
The video is still as relevant today as it was in 1981. Obesity has reached epidemic proportions and we’re still having to fight for gay rights. So I applaud Olivia, not only for her great sense of humor, but because she is always trying to raise peoples’ awareness about important issues.
On May 4, 2010 “Physical” enjoyed a reprisal on the hit show Glee in an episode called “Bad Reputation,” in which cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester, played by Jane Lynch, is publicly ridiculed when a video of her dancing to “Physical,” is posted on YouTube. All ends well when Olivia contacts Coach Sue, and asks if she’ll remake the video with her.
Okay enough time spent down memory lane. It would take a book, not a blog post to list all the things that the four-time Grammy-winning singer/actress/businesswoman/animal and environmental activist has done in addition to selling 50 million records.
So let’s switch gears and talk about the interview I did with Olivia for the October 2010 issue of Luxury Las Vegas. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and since Olivia is a breast cancer survivor it was the perfect time.
The conversation was stimulating, insightful, and inspiring as we talked about different aspects of Olivia’s life. One of the things that impresses me is how open Olivia is in sharing her experience with breast cancer.
She talked about finding a lump and having a mammogram, which came back negative. Then she had a needle biopsy which also came back negative. Olivia says we should listen to those early morning whispers that tell us when something is wrong with our bodies. After discussing it with her doctor, he decided to perform a surgical biopsy, which came back positive. It’s hard enough to get that news at any time, but Olivia found out she had breast cancer the same weekend her father died of liver cancer.
It’s obvious by what Olivia says that she is a nurturer who has a reverence for nature. “I’ve always said that we are a by-product of the Earth and as Mother Earth is getting sick, we women are getting sick too. One of the problems with women is that because we’re such caretakers, we don’t take care of ourselves. My illness forced me to refocus. A therapist told me, ‘You have to wean everyone off of your breast which is your nurturing thing.’ It became clear I had to learn to put myself first.”
I’ve always said that we are a by-product of the Earth and as Mother Earth is getting sick, we women are getting sick too. One of the problems with women is that because we’re such caretakers, we don’t take care of ourselves. My illness forced me to refocus. A therapist told me, ‘You have to wean everyone off of your breast which is your nurturing thing.’ It became clear I had to learn to put myself first.”
– Olivia Newton-John
Though Olivia had a modified mastectomy, reconstruction and chemotherapy, she wanted to take more than just a slash and burn approach. “I’m lucky that I’m friends with Deepak Chopra, and I know about things like homeopathy, herbs, massage, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation so I was able to integrate them into my treatment plan.
Olivia recognized that those things aren’t available to everyone so when she was asked to lend her name to a new center at Austin Health, a cancer research hospital in Melbourne, she said yes on the condition that they make those kinds of complimentary therapies available to the patients there. That’s how the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center came to be in Olivia’s hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
In 1994 Olivia came out with an album called Gaia: One Woman’s Journey. It was the first time that she wrote an album entirely by herself. Many of the tracks had to do with cancer especially “Why Me,” which she dedicated to her dad, and “Not Gonna Give Into It,” which she wrote after a chemotherapy treatment.
Olivia also partnered with a friend and opened a retreat and spa in Byron Bay, Australia called Gaia, (Guy-ya) which means Mother Earth.
“My mother had just passed away and I was bringing some of her ashes to my farm which is about half an hour from what is now the healing retreat,” Olivia told me. “My friend Greg, who was like a son to my mother was with me. We were driving around, and we saw a sign that said Sanctuary, and it grew from this dream of a place where we could bring friends to a unique 20-room healing retreat set on 25 acres that is majestically poised on the highest point in the shire with exquisite vistas of green valleys and undulating hills.”
In 2010 Olivia participated in the breast cancer docudrama 1 a Minute along with other celebrity survivors like Melissa Etheridge, Diahann Carroll, Kelly McGillis, Jaclyn Smith, Namrata Singh Gujral, William and Daniel Baldwin, whose mother is a cancer survivor, and Deepak Chopra.
It’s been almost 19 years since Olivia was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Unfortunately not everyone is as lucky. The disease claims the life of one woman every 69 seconds, which translates into more than 465,000 deaths each year across the country. As a way to help women with early detection, Olivia offers The Liv® Breast Self-Exam Aid – a latex-free, polyurethane, touch-enhancing tool that reduces friction between the fingers and the skin, and allows the fingers to glide smoothly across the breast with greater sensitivity, making it easier for women to feel a lump during a self-exam.
In April 2008, two months before Olivia married John Easterling, she organized 100 friends, celebrities, sports figures, corporate sponsors and fellow survivors to go on an arduous trek along with Great Wall of China in order to raise money for her Cancer and Wellness Center.
“It was life-changing, difficult, challenging, illuminating and scary,” Olivia says. “Everyone who went with me felt the same way. We spent three weeks in China, a country we were unfamiliar with, challenging ourselves to walk a 141 miles in all kinds of weather, from ice and snow to sun scorched deserts. In some places the wall was broken or the path was quite steep.
“In addition to the physical toll that walking took each day, it was sometimes equally challenging emotionally as everyone dealt with their own experiences with cancer or that of a loved one. I got sick, as a lot of us did, but I had to keep walking because I was leading everyone. Every morning we would sing my song “Magic.” You have to believe we are magic, nothing can stand in our way.
“I liken it to the cancer journey in that it was the unknown. We didn’t know what to expect. Every time we completed a segment, we’d feel a great sense of accomplishment. It was like going through the treatment. It was incredibly challenging. People would walk together and share their cancer stories and their feelings. It was very healing to know that others had gone through the same thing.
“It was also terribly difficult for me because John’s brother’s wife passed away from brain cancer while I was in Beijing. I wanted to be there to support John and his brother, but he understood that I needed to stay. I was really torn, but it reinforced why I was there.” Olivia and friends raised $2 million for the ONJCWC.
Here is a great video from Olivia’s time in China.
“I feel very fortunate and blessed. I use the term “survivor-thriver, says Olivia. “Survivor sounds like you’ve climbed your way through something which is great, but “thriver” is even more positive. You’re thriving past a challenge and not visualizing it as still hanging around.
I feel very fortunate and blessed. I use the term “survivor-thriver.” Survivor sounds like you’ve climbed your way through something which is great, but “thriver” is even more positive. You’re thriving past a challenge and not visualizing it as still hanging around.”
– Olivia Newton-John
Olivia Newton-John’s gift to us goes way beyond her music. She radiates love and caring for her fellow human beings, for all species of animals, and for the planet. That’s the real magic.
Read my entire interview with Olivia as it appeared in Luxury Las Vegas Magazine, Up Close and Personal with Olivia Newton-John.
Check out the Olivia Newton-John website.
Check out Olivia’s Gaia Retreat and Spa.
Check out Olivia’s site for information on breast health at Liv.com.