Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England on September 26th 1948; her family moved to Australia when she was 5.
Her mother was German, daughter of the physicist Max Born, her father was Welsh, a professor of German at Cambridge and Melbourne. Despite the academic background, early on Olivia showed an interest in singing, forming a band called the Sol Four with some school friends, and later on singing at her brother in law's coffee bar in Australia. She also starred in a movie "Funny Things Happen Down Under" which was forgettable apart from some early promise shown in Olivia's delightful rendition of "Christmas Down Under". A talent contest hosted by the Australian Johnny O'Keefe offered Olivia the prize of a trip to England, and she took this up in 1965. Her first introduction to making records was a one-off single deal with Decca Records. The single, Till You Say You'll Be Mine/For Ever, is extremely rare though these two songs were available (Oct 1994) on the British compilation CD Pop Inside the 60's.
England did not make Olivia entirely happy - she missed Australia and her then boyfriend, Ian Turpie. In one interview she reports how she attempted to book her return flight without telling her mother, who had accompanied her to the UK. Fortunately for Olivia's fans and her future career her mother was not having her daughter waste this opportunity to broaden her horizons and Olivia's plans were thwarted.
Things improved when Pat Carroll, a fellow Australian, arrived in the UK. Dreaming of stardom the two girls played pubs and clubs as the vocal duo imaginatively called "Pat and Olivia". New to the British music scene their initial hiring were not always a success - such as the duo's performance at Paul Raymond's Revue bar. They were somewhat taken aback by the scant attire of some of the other performers. Needless to say the duo who were dressed in high-necked frilly dresses were not asked back to what they later on discovered was a strip joint. In 1968 Bruce Welch of the Shadows fell for Olivia and they became engaged, something which was not entirely without problems as he was married at the time.
Pat's visa ran out in December 1969 and she returned home. For Olivia, movie stardom beckoned as she was invited to join the band Tomorrow, which was to be Britain's answer to the Monkees. This manufactured group issued an eponymous album in 1970 to go with the film of the same name, but the public were not impressed and the movie closed quickly, leaving Olivia to concentrate on her solo music career. Olivia was invited to be the resident star for Cliff Richard's highly successful TV show in 1972, and she was a regular live performer in London.
The early Seventies was a prolific period for Olivia - her association with Cliff Richard and the Shadows brought her music to a wide audience, and she released the albums Olivia Newton-John (1971), and Olivia (1972), Music Makes My Day (1974. ruce Welch arranged Olivia's first hit single, a cover of Bob Dylan's If Not For You. This single was Olivia's first taste of success in America, something she was to experience a lot more of in the next few years.
Olivia reached a turning point in her career with the release of Let Me Be There which charted at #6 in America. No longer engaged to Bruce Welch, John Farrar, another member of the Shadows, took up songwriting and arrangement for her and this was a successful team which was soon to take the United States by storm. John Farrar had known Olivia from the early days and he later married Pat Carroll, Olivia's erstwhile singing partner and future business partner.
While holidaying in 1974 in the South of France, Olivia met Lee Kramer, who had a successful business import/export business. The romance developed, and Lee was Olivia's boyfriend and manager for much of the rest of the decade.
Just before she moved to the United States to build on her burgeoning success there, Olivia represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974. Both song and Olivia's costume on the night were selected by a poll of TV viewers, and the whole mess showed just what was wrong with vox pop artistic taste. A truly awful oompah - oompah song, Long Live Love was chosen, together with a long flowing baby-blue dress for the actual performance. This time Olivia was up against strong competition - 1974 was the year that ABBA stole the show with a barnstorming performance of their song "Waterloo", which launched their international career. Olivia came fourth.
America beckoned and Olivia left England in 1975 to a rapturous welcome for her next album "Have You Never Been Mellow". The title song charted at #1 and her next single from the album, Please Mr. Please, reached #3. This was the start of a roll which continued throughout the 70s with a string of gold albums in the US. Olivia was to become a regular on shows like the Midnight Special, and in 1976 she had her own TV special by ABC - A Very Special Olivia Newton-John.
Her US audience had loved her for her soft and delicate delivery of ballads and country songs, and she treated them to a string of albums beautifully sung - Clearly Love, Come On Over, Don't Stop Believin, and Making a Good Thing Better. She toured the United States with the album Clearly Love.
Olivia captured hearts in Japan with her singing as well as in the US - she toured Japan in 1976 with the album Don't Stop Believin'. Japanese listeners had loved her ever since her performance in the 1971 Tokyo Music Fair, and the 1976 concert was released as a live album in Japan titled 'Love Performance'. She won a string of Grammys for her work, and settled in Malibu, near Los Angeles, with a ranch in the mountains.
There she fulfilled a childhood ambition, keeping a number of dogs and horses on the property. As a child, she had not been able to keep many pets despite her love of animals. Her concern for animal welfare spilled over into her professional life when she refused to go to Japan until they amended tuna fishing practices to reduce the needless slaughter of dolphins in the nets.
Musically, it seemed as if Olivia was at the peak of her career, gathering awards effortlessly. In Los Angeles, a producer was looking for a female lead to play opposite John Travolta in his forthcoming movie adaptation of the stage musical Grease. Olivia was not totally sure about playing in another movie and requested a screen test after she was asked to star. The scene was the drive-in and Olivia wowed Allan Carr. Released in June 1978, Grease went on to become one of the biggest selling musicals of all time and the soundtrack album stormed the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Her album, Totally Hot, also released in 1978 showed a new musical direction away from her early ballads to more upbeat rock. The album was a great success and Olivia toured America, Japan and Europe with it.
It was always going to be difficult to follow up such a huge success, and Olivia's next movie, Xanadu (1980), received a panning from the critics and did not draw the public into the cinema. However, the soundtrack was a roaring success, with Olivia's song Magic topping the US charts, and the title song, a duet with ELO, also selling well. The movie has since become something of a cult classic, with a small but dedicated following.
The movie did have a personal spin-off for Olivia - she met her future husband, Matt Lattanzi, who was a dancer on the set of Xanadu.
In 1981 Olivia released the album Physical. The million-selling title track took up residence at #1 on the US charts for weeks - the second-longest run in the top spot. She had some trepidation about how her fans would like the new direction but she needn't have worried - they loved it!
With the aerobic feel of the title track and accompanying video, Olivia's early 80's trademark was the short cropped hair and headband. With the album there was also a full-length video, which was unusual at the time when videos were normally just for individual songs. The album was so successful that when Olivia toured with it the next year she played all over America to sell-out audiences.
After reaching the pinnacle of her career with Physical, Olivia wanted to take things easier. She was starting to think about other directions - one of them was starting a store with Australian novelties, which was later to turn into the "Koala Blue" fashion chain. In an attempt to reproduce the box-office magic of 'Grease', Olivia was cast with John Travolta in the movie Two of a Kind. In interviews at the time Olivia said that this was her first opportunity to star in a non-musical movie, but the result was not a cinematic success. Once again, however, the soundtrack, however, sold quite well with some strong tracks from Olivia and a pleasant duet with John Travolta.
Olivia married her young live-in boyfriend Matt Lattanzi, around Christmas 1984, after they had lived together for four years. The couple enjoyed a fairytale honeymoon in Paris.
Her next change in musical direction was the sultry risqué approach of "Soulkiss" it was not really a musical success. Bizarrely, the videogram was shot when Olivia was pregnant with daughter Chloe - trying not to show this constrained the artistic freedom of the director somewhat. The album, which featured Olivia in tight riding pants and boots holding a crop on the back cover, stretched things further than the public found credible.
Chloe was born early 1986, and this marked a hiatus in Olivia's music. The period 1986 to 1992 was a lean period in her entertainment career, as she dedicated herself to motherhood, and to developing her business venture, the Koala Blue chain of stores. Olivia transformed her original idea for a Australian specialty store into a fashion chain. This enterprise was established with fellow-Australian and wife of Olivia's long-time record producer, Pat Farrar, with whom Olivia had started out singing in Britain in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Koala Blue was to be a more family-friendly alternative to an intensive singing career, but it did not last the late '80s/early '90s recession. Olivia chose to expand the franchise chain just as consumers were reining in their expenditure on non-essentials, and the company filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy amid some recriminations.
Music was not totally neglected - in 1988, Olivia brought out "The Rumour", with the title track penned by Elton John. 1988 was also the year of the Australian Bicentennial, and Olivia made a videogram for the Rumour, in which she performed the songs in some stunning Australian settings. The Australian version of the album features the song "It's Always Australia For Me" which is absent from international versions.
Warm And Tender, released in 1989, was not really aimed for the mainstream pop market. An album of children's songs and lullabies, this was really meant for Chloe. It is Olivia's first real musical indulgence, which was released on the Geffen label after MCA refused to run it.
Geffen released "Back To Basics, The Essential Collection" in 1992. This was to be Olivia's return to what she did best, a retrospective over her career but featuring four new songs, which Olivia promoted actively, and she was rehearsing to go on tour with the album in the late summer.
The bombshell came on July 2 - Olivia Newton-John had breast cancer. She was taken to hospital and operated on, and then had to undergo a period of chemotherapy. In February the next year she got the all-clear, and went to Australia to recuperate.
Gaia, One Woman's Journey, an intensely personal and upbeat album, was one of the fruits of Olivia's time in Australia out of the limelight. The album was not released in the United States but was widely issued on independent labels elsewhere. Olivia chose to talk about her experiences with breast cancer, so that other women in a similar position could see that survival was possible, and early detection was important.
After her recovery, there were reports of difficulty in Olivia's marriage, which came to a head in 1995 with the announcement that Olivia and husband Matt Lattanzi, were to go their separate ways and eventually divorce. For the next two years Olivia's career was a medley of different directions, with her participating in beauty ads for Home Shopping, a bit part in a US sitcom, an Australian wildlife show titled "Human Nature", appearing in an Aussie TV series "Snowy River" and acting in the movie "It's My Party" directed by Grease director Randal Kleiser.
After two years of wandering in the wilderness professionally, Olivia began to feel her way musically once again, with some fine singing for the US Christmas movie "Snowden on Ice", and some private performances at events for CHEC, a charity dear to Olivia's heart. In July 1997 MCA-Nashville signed Olivia, and her debut track for the label was a duet with the Raybon Bros "Falling" on their eponymous album.
"Back With a Heart" released in May 1998, found Olivia in fine form with an excellent mix of pop and country. This is Olivia Newton-John at her best, and long may it last!
Most people think of Olivia as an interpretative singer, singing with her unique blend of a clear and light voice combined with a delicate sensitivity and tenderness. This was how she captured American hearts in the mid-seventies, with songs like I Honestly Love You and Have You Never Been Mellow.
However, Olivia has never been happy to stay still, and has continuously broadened her music, showing herself to be a versatile singer as she covered rock songs as well as the gentle folk songs and ballads which formed her early repertoire. Indeed, her most successful single 'Physical' came in 1981, and was a raunchy upbeat number far removed from the type of songs that established her career in the US. Though most of her songs till recently were written by others, already on her second album the self-penned song Changes showed her potential for songwriting, and she has continued to write some very special songs around topics that have deeply concerned her. On Gaia, all the songs are written by her, and Back With A Heart combines some great pop sounds with some strong New country tracks.
Olivia has always had a feeling for Nature and the living environment. She has had a passion for keeping animals, and is a keen horse rider. At her Malibu home she had quite a menagerie of dogs and horses and other creatures.
This affinity for the environment is also reflected in her work - as early as her 1976 Come On Over album there was a song on 'wild horses running free' and her 1981 Physical album head the wonderfully sensitive 'Dolphin Song'. She became United Nations ambassador for the Environment on the UNEP program, and sang in the 'Spirit of the Forest' collaboration in the early eighties. Her 1994 album, Gaia, has a strong environmental theme.
With the arrival of Chloe, it was not surprising that such a sensitive person as Olivia would also involve herself in projects involving children. Olivia has co-written a children's book called 'A Pig Tale' with an environmental theme. She is very actively involved in the Colette Chuda Environmental Fund (now Children's' Health Environmental Coalition). Colette Chuda was the daughter of Olivia's close friend Nancy Chuda - Colette died of a rare cancer. The work of the fund is to do research into environmental causes of cancer. Many of the maximum recommended doses of various carcinogens are assessed on the effects on an adult body - children's' bodies, being smaller and growing rapidly, can be expected to have a lower tolerance to toxins and some of the work of the fund is to look at whether these adult- based maxima may not be enough to protect children adequately.