Mellow Newton-John brings a lifetime of perspective to stage - Sacramento Bee


Olivia's dream takes shape - about the ONJCCA

From Olivia’s 2006 Fall US tour It’s tempting at first to think that there’s nothing extraordinary about Olivia Newton-John’s career ever since she donned tight, black leather pants and sang “You’re the One That I Want” with co-star John Travolta in the 1978 movie musical “Grease.”

But since then, the singer, now 57, has forged a career that is a curious mix of music and activism. As one of the first celebrities of her generation to go public about her battle with breast cancer, Newton-John has been an inspiration to many women with the disease. And along the way she has become a savvy, high-profile fundraiser for cancer organizations.

Newton-John will appear tonight at the Cache Creek Casino-Resort, where she will sing old hits, new songs, and some of the music from the films “Grease” and “Xanadu.”

“I do everything. My shows are a cross section of all of my career,” said Newton-John in a telephone interview from her home in Malibu. “I’ll be doing stuff from my new album, which no one has heard as of yet,” she said. A title for the album has not been chosen.

“The show will also include stuff from my last album, ‘Stronger Than Before,’ “ released earlier this year, she said. Part of the proceeds from that 10-track CD are being donated to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

The title of that album is key to Newton-John’s life philosophy – one that was partially forged during a tough weekend in 1992 when she got word that a biopsy had revealed a malignant lump in her breast. That diagnosis came a day after she was told that her father had died.

“Everything happens all at once – that’s the way it is often in life,” she said. “You kind of get hit two or three times, but that makes you stronger.” Her doctors suggested that she act quickly, and later that year she went through a partial mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and breast reconstruction.

Like many women with breast cancer, Newton-John was confronted with a situation that was ripe for a deep emotional tailspin. “At first, everyone goes through a lot of fear; that’s normal,” she said.

But Newton-John realized that a cancer patient’s outlook is crucial to battling the disease because of the way it affects how friends, family and the public give back emotional support. “I made the decision that everything was going to be fine, and I was only going to talk positively about the outcome,” she said. “That was really important.”

To help her recovery, she stopped touring and began immersing herself in Eastern as well as Western health practices. “I did homeopathy, massage and yoga. I did everything I could to support myself in every single way,” she said.

The combination of optimism and openness to alternative health disciplines is an approach that pervades her philosophy and activism to this day. Newton-John has been cancer-free the past 14 years.

It is most evident in her work on behalf of breast cancer awareness, especially in Australia. The most visible example is Newton-John’s involvement with the soon-to-be built Olivia Newton-John Cancer Centre at the Austin Health Centre in the city where she grew up, Melbourne.

Newton-John’s support has been a boon to the project, which is halfway to raising the $50 million it needs for a groundbreaking. Newton-John also has contributed $2 million of her own money to the center.

“Piece by piece, brick by brick, it will be done,” she said.

She signed on to promote the project when it fit her criteria for being a uniquely supportive environment for breast cancer patients.

“I said to (the Austin Health Centre) when they asked me if I would be involved, that I would if they created a wellness center where women can go and have a certain kind of treatment and positive thinking, and all the alternatives,” she explained. The center will offer yoga, acupuncture and massage in addition to the latest medical treatments for breast cancer.

“It will be a place to have a cup of tea and to talk to someone,” Newton-John said. “It will be a healing place that doesn’t feel like a hospital, a place where you treat the whole person, and where you’re not seen as a body or a number.”

Newton-John also has found time to become an advocate for the environment since she began her battle with cancer. She is heavily involved with the Los Angeles-based Children’s Health Environment Coalition, which was started by a close friend whose daughter died of a form of cancer that was linked to environmental toxicants.

“I’ve learned a lot about chemicals and what they are doing to us and our children,” she said. “When I had a daughter, that really kicked all that into the forefront of my activism.”

Her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, whom Newton-John had with then-husband Matt Lattanzi, is now 20 years old. And she is following in her mother’s musical footsteps. “I’m thrilled that she chose to be a singer because she’s really good,” said Newton-John, who was discovered on a talent show in England in the early 1960s.

It’s been 35 years since Newton-John scored her first hit with a cover of the Bob Dylan song “If Not for You.” She’s since had major hits with “I Honestly Love You,” “Have You Never Been Mellow” and “Let’s Get Physical.”

Logic suggests that a career slowdown is in order, but Newton-John is doing anything but that. “I have done this my whole life now, ever since I was 16, so it’s part of who I am,” she said.

It seems that professional maturity has allowed Newton-John to gain not only a new outlook on life, but a new perspective about touring. “I enjoy performing now,” she said. “I didn’t used to, actually, because live performances were really strenuous for me.”

“As I get older, I’m sure I will cut back touring, but they’re still asking me to, and as long as they do, and I can do it, I will.”