August 23, 2001
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Arizona Republic Paper
By Randy Cordova
Aug. 23, 2001
Even in the days when she packed arenas with screaming fans, Olivia Newton-John, never was too fond of touring. So it's surprising that she's heading around the country on a "very nice bus," as she politely puts it, and doing concerts to mark the 30th year since her first hit record. "The audiences have been really fantastic," she says, calling on a cellphone that fades in and out with the miles. "I've got some wonderfully loyal fans. I can't believe they're still around, actually." Newton-John, may be surprised about her continued popularity, but it seems as unforced as her Australian accent. She had an astonishing run of hits in the '70s and '80s, thanks to her feathery voice and an uncanny knack for knowing what to do with it. She was a cooing country thrush with Please Mr. Please and Have You Never Been Mellow? She whispered I Honestly Love You and became an eternal prom queen. Later, she sexed up her image with Physical and A Little More Love and emerged as a schoolboy's fantasy. Then came the film roles. Xanadu flopped in 1980, but the title song and Magic were impossible to ignore. And though she's almost 53, she'll forever be the virginal Sandy to John Travolta's oversexed Danny in Grease.
It's a fluffy foundation, but it provided her with 22 Top 20 hits. Combine that with a winsome personality and ageless good looks, and you've got a celebrity that still has enough clout to merit a People magazine cover just last year. "It's a very wide audience," she says. "The people at the concerts ... they're between 7 and 70. We have the fans that go back to the beginning when I first came out, then the kids that Grease keeps attracting." She doesn't hit the road often, last appearing in the Valley in 1981. If fans want to catch her, she playfully warns, this may be the last chance. "If you want to see me, see me now!" she says with a laugh. It will never be her favorite activity, but she enjoys singing in concert more now. "It used to be too frightening, too nerve-racking to tour," she says. "But now, since going through this experience, I've really started to enjoying singing in concert. Once you've been through what I've been through, those kinds of things don't bother you anymore."
The "experience" is her well-publicized bout with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 1992 and now is completely free of the disease. In fact, her concert tonight is sponsored by Buddy Check 12, a free program that reminds participants to perform a monthly breast self-exam. (For more information, call (602) 230-2273). Her optimistic attitude has made her a role model to cancer victims everywhere, something she handles with characteristic grace. "If other women are suffering from this and they're frightened and they see me and see that I'm healthy after 10 years, if that gives them encouragement, then it's all worth it to me," she says. "I'm very fortunate."
When cancer struck, Newton-John canceled a tour to fight the disease. Since then, her output has slowed considerably. She's got a cable film coming on Showtime next year called The Wilde Girls that features her 15-year-old daughter, Chloe. On Sept. 11, Magic: The Very Best of Olivia Newton-John, reaches stores, featuring 20 of her hits. Perhaps most surprisingly, for a woman who has managed to live in the spotlight but keep relatively quiet about it, an autobiography is due next year. "It's like pulling teeth for me," she says, her accent still as charming as it was in 1978. "I keep my personal life personal. I don't like kiss-and-tell things. This won't be like that." She also will have new music out. Newton-John is working on what she calls "a dance album" with a nephew who lives in Australia. But even if the disc flops, there's really nothing left for her to prove in the entertainment world. "There's a lot of stuff offered to me, but I don't want to do it all," she says. "I work when I have to. I have to earn a living, but I do the things I want to do. "I've been doing this for so long. I contemplate quitting quite often. I have a child. I have a life that doesn't involve all this."
With thanks to David Wagner
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