Sept 18, 2002
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Sept 15 2002
Anyone hoping to read Olivia Newton-John's self-penned revelations can forget about it. While the singer had worked on her autobiography for several years, she recently gave it up. "I read it and then I said, 'Oh, who cares?' " says Newton-John. She says she doesn't like "kiss-and-tell books" and when she left out the stories that included other people, there wasn't much interesting left. She has, however, kept a copy for her daughter, Chloe.
Newton-John, who will perform with the Knoxville Symphony Pops Orchestra on Wednesday, has lived enough to fill several books. Her 30-plus year career in entertainment has included topping the music charts, starring in a blockbuster film and undergoing some startling image makeovers. Through it all, Newton-John has bounced back into the spotlight, and her most important success is surviving a frightening bout with breast cancer.
Born in England in 1948, Newton-John moved with her family to Australia in 1953. If she had followed family tradition, she would've gravitated to an academic career. Her father, Brin Newton-John, was a professor of German, and her maternal grandfather was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Born. However, Olivia was drawn to music. "My parents told me that I knew every song on the radio," says Newton-John.
She remembers the first singer to really capture her ear was Tennessee Ernie Ford, who she heard from a record that her father brought home. "Then there was Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, Cilla Black ..." recalls Newton-John.
She says that she realized that she wanted to become a professional performer at the age of 14 or 15. She formed the vocal group Sol Four and was cast in the film "Funny Things Happen Down Under" while still a teenager. In 1965, Newton-John won an Australian talent contest, which took her to England. She recorded a single for Decca Records and later formed the duo act "Pat and Olivia" with fellow Australian Pat Carroll.
Later, Newton-John was tapped to be the one female member of the group Toomorrow - a band which music impresario Don Kirshner hoped to create as a British answer to the Monkees. The movie that was to launch the group flopped, though, and Toomorrow quickly became a thing of the past. Newton-John made some inroads with her cover of Bob Dylan's song "If Not for You" in 1971. Then her real break came in 1972, when she became a regular member of Cliff Richard's popular British television variety show, "It's Cliff!" The next year she began a string of international hits, which included "Let Me Be There," "If You Love Me (Let Me Know)," "I Honestly Love You," "Have You Never Been Mellow" and "Please Mr. Please."
Surprisingly, Newton-John was initially placed in the country category in the United States - even winning a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance and Best Female Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards in 1975. The CMA Award prompted several country artists to drop their membership in the organization. Newton-John, though, was unfazed. "I didn't even know there was a separate country market," says Newton-John. "But I was very happy to have a hit anywhere."
That might have been the peak of Newton-John's career were it not for her landing a starring role in the film version of the Broadway hit "Grease." The film and its soundtrack became huge hits in 1978, yielding Newton-John a solo Top 3 single with "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and two hit duets with her co-star John Travolta: "Summer Nights" and the No. 1 "You're the One That I Want."
She followed "Grease" two years later with the film "Xanadu" - a movie that capitalized on the disco movement a little too late, although the soundtrack did spawn Newton-John's No. 1 hit "Magic" as well as the Top 10 single "Xanadu."
Newton-John was right on time, however, when she decided to shed her good-girl image - not unlike the transformation of the character she had played in "Grease." In 1981, Newton-John released the album and single "Physical." The music and especially the video (a hit on MTV) included plenty of steam, helping the song hang on to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks. Her follow-up single from "Physical," "Make a Move on Me," peaked at No. 5. In 1982 she reached No. 3 with "Heart Attack," a single from her second greatest hits collection, and in 1984 she topped out at No. 5 with "Twist of Fate," a song from the movie of the same name that reunited Newton-John and Travolta on screen.
When she stretched the limits further with the sensual 1985 single "Soul Kiss," however, the public was not as accepting, and the singer hasn't regained her Top 10 form.
There were other highlights in Newton-John's personal life. She married longtime boyfriend Matt Lattanzi in 1984 and gave birth to Chloe two years later.
In 1992, Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer. She believes that it was her positive outlook that helped her beat the disease. "That's important to survive anything," says Newton-John. "I can always find a redeeming quality in anything."
The singer put the experience into the album "Gaia: One Woman's Journey."
"In the early days I had written some songs," says Newton-John, "but 'Gaia' was the first thing that I wrote all on my own." While the disc was released overseas in the early 1990s, it wasn't released until earlier this year in the United States.
While Newton-John's career has been low profile for the past few years, she has kept busy working for environmental and humanitarian causes. She co-founded the Children's Health Environmental Coalition and recently participated in a program that planted 2 million trees in Australia.
Today she commutes between homes in Australia and the United States and keeps involved several businesses at once.
She has just launched a line of Australian wines named Koala Blue; she recently starred in the American independent film "Sordid Lives"; and she is currently recording an album of duets featuring, she says, "mostly" native Australians.
Newton-John isn't after another blockbuster, however. "That's just not the driving thing anymore," says Newton-John. "I'm very fortunate. I've been in a movie that's a legend. I've had a record that was No. 1 for 10 weeks ... Now I appreciate each day and try to live life to its fullest."
And she is helping her daughter in her own recording career. Chloe decided on a singing career at approximately the same age as her mother. What is the best advice she might give to her daughter?
"Follow your passion and be good to your heart."
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