Olivia Newton-John Condolences

30 Nov | '2022

Dame Olivia Newton-John AC DBE was born on 26 September 1948 in Cambridge England to Bryn and Irene. She was the youngest of three children with Hugh, her brother, and Rona, her sister. Olivia was five years old when her family emigrated to Melbourne on the SS Strathaird. Olivia wanted to be a vet but doubted her ability to pass the science exam and turned instead to our other interest, performance.

Olivia’s first solo album was If Not for You in 1971, and it peaked at No. 14 on the Australian charts and No. 158 on the US Billboard 200—quite an achievement. Her second album, Olivia, in 1972, had more success overseas, with the song ‘Let Me Be There’ earning her a Grammy for best country female and an Academy of
Country Music award for most promising female vocalist. In 1974, Olivia represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song ‘Long Live Love’. She placed fourth, after ABBA, who won with ‘Waterloo’.

Olivia’s stardom would only grow, skyrocketing after she appeared alongside John Travolta in the cult classic Grease in 1978. I was 10 years old in 1978, and I’ll talk about that influence a little bit later. Her most famous song was ‘Physical’, selling 10 million copies and earning her another Grammy.

As we know, Olivia faced a long battle with cancer, becoming one of Australia’s most high-profile campaigners for the advancement of cancer research and treatment following her diagnosis of breast cancer in 1992 at the age of only 44. Cancer would return in 2013 and again in 2017. She was a pioneer in the cancer field and her legacy will continue in the work of world-leading research, treatment and care. Olivia founded the Olivia Newton-John Foundation to fund research into cancer therapies and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, the ONJ centre, in Melbourne to support people on their journey with cancer.

Olivia Newton-John was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year Honours list in 2020 in recognition of her services to charity, cancer research and entertainment. She leaves behind her daughter, Chloe, and her husband, John Easterling.

In 1978 I was 10 years old, and I vividly remember the impact that Olivia Newton-John—or Livvy, as Australians fondly called her—had on me as a young girl from a low socioeconomic background living in South Australia. To see Olivia Newton-John, with her curly hair and her leather pants, transform from Sandy, the girl next door with her hair in a ponytail, into a superstar up on the big screen was something of an inspiration—not just for me but for young girls across the country and, indeed, across the world, ultimately. Songs like ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’, ‘Sam’ and ‘I Honestly Love You’ were songs that inspired me during high school to actually become a singer, and I enjoyed a career as a saxophonist, as many in this place know—

Mr McCormack: And a good one.

Ms BELL: thank you; I’ll take that interjection—and, of course, a vocalist. A lot of that was largely due to the inspiration of Olivia Newton-John.

She was someone that everybody wanted to be near. She was someone that everybody wanted to be like. The songs that I outlined were those that I diligently learned in my singing lessons every week, making sure that I could belt out Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ at school concerts—of course, in the music room at lunchtime on the piano. To this day, I still do have in my office at least half-a-dozen Olivia Newton-John songs and a piano, so I invite any of my colleagues to come in and have a bit of karaoke—even you, Member for North Sydney—and sing ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ in my office.

But those memories of Olivia—as a superstar, as a singer, as the girl next door, as a role model—remain. She had such a massive impact on me—and on my sister as well, who was older than me at the time, and on our young lives and on what we wanted to do with our lives. Olivia was a fierce advocate for cancer, and I realised a childhood dream when I met her in September 2019 when she came to this place, Parliament House. We were able to meet her in the Dame Dorothy Tangney Alcove and talk with her about her cancer research and about how much money and energy she had put into that for others.

She was a kind soul. She was a talented woman. She was a much-loved mother and wife. She will be sadly missed. She was a movie star. She was a singer. But most of all she really was Australia’s favourite daughter. Olivia’s been part of our lives for as long as I can remember—I was inspired by her as a young girl. She means different things to so many different people around this country but she will always live on in our hearts forever. Vale, Olivia Newton-John.

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