Although she was born in Cambridge, England,
Olivia Newton-John was raised in Melbourne,
Australia, where her father was
the headmaster of Ormond College
(her grandfather Max Born won the Nobel Prize for physics). She tentatively entered show
business at the age of 12, when she won a local
Hayley Mills-lookalike contest.
A few years later, she formed an all-female vocal
group called the Sol Four with three school friends. Once
the Sol Four disbanded, Newton-John
entered a television talent contest,
winning the grand prize of a trip to London,
England. Once in London, she formed
a duo with Pat Carroll, another Australian-based vocalist,
and tried to work her way into the
music industry. Though her partnership with Carrol
was short-lived -- Pat was sent back to Australia once her visa expired --
Olivia was making inroads in the business.
Following Carrol's departure, Newton-John
recorded and released her first single,
a version of Jackie DeShannon's Till You Say You'll Be Mine.
Shortly afterward, she became a member of Toomorrow,
a bubblegum group assembled by Don Kirshner
in hopes of creating a British version of the Monkees.
Toomorrow appeared in a science fiction
movie of the same name and had one
minor British hit single, I Could Never Live Without Your Love,
in early 1970 before the group quietly
disbanded. Following the failure of Toomorrow, Newton-John
became part of Cliff Richard's
touring show, appearing both as an opening act
at his concerts and on his British television series, It's Cliff!.
The exposure as a singer and comedienne on the
show helped Olivia's career immeasurably,
and her first single for Uni Records,
a version of Bob Dylan's If Not for You,
became a Top Ten hit in the U.K.
in the spring of 1971; in America,
it was surprisingly successful,
spending three weeks at the top of the adult contemporary charts and peaking
at number 25 on the pop charts. For the next two years, Newton-John's
success was primarily contained in Britain,
where she had a string of lesser hits with
covers of George Harrison's What Is Life and
John Denver's Take Me Home Country Roads.
In America, her career was stalled -- her follow-up single, Banks
of the Ohio, barely scraped the lower reaches of the
Top 100. On the other hand, she didn't release a
full-length album in the U.S. until 1973, when Let Me Be There
appeared. The title track from the record became a huge hit,
going gold in early 1974 and peaking in the Top Ten country and pop charts. Let Me Be There
was so successful it won the Grammy award for Best Country Vocal Performance,
Female, much to the consternation of
many members of Nashville's music industry.
Let Me Be There was followed by
four other Top Ten hits -- If You Love Me (Let Me Know)
(number two country, number five pop, 1974), I Honestly Love You
(number six country, number one pop, 1974), Have You Never Been Mellow
(number three country, number one pop, 1975), and Please Mr. Please
(number five country, number three pop, 1975).
moved to Los Angeles late in 1974,
and early the following year, she won the Female Vocalist of the Year
award from the Country Music Association. As a protest, several
members of the CMA quit the organization. Ironically, Newton-John
was already planning to move away from country.
During 1976 and 1977, she had a number of minor
hits with soft rock songs. Though none of these were
big pop successes, they began to establish her
as a pop singer, not a country-pop singer.
Newton-John's transformation into a
mildly sexy pop singer was complete in
1978, when she starred in the movie
version of the popular Broadway musical Grease. Also starring John Travolta, Grease
was an international hit and spawned three huge hit singles --
Hopelessly Devoted to You, Summer Nights, and You're the One That
I Want; the latter two were duets between Newton-John and Travolta.
You're The One That I Want, in particular, was a massive success,
reaching number one in both America and Britain; in the U.K., it spent a staggering
nine weeks at number one. During 1979, Newton-John
released the Totally Hot album, which boasted a mixture of soft rock and light disco.
The record was another hit, with the first single, A Little More Love,
peaking at number three on the U.S. pop charts and going gold.
Early in 1980, Newton-John starred in the roller-disco fantasy film Xanadu.
While the movie was an unqualified bomb, the soundtrack was a huge
hit. Magic spent four weeks at the top of the U.S. pop charts,
while the ELO duet Xanadu
reached number eight and her duet with Cliff Richard, Suddenly, peaked at number 20.
With her next album, Physical, Newton-John continued to rework her image,
re-inventing herself as a sexy aerobics fanatic.
The first single from the record, the suggestive Physical, was a huge hit, spending
ten weeks at number one during the fall
and winter of 1981-1982. Physical
spawned another Top Ten hit -- Make a Move on Me -- and became her most
successful record. Following the album's success, she
was awarded with an Order of the British Empire. In 1983, Newton-John
again starred with Travolta, this
time in the comedy Two of a Kind. The movie was a bomb, but a song she recorded for the soundtrack, Twist of Fate, became a Top Ten hit in early 1984.
By the end of 1984, Newton-John had married actor Matt Lattanzi. The following year, she released the Physical clone Soul Kiss, which produced only one minor hit with its title track. In 1986, she had a daughter named Chloe
and opened a clothing store chain called Koala Blue. Newton-John attempted to launch a comeback in 1988 with The Rumour,
but the album was ignored. She signed with Geffen
the following year, releasing the children's album
Warm and Tender.
During the late '80s and '90s, she devoted herself to her family and business as well as several environmental activist organizations. In
1992, Koala Blue folded and Newton-John
was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over the next year, she
successfully underwent treatment for the disease.
In 1994, she returned to recording with the
independently released and self-produced album
Gaia. Back With a Heart, a return to Nashville,
followed in 1998. One Woman's Live Journey was issued two years later.