Among the infinite rock and pop posters covering the walls of millions of teenage bedrooms in the late 70’s and early 80’s, there were four women who made their mark: Farah Fawcett, Debbie Harry, Kate Bush (thankfully representing us non blonds)…and the one and only Olivia Newton-John.
O.N.J. Or Olivia Neutron Bomb as the British media nicknamed her.
Girls wanted to be her.
Boys wanted to be with her.
(Actually, many a girl probably wanted to be with her too.)
And just about everyone – your mum included – wanted ‘those’ black trousers and that iconic Grease outfit.
We know nobody is immortal (even though some people should be…); I’m a child of the seventies and a teen of the eighties so many of my favourite entertainment personalities have now taken their final bow and exited stage left for the last time. Some of those stars were extinguished far too soon, the news of their passing simply blindsiding us.
But Olivia Newton-John, if we’re being honest, didn’t die young. She was 73 (admittedly not in her nineties but not cut down in the prime of her young years either). It’s 44 years since Grease hit cinema screens, propelling her to an unpredicted level of stardom. And 40 years since her MTV smash hit heyday.
Yet her death has made breaking news headlines, stunned and saddened many of us and led to an outpouring of emotional tributes and social media activity.
So if it’s decades since Olivia Newton-John was a household name, what is the reason her death will leave a mark for so many of us? Why did she matter so much?
Her 30 year cancer battle, the unfairness of it, her positivity, resilience and dedication to opening her own cancer research centre could be answer enough.
But there’s more to it. Something related to her place in people’s memories. And what she represented (years before cancer redirected her focus).
I wonder how many people sang along to the catchy melody of “Country Roads” in their parents’ car. Or queued down the street and around the block for hours – more than once – to see Grease. Or gasped with delight at that fabulous big reveal moment in “You’re the One That I Want”. Or danced around the lounge to the brilliant Xanadu. Or couldn’t get enough of her image change for “Let’s Get Physical” (a slam dunk confirmation that nobody could rock a headband or leotard like she could).
Yes, I wonder how many people loved Olivia Newton-John as much as my bespectacled, toothy, long-plaited preteen self did.
Her gorgeous voice, her unbeatable smile, her radiance, her sparkle…that one-sided realness so rare in an industry that has created countless stars only to then destroy them.
In a world of almost unspeakable darkness, Olivia Newton-John was pure light.
Friends and lovers come and go. Families evolve and dynamics shift. Marriages start and often end. Children are born. Life changes. Things are rarely constant. But the artists and entertainers who create the soundtrack of our youth are forever connected to it, both in beautiful and heartbreaking ways.
That’s why Olivia Newton-John mattered so very much. A generation will remain hopelessly devoted to her
(And I will always want those black trousers.)