Olivia Newton-John sang the summer nights in the life of a generation

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The death of singer and actress Olivia Newton-John brings to mind a sunnier and optimistic era captured in one of the greatest sing-along musicals of all time, Grease, which spawned two major number one hits: “Summer Nights” and ” You’re the one I want”. Both have been mainstays of parties, wedding routines, and karaoke nights since they first jumped into our ears in 1978.

Olivia Newton-John, who was 73 and had been living with breast cancer since 1992, spent her early years in Cambridge, England. Her father was an MI5 officer attached to the Enigma code-breaking unit at Bletchley Park. Her grandfather was the physicist and mathematician Max Born, who received the Nobel Prize in 1954 for his work on quantum mechanics.

At the age of six she moved to the Australian city of Melbourne and began a stage career, during which she won a talent show at 16 that included a trip to London.

Half a dozen years of trying and failing to break through finally paid off when Cliff Richard gave her a regular spot on his TV show and, despite opposition from some traditionalists, she gained a growing reputation as a country music favorite in the United States in the USA who didn’t like the “Ozzification” of their genre.

It really became world famous when Newton-John played the virginal Sandy Olsson opposite John Travolta’s Danny Zuko in the Paramount blockbuster Fat. Travolta was fresh from a triumph in Saturday Night Feverand her lustful black leather duet with him will long be remembered by all who saw it.

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta remained firm friends and the ‘Grease’ stars sang together again in 2002 for the film’s DVD release. Credit: Michael Caulfield/AP/WireImage

During her career, Newton-John sold more than 100 million albums, several of them on the theme of “wellness”, after being diagnosed with cancer the same week her father died of the disease. In 2008 she founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Center in Heidelberg, Victoria. She also campaigned for environmental and animal rights.

She discovered her cancer had returned in 2017 and has been advocating for the use of medicinal cannabis to be introduced in Australia in recent years.

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