Olivia Newton-John, the candid girl who hid a woman dressed in black leather

The story is well known: Olivia Newton-John knew she was too old to play Sandy, the lead in Grease. She was 29 years old and there would be no way to fool the public into passing her off as a high school girl. But John Travolta had an intuition that when she appeared on screen, the public would want to be fooled.

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Travolta, who had just reaped a huge success with Saturday Night Fever the previous year - a production of Australian Robert Stigwood, manager of the Bee Gees, like Grease - was in a position to demand. And she did not stop until she convinced everyone, including the Australian actress who died this Monday from cancer. When she did the screen test with her partner starring in her, she also felt that spark. At her public farewell, Travolta signed her loving message "your Danny, your John."

The film, which was based on a musical that by then had been filming for almost ten years, was released while disco music was the mainstream and punk was hitting the youth, with glam rock as a background and its dirty, seedy proposal and fringe. In this context, the recovery of the candid 50s proposed by the film seemed totally out of reality. And it was a success, perhaps because it is what the parents of that youth who self-destructed and did not see the future preferred to see.

The soundtrack, sung by the protagonists, became the second best-selling album of the year, only behind, of course, Saturday Night Fever. Also in Spain, it was rare for a house that, if it had a minimal collection of vinyl, not to have that album. Girls in the early 1980s played Olivia Newton-John at the end of the movie, skinny on her pants and in her mouth, lifting a Danny Zuko's chin with her gloved foot in a high-heeled sandal. The boys formed gangs of T-Birds and the girls groups of Pink Ladys.

Grease, which was an immediate box office success and earned Paramount $100 million two months after its release, shot Olivia Newton-John's music career to the stars, which is what she had been doing before trying her hand at cinema. She had released her first album, If Not for You, in 1971. It was named after a song of the same name composed by Bob Dylan and was a country theme, as was the other hit from that album, Banks of Ohio. The whole album had that feel to it, even though it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London, where she was living at the time. The song was a success but the singer did not like it and in interviews, years later, she revealed that recording country songs was her decision that her managers and producers made for her. She actually admitted that she didn't know what country music was until she moved to America a couple of years later.

In the mid-1970s, the interpreter was selected to represent the United Kingdom in Eurovision with a song with a certain fanfare and communal joy chosen by the public and that she did not like either, showing good judgment, Long Life Love. She still came fourth in the year ABBA won with Waterloo. But the song that triumphed on that album and that allowed her to gradually move away from country was the ballad I Honestly Love You, a type of song that the brilliant and imperturbable voice of the singer, in which she can show off her famous sweet vibrato , feel comfortable. The theme was number one for three consecutive weeks.

With his career on track between ballads and mid-tempo mellow seventies pop, and after the single Have You Never Been Mellow from his next album, the earthquake that Grease entailed hit him. With her character of Sandy Olsson and the songs Hopelessly Devoted to You, Summer Nights and You're the One That I Love, the candid girl who became a powerful woman touched the sky, as in the last scene of the film. A scene that, by the way, lost in the final montage the kiss between Newton-John and Travolta for no apparent reason. When the director wanted to retrieve it for video editing, he learned that the original celluloid had been destroyed and he could only find a black-and-white working print. He tried to color it but the result was not satisfactory, so he had to settle for including it in the extras and calling for a future 2028, for the 50th anniversary of the film, the wish that the technology had improved and the stolen kiss could be reinserted.

Just as Sandy transforms in Grease, so too does Olivia Newton-John, empowered by the film, taking control of her career to steer her away from nice-girl ballads. Her new album says it all: Totally Hot. And on the cover, Olivia, just as she signs the album, with no last name, leans against a wall wearing a black leather jacket, tight pants, and high heels. In songs like A Little More Love or Deeper Than The Night, a self-confident woman appears, who lets loose and enjoys what she sings.

Shortly after and with the start of the uninhibited 80's, Newton-John stars in a fantasy musical that has never been appreciated enough: Xanadu. Co-starring a 68-year-old Gene Kelly in the last role of his life, the soundtrack, with the wonderful title track, is signed by the British group with bombastic orchestral arrangements Electric Light Orchestra, at the time at the peak of their career. . Cinematographically, the film is considered unsuccessful and does not even come close to the success of Grease but the idea of ​​a nightclub called Xanadu where Olivia Newton-John walks on roller skates and in which a mural of "the nine muses" is painted which turns out to be a portal to another dimension is an admirably delusional idea. the film producer Catherine Bray wrote on the BBC website that the conceptual decisions of this film, made to make it more commercial, without success, produced a "monster that stirs and provokes delight, pity, compassion and horror, all at once".

After gaining momentum with the skates, Newton-John took them off to put on the leg warmers. And in 1981, still recovering from the box office scare of the aforementioned fantasy on wheels, she recorded Physical, a more dance-oriented album with a cover in which the artist appears sweating after what we assume is a grueling aerobics session. His single, the excellent title of the same name, became his most successful solo song and spent 10 weeks at the top of the best-seller list. The sexual allusions are evident in the song and in the video clip that illustrates it, in which the singer whips overweight men until they become almost naked muscular Adonis and shiny with oil on their skin. Goldprapp or Dua Lipa have made successful versions of this magnificent song.

With Physical Olivia Newton-John hit the ceiling and from then on she did not achieve another similar success. She sang again with John Travolta, released a lullaby album inspired by the birth of her only daughter, and worked on humanitarian causes. In 1992 she was diagnosed with breast cancer and delved into her experience by composing all the songs for her next album, Gaia: One Woman's Journey, with songs like Why me, I Never Knew Love or Trust Yourself. From there, she dedicated part of the profits from her records to cancer research and, in 2008, she created the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Center in Melbourne for which she raised funds with records, performances Y auctions. The buyer of the black leather jacket she wore in Grease, for which she paid just over 200,000 euros, gave it back to the actress and singer after winning it at an auction whose proceeds went to the fight against cancer.

The artist managed to remit the cancer, although the disease returned in 2013 and 2017causing him death this August 8 at the age of 73at his home in California.

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