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Before and after Rydell High: Looking back on Olivia Newton-John’s career

By Mitchell Consky, writer

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    Toronto, Ontario (CTV Network) — Although she is best known for her role as Sandy in the blockbuster musical “Grease,” Olivia Newton-John, who died at the age of 73 on Monday, had a career that extended far beyond the dramas of Rydell High and Danny Zuko.

The British-born, Australian-bred singer and actress dominated music charts throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, and her passing leaves behind a legacy of performance, music, and advocacy.

Here’s a breakdown of some of Newton-John’s most notable career contributions.

Before Rydell High:

Originally born in England in 1948, Newton-John moved to Australia at the age of 5, and she first began performing on Australian TV shows as a teenager.

After winning a talent contest on a TV show titled “Sing, Sing, Sing,” she formed an all-girl group which began regularly appearing on Australian pop-music programs.

Her first single was released in 1966, but she only began gaining popularity in 1973 — when her hit “Let Me Be There” soared to the top of both country and adult contemporary charts and won a Grammy.

Other hits included songs like, “I Honestly Love You,” “Please Mr. Please,” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.”

After Rydell High:

The 1978 release of “Grease” cleared the way for Newton-John to reach a wider audience — and allowed the singer to take on a new persona.

Much like her role as the squeaky-clean Australian exchange student that ends the film in leather leggings, Newton-John’s content transitioned to an edgier tone.

Her 1981 hit “Physical” carried lyrics loaded with sexual innuendo that caused her music to be banned on numerous radio stations, according to Billboard.

The four-time Grammy-winning singer is credited with selling more than 100 million records over the course of her five-decade career.

Advocacy efforts

Aside from her influence in music and pop-culture entertainment, Newton-John carried out notable efforts in advocacy for breast cancer research and early detection.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” her husband John Easterling said in a post.

“Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.”

Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. As an effort to raise money for cancer research, she auctioned off countless items used from ‘Grease’ — including her outfit in the finale number “You’re the One I Want,” which sold for over US$400,000.

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