Grease legend Olivia Newton-John died Monday morning at age 73, according to her husband.
In a statement posted across Newton-John’s social media accounts, John Easterling said that the actress and singer died peacefully at her Southern California ranch surrounded by friends and family. Easterling, whom Newton-John married in 2008, asked that the family be given privacy “during this very difficult time.”
Easterling’s statement did not confirm a cause of death, but he called his wife “a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer.”
A source close to the family told TMZ that Newton-John had “lost her battle to metastatic breast cancer” after a three-decade fight. Newton-John was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992. In 2017, she revealed that it had spread to her lower back after more than two decades in remission.
Born in the United Kingdom in 1948, Newton-John moved to Melbourne, Australia, when she was six years old. A mainstay of Australian television and radio from a young age, the multi-faceted performer jumped to larger projects soon after, with mixed results. It wasn’t until 1978, when she was cast as girl-next-door Sandy Olsson in a film adaptation of the popular Broadway musical Grease, that she achieved her hopelessly devoted international following.
But Newton-John was initially reluctant to take the role, once-bitten by a previous cinematic venture, the sci-fi musical Toomorrow, that had ended in disaster.
“I was very anxious about making another film,” she told Vanity Fair in 2016, “because my music career was going well, and I did not want to mess it up by doing another movie that wasn’t good.”
She also had reservations about playing a high-school senior, given that she was 28 when producer Allan Carr approached her. But after a screen-test opposite a then-23-year-old John Travolta, Newton-John signed on—and made movie history.
As Sandy, an innocent Aussie transfer student who breaks out of her shell by transforming into a leather-clad siren, Newton-John held her own against Travolta’s lovelorn greaser Danny Zuko. Together, the pair were box office rocket-fuel, making Grease the highest-grossing American movie musical of the 20th century.
On Monday, Travolta mourned the loss of his onscreen other half, with whom he teamed up again for 1983’s Two of a Kind. “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” he wrote. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever!”
Travolta signed off lovingly: “Your Danny, your John!”
After Grease, Newton-John starred in 1980’s Xanadu, a dreamy roller-disco fantasy shot through with flecks of Ancient Greek mythology. A critical failure (and, in part, the inspiration for the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards), the musical went on to find a second life as a cult classic.
Not that its soundtrack needed the boost, going double-platinum in the U.S. soon after the film’s release. In particular, the track “Magic” proved a chart-topping hit for Newton-John, one in a long line of iconic singles she released as a songstress.
A four-time Grammy winner, Newton-John was perhaps best known for “Physical,” a heart-pumping, tongue-in-cheek aerobics song that spent 10 weeks at No. 1 after its 1981 release. Her other signature hits included a cover of “If Not For You” “Let Me Be There”; “If You Love Me (Let Me Know)”; “Make a Move on Me,”; and “Heart Attack,” among many, many others.
An estimated 100 million of her records were sold worldwide during her lifetime, making her one of the best-selling artists of all time.
An ardent environmentalist and activist for animal rights, she also raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the fight against breast cancer after her diagnosis. In his Monday statement, Easterling asked that instead of flowers, donations be made to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund.
She preferred to be called a cancer “thriver” rather than “survivor,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. “‘Survivor’ sounds like someone clinging onto a lifeboat,” she once said. “A thriver’s someone who’s already off the boat and on land.”