RIP Olivia Newton-John: Pop Icon, Past CYInterview Guest Kind as She was Talented

Yesterday, pop music icon, actress and philanthropist Olivia Newton-John died. She was 73. The reported cause of death was breast cancer. Ms. Newton-John had fought valiantly against the disease since first being diagnosed with it in 1992.

A pop music phenomenon in the 1970s and 1980s, the world probably knows her best as Sandy, from the 1978 blockbuster movie musical Grease, where she starred alongside John Travolta. However, though she enjoyed success on the silver screen, Olivia was first and foremost a singer, with a heaven-sent voice.

At the Grammy Awards in 1975, Olivia won Record of the Year for her song I Honestly Love You. The award was announced by John Lennon and Paul Simon. During her music career, she would end up winning three more Grammy Awards.

During the last decade of her life, Olivia Newton-John was one of Las Vegas’s resident stars. From 2014 to 2016, she performed 180 concerts at the legendary Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel and Casino. In 2015, CYInterview was on hand for one of those performances [see here]. In 2019, we welcomed Olivia Newton-John to CYInterview to speak with us about her memoir Don’t Stop Believin’ and her time in Las Vegas, among other topics. [At the end of this article you can find a full transcript and audio of that CYInterview.]

Our condolences go out to Olivia Newton John’s husband John Easterling, her daughter Chloe Lattanzi and the rest of her family and friends. Additionally, we would also like to offer condolences to her longtime publicist Michael Caprio, who is based here in Las Vegas.

Olivia Newton-John touched people with her singing, acting and philanthropy. She will never be forgotten and always be the one that we want. RIP!

Below is the CYInterview with Olivia Newton-John from 2019:

Listen to the entire Olivia Newton-John CYInterview:

Listen to the entire Olivia Newton-John CYInterview on YouTube:

Chris Yandek: I’m Chris Yandek. Featured columnist Jay Bildstein is with me. Today on CYInterview, we welcome singer, actress, superstar Olivia Newton-John. Her new book out is titled Don’t Stop Belevin’, the long awaited memoir. Olivia, thank you for being with us today on CYInterview.

Olivia Newton-John: You’re very welcome. How are you today?

Chris Yandek: I’m doing very well. Thank you so very much. I just want to say to start out with, I really enjoyed reading your book, a lot of interesting and positive stories. How has the book tour been going and what’s been the most interesting part so far?

Olivia Newton-John: Well, my tour I’ve been doing by telephone, which is probably the easiest way I’ve ever done any tour and really enjoying it. I’ve been, I did a few, couple of things in L.A., but I’ve been mainly been doing stuff on the phone and it’s doing really well. The book went to number seven on the New York Times best seller list which I didn’t expect at all. I didn’t expect to be in the charts again. So that was exciting.

Chris Yandek: I don’t think it’s very surprising honestly with all the things that you’ve accomplished in your career, on the screen and of course with music, how are you doing?

Olivia Newton-John: I’m doing great. Thank you. Really well. Really feeling good.

Chris Yandek: Well, here’s what I’m going to say to you, you know, getting the chance to read the book and go through it, you know, and you get to relive many of these accomplishments, do you ever reflect on those accomplishments and feel satisfied?

Olivia Newton-John: It’s not something I think about really. I live my life and when I wrote the book of course I went, oh wow, that’s pretty good, you know. Pretty good for an Aussie chick. But I don’t think about them a lot, but when I do, I’m just very grateful that I’ve had such an amazing career. But I do particularly now live in the present, live in the moment that I’m having and I don’t really think much about the past and today is a gift and that’s how I see it today in the present.

Chris Yandek: Jay.

Jay Bildstein: You know Olivia, going through the 1970s and being a big music fan and constantly listening to the radio, you were there all the time. And to me, I kind of break down your career as BG and AG, before Grease and after Grease.

Olivia Newton-John: BG, I like that one.

Jay Bildstein: Because there was this entire period which I think some younger folks may not realize where you were so incredibly dominant.

Olivia Newton-John: Yeah.

Jay Bildstein: In the music scene. I think a lot of people today, the first thing they think of is Grease. With that said, and I gave a lot of thought to your career, do you ever reflect back and say, am I looked at someone or was I looked at as someone who was a country star, a pop star, did you ever kind of try to identify where you were in music or did you just go out and perform?

Olivia Newton-John: I just did it and I sang songs that I liked and you know, when I first started out and I was having country music hits, I really had no idea that country music had a separate chart because I was in England, the songs were written by an Englishman, my first big hits If You Love Me, Let Me Be There, Please Mr. Please were all written by a gentleman called John Rostill who was an Englishman and he was a base player in the Shadows and he, my producers were an Englishman and an Australian. I had no idea about country music really.

Because I was in the pop world and doing cabaret and stuff with my partner Pat [Carroll]. So when I had these country music hits, it was like, oh, wow, there’s a whole chart that’s just country. And my voices seemed to soothe that kind of music or that’s what my producers thought and manager and I wasn’t focusing on it when I first started, so it kind of made sense, but I really wasn’t aware of that. But I really covered a lot of different genres with my music. I think music is music and I love the fact they’re all kind of melding a melting pot of sounds now with all the different ones coming together. I just feel really grateful. I’ve had hits in all my different styles. Even a number one disco hit with my daughter.

Jay Bildstein: Interesting, you know, again going back to the 1970s and thinking about your music, I can say that going through the 70s, my kind of focus was rock, but I can also say with all my friends and we’re talking about, you know, people who were in junior high school and high school, besides your music, I’m sure you realize you were also a pop icon. You were someone who made a lot of people’s hearts beat a bit faster. Did that, I don’t know, did that ever give you cause for pause, make you feel uncomfortable, did you just want to be known for your music or were you ok with the fact that, you know, there were plenty of guys with your poster on a wall or a photograph on the wall and thought of Olivia Newton-John as more than just a songstress, but wow, what a woman?

Olivia Newton-John: I don’t really think I paused to think about it too much. I don’t think about myself that way. I’ve always had my feet on the ground and I don’t intend, I kind of laugh when I think about that. But I was very flattered. I was more focused on just singing my songs and recording and touring and living my life and I don’t really think I ever really thought, I think once you start thinking about yourself too much, that’s a trap and you start to take yourself too seriously. It was what it was and I was very lucky and fortunate, very grateful.

Jay Bildstein: Chris.

Chris Yandek: Olivia, in the book, Don’t Stop Believin’, you talk very candidly about Grease, of course. And I thought it was very interesting that you had to kind of be convinced and even be asked by John Travolta to do Grease.

Olivia Newton-John: Yes.

Chris Yandek: Looking back on it, do you ever think about what would your career have been like had you not done Grease or how life would have been different?

Olivia Newton-John: No, I don’t, do you think back a lot about those things? I mean, obviously it would have been a different world that I don’t know what would have happened, I mean I would of probably just focused on my music and my music did well, but, you know, my music in the movie did exceptionally well and then of course the music from Xanadu, another film, those were some of my biggest records were from films. And then Physical after that and of course was amazing. But I don’t know what it would have been. I mean, how do we know what it would have been? So I’m just happy the way it turned out. I was lucky.

Jay Bildstein: Chris, may I interject something?

Chris Yandek: Sure, of course.

Jay Bildstein: You know what Olivia, I think you just taught us something here, at least you just gave me a teachable moment. Perhaps we’re asking the questions and you’re answering them because instead of reflecting on the past, you focused on doing, you focused on accomplishing and you focused on producing your art, your music, your acting and maybe that’s a lesson for all of us that we gotta get our heads out of looking at the past too much and worrying about the future too much and live in the now. Would you say that’s accurate?

Olivia Newton-John: Absolutely. I think when I was younger, I think when you’re young, you worry about everything. I mean, that’s been a gift of age I find is that you worry less and also the gift of going through difficulties which I have gone through and am going through, but I’m doing great. But I think you need to focus on now. Now is all we have. This moment now is all we are sure of. Yesterday is gone. We can’t change it. Tomorrow there’s no guarantees of anything. So really all we have is this moment and I try to make the most of each moment and make it as positive as I can.

Jay Bildstein: Well said, Chris?

Chris Yandek: Well I want to say, that’s what I was gonna ask you next is that you really have this, this kind of way you live your life and as you read Don’t Stop Believin‘, you just have a very positive good feeling about you and how you see the world and how you see life. Do you think that, that maybe is the most important thing of how you live your life? Because that’s what I feel like I’ve gathered from you, and reading the book and reading some of the other interviews you did before speaking with us today?

Olivia Newton-John: Well, I’m glad you got that because, yes, I think that is what keeps me going and I’ve always been a pretty positive person, but I’m, naturally I’m human and I have fears and doubts and all the things everyone goes through. But I really believe that you create your world by what you think. I mean your brain is what, everyone has a different brain and what goes inside your brain is creating your realities.

So you need to keep that reality positive if you’re going through illness or you’re going through a hard time, you need to keep a positive thought or try and keep one going in some way or do something for yourself that makes yourself feel good because life is difficult for people and everyone’s stressed out and worried about stuff. So concentrating on this moment and what you can do better in this moment is the best we can do I think.

Chris Yandek: Very quickly before I get to my last question and Jay might have a few more, you know, I feel like as I was reading your book when you were starting out in your music career and you were touring with Pat [Carroll] and you guys were just kind of going from one place to another, you were just, like so happy in those early performing days. Like, it was just such a joy for you to get up on stage it felt like as I was reading the book.

Olivia Newton-John: Well, I think, you know, I really enjoyed singing with Pat [Carroll]. I’ve always enjoyed duets and being onstage with somebody else. I found it harder when I was, when I started out my solo career and it was just me. That was a little more nerve wracking. I always enjoyed it once I got on the stage, but before I got out there, I was a wreck. I mean, every day I was so nervous that, you know, how was I gonna do it, how was I gonna remember and you know, that was just because I wanted everything to be perfect.

I was probably a bit too much of a perfectionist and worried about everything. And now of course, I can enjoy performing a lot more because I don’t have to prove anything. I’m not building. I’m, you know, I’ve done it and this is all icing on the cake.

Chris Yandek: Well, speaking of performing, back in May of 2015, I got a chance to attend your show at the Flamingo and I did get to meet you during the meet and greet. And it was very nice meeting you, you’re such a joy. I loved the show.

Olivia Newton-John: Thank you.

Chris Yandek: What do you recall from your Las Vegas residency and I’m sure you keep up with the news, but Lady Gaga and so many others are now doing this.

Olivia Newton-John: Yes.

Chris Yandek: What was that like for you?

Olivia Newton-John: I really enjoyed the Vegas experience. I went there for a year and ended up staying three years, which said something right there and I really loved it because it was like a regular job. I went to the show every night at the same time, I went home, we rented a house, we took our animals there, my husband and I, took our dog and our cat, we flew them up each time. And it was like having a really normal life. Except, you know, I went to work at night instead of during the day. That was really enjoyable.

I loved the fact that my friends from all over the world would come to see me. So I caught up with a lot of friends when I was there, more than when I was at home or touring. And the audiences were wonderful; the staff of the Flamingo was great. I loved my band; so we were like a little family on the road. So I really did enjoy it very much.

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With Olivia Newton-John back in 2015 at her Las Vegas residency at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino

Chris Yandek: Do you have any favorite stories about any of the people who came to see you whether it was Donny [Osmond], Marie Osmond or Mariah Carey or any of the other people who had residences while you had residency?

Olivia Newton-John: Well, the residents couldn’t come because we always sang on the same night. I think Donny and Marie came on separate nights on the week, I think they had a week off and were staying an extra couple of days. Because we came, bunches of people from Grease came, came up on stage with me, yeah, a few of the Grease guys came, so and Didi [Conn] of course who always comes up on stage. I love her. So it was wonderful. I’m forgetting people of course. There were a lot of celebrities that came and joined me on stage for a part of the show and it was really a wonderful experience.

Chris Yandek: Before I throw it to Jay to finish up with you and thank you so very much for your time today, Don’t Stop Believin’ the title of your book, of course the famous song, I mean, I think those three words really are something that’s inspirational for people that believe that anything can happen if we want to keep working towards something no?

OIlivia Newton-John: Yeah. Exactly and that’s not Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, that’s my Don’t Stop Believin’. That’s a song that John Farrar wrote for me many years ago.

Chris Yandek: Of course.

Olivia Newton-John: I didn’t know if you knew because I’ve had some other people ask me if it was Journey’s song. And it’s just a beautiful lyric and I’ve always, you know, it’s one of the first positive songs that I got to record and had such a gorgeous melody. And when I was thinking of titles for the song, for the album, for the book, album, for the book, it kept, that’s the one that just kept coming back to me all the time. And I thought, well that’s the one. Cheers. That is how I live my life. You just gotta keep believing things will work out.

Chris Yandek: Are you going to perform again in the near future?

Olivia Newton-John: Not in the near future and I don’t know if I will again. I’ve been, I’ve worked last year and then after I had my setback in September, I’ve taken time off and I’m getting to really like it. I don’t know if you’ll get me back on the road. I’ve never been in one place this long I don’t think in my whole life since I was a little girl. So actually, waking up in the morning and feeding my animals and you know, looking at the birds and wondering out in nature, that has been so amazing to me. I’m not sure I want to get back out there now.

Chris Yandek: Well, it was just such a joy to see you in May of 2015 and meeting you, you’re such a nice person. Jay.

Olivia Newton-John: Oh, thank you. Thank you for talking to me. I’m sorry I was late.

Jay Bildstein: Olivia, if I might, where are you currently living?

Olivia Newton-John: We are based in Florida, but at the moment I’m in California and we spend a lot of time in Australia. So we’re all over the map. I’m in California now.

Jay Bildstein: Did you enjoy living in Las Vegas? I am sure you enjoyed performing, but how did you feel being in the desert?

Olivia Newton-John: I love the desert. We use to go to Red Rock all the time, take our dogs for long hikes, I really loved it there. I’m not so much a city person, but we rented a house on the outskirts and we use to go for walks and picnics and things out there and Vegas is a lot of fun. You know, great restaurants and fantastic shows if you have a few nights off to do stuff, but I was working every night. So I didn’t really get a chance.

Jay Bildstein: One silly question and one serious question to kind of wrap things up. The silly question is this, so you’re in Las Vegas, do performers and I mean you’re an absolute superstar, an icon, does one person call another? Do you get on a phone one day and say, ‘Hey Celine! Let’s go have a barbecue.’ And all of a sudden you’re getting together with other performers in your off time, hanging out, having a barbecue and comparing notes or is that just something in a fan’s imagination?

Olivia Newton-John: For me, it’s in a fan’s imagination ‘cause when I had a day off, usually you just want to rest and just do nothing or go to a movie or something. So no, I didn’t do that. I’ve met those girls, but I don’t know them well and they all have their lives and their kids and the weekends are kind of sacred. So I didn’t really spend any time with them unfortunately and very often we were on different schedules. So I’d be there at the times that they weren’t. Britney [Spears] was next door to me in one of the places I was staying. So I got to see her a little bit and I saw Elton [John] a few times; he’s a friend. But apart from that, I didn’t really see anyone. Donny and Marie was different.

Jay Bildstein: Understood. And here comes my serious question, I am fascinated by the artistic process. And so, when you’re singing for example, a song like Hopelessly Devoted to You, do you create a, like in acting, sometimes they talk about Stanislavsky and sense memory and the method and all these different processes that an actor will go into.

Olivia Newton-John: Right.

Jay Bildstein: To get the best out of them self emotionally for a role. Have you worked at doing something similar in, if you’re again singing a song like Hopelessly Devoted to You, are you thinking about a broken hearted moment that you had or are you thinking about for a different kind of song an upbeat moment or does it just come naturally and you sing?

Olivia Newton-John: With the ballads, I mean I really believe that when you sing, you are reenacting a little kind of vignette, a little three minute movie. So I had something going on in my head. It’ll be different every night, it’s not like I recreate the same movie. I’ve probably done a thousand different movies in my head. But I do use imagination and I call on feelings and memory and you know, that’s how you make it real because if you just sing and you can be perfect and every note can be perfect, but if you don’t touch anybody, then I don’t believe you’ve done your job.

Jay Bildstein: Yeah and I can speak personally and I think for many, many other people, wow, that song certainly was very, very touching and I always got the feeling again back in high school and I’d hear that, that you had something in mind, that there was, you were singing to a person and you, like there was a backstory to that song. I don’t know if it was true or like you said, there were a variety of backstories or vignettes that you created in your mind, but very, very powerful indeed.

Olivia Newton-John: Yes. Yes. Thank you. I think we’ve all had you know, unrequited love or had a broken heart. I mean, it’s part of the human condition. So you just draw on those feelings. I wasn’t trained to do it. That’s just being where I was and the lyrics of a song, you know, you’re conveying those words. So the words, I love words and what they mean and that’s always very important to me, the lyrics of a song. You can have a great melody, but if the words don’t match, it doesn’t work for me.

Jay Bildstein: Indeed. Well, thank you so much. It’s really been a distinct pleasure speaking with you.

Olivia Newton-John: Oh, you too.

Jay Bildstein: And much, much luck on your book.

Olivia Newton-John: Thank you.

Jay Bildstein: And with everything the future holds. And I’m sure your fans and anybody who has the slightest interest in music is gonna be absolutely riveted in reading your book and listening to this interview and all your other wonderful interviews and again thank you. Chris.

Olivia Newton-John: Thank you very much.

Chris Yandek: Olivia, thank you so very much for being on CYInterview and in closing, with that thought, any message to your fans?

Olivia Newton-John: I’d love to say thank you to all of them for all their support over the years and for coming to my shows and sending me letters and gifts and all the sweetness and you know, our fans make it possible for us to do our work. We wouldn’t have an audience without them. It’d be very lonely. So I’d like to say, I just, I’m very grateful to them and thank you.

Chris Yandek: The title of the book is Don’t Stop Belevin’, a memoir. So for musician, singer, actress, mega superstar Olivia Newton-John, featured columnist Jay Bildstein and CYInterview, I’m Chris Yandek. Olivia, thank you so very much for being on CYInterview today.

Olivia Newton-John: Thank you guys. Thank you.

The lead photo for this piece is credited to Denise Truscello.