Olivia Newton-John is perhaps best known for her innocent looking persona, solidified by her portrayal of the naive Sandy in the 1978 film adaptation of Grease. But like her character, there are two sides to Olivia.
A Vanishing Act
In 2005, Olivia Newton-John found her world shaken when on again off again boyfriend of 9 years, Patrick McDermott, disappeared without a trace. Though the couple had recently broken up, Olivia was still distraught by his mysterious death. She never expected what detectives would uncover.
She Thought He Just Went Fishing
Despite their recent break up, the couple had remained friends. McDermott had announced a fishing trip along the California coast, where he supposedly fell overboard. Luckily, Newton-John was not implicated in the disappearance, but the details surrounding the incident were bizarre. No one on the crew saw him fall, nor was his body ever found. Poor Olivia was left searching for answers, but new revelations came to light after an extensive investigation by authorities.
His Sinister Secret
Following the investigation of his disappearance, rumors began that McDermott had staged the whole thing in order to shirk his responsibility to pay his ex-wife, Yvette Nipar, child support. Though the couple had supposedly split prior to his disappearance, Olivia was still heartbroken over the incident. Complicating matters further, 5 years later detectives uncovered evidence that he was hiding in Mexico all along, after an internet account was traced back to McDermott. Newton-John couldn’t fathom how she’d been so deceived after so long.
Olivia Shares Her Sadness
Following the revelation that her former boyfriend hadn’t been lost at sea, but was supposedly sailing the coast of Mexico, Olivia released a statement regarding McDermott. She was only cleared as a suspect because she was in Australia when he disappeared. She told Women’s Weekly Australia, “I think there will always be a question mark. Even though the U.S. Coast Guard has closed the case and considers him missing at sea, I don’t think I will ever really be at peace with it.”
The Light At The End Of The Tunnel
In the wake of McDermott’s disappearance, Newton-John eventually shared that she fell into a deep depression that was only aided by medication. She told interviewers at The Times of London in 2009 that she was on the medication for 3 months as she coped with the harrowing news. “I took them until I could see the light again and never did them again,” she said. “I didn’t want to become dependent on them. That’s why I stopped.”
The Truth Comes Out
Five years after his disappearance, Dateline NBC commissioned a number of private eyes to reopen McDermott’s case in light of the puzzling internet activity they saw coming from the coast near Puerta Vallarta. The team finally cornered McDermott, who was living under an assumed identity. At a press conference finally closing the case, the private eyes announced that McDermott just wanted to be left alone. After all the heartache, Newton-John refused to comment on the revelation.
A Mother’s Tragedy
In 2007, Olivia Newton-John made magazine headlines again when it came to light that her daughter Chloe was suffering from an eating disorder. Chloe blamed her mental health struggles on her absent parents, telling People in 2008 that her problems started in the wake of her parents’ divorce. She said, “My dad lived away and my mom was touring. I was alone a lot and I couldn’t handle it.” Perhaps Newton-John should have considered her daughter’s needs when she assumed sole custody.
Fame Over Children
Olivia’s daughter Chloe told People in 2008 that her mom often left her alone to tour when she was young. The young girl was lost without that emotional connection to her mother. She recalled, “I never had the consistency of my mother coming home every day and having dinner with the family. I missed out on a lot with her. I had this feeling in me like, ‘Okay, you’re not a priority—so just deal with it.’”
Didn’t Know How To Cope
As Newton-John continued to disregard her daughter’s emotional anguish, her troubles spiraled out of control. Chloe explained, “I remember being 16 and having the house to myself for months at a time. That develops into a big welt of sadness.” She filled the void in her life by severely restricting her food intake. While Newton-John would never admit to not loving her daughter, her oversight with regards to the inadequate care she was bestowing upon the impressionable teen had devastating consequences.
Dad Saves The Day
Newton-John was so absent in Chloe’s life that the teen was forced to reconnect with her father, Matt Lattanzi, in order to confront her struggles. “I didn’t feel worthy of existing,” Chloe confessed. Newton-John had no clue how dire Chloe’s situation was. It was only because her father began attending therapy sessions alongside of her that her parents finally intervened and got her help. She was frightened at just how ill her daughter had become without even noticing.
Making The Change
After Chloe finally shared with her father what she was struggling with, it was time to confront Olivia with her neglect. She was stunned that she could have been so clueless. Chloe shared that Newton-John was receptive to the confrontation. Newton-John for her part told People, “I made the point to be involved in her life and what she was going through. That’s when things started to turn around.” But could the couple overcome their personal animosity?
How It All Started
Newton-John shared with People that her daughter had an idyllic childhood growing up on the beaches of Malibu, connecting over music with her father and passing her time by making arts and crafts projects for her mother. But Newton-John and Chloe’s father, Matt Lattanzi split up when Chloe was 9, and things went south quickly. She had limited contact with her father for the next few years, and an absent mother who was busy traveling the world as a singer. Chloe’s depression only grew.
To combat Chloe’s illness, Olivia and her ex-husband needed to make amends. She even allowed Lattanzi to temporarily move back into her house while Chloe was in treatment in order to best support their daughter. They both became better at expressing their love to their daughter. Newton-John talked about the lesson she learned from the crisis, “Through this experience, I really realized how much Chloe means to me,” Newton-John says. “We’ve been fantastic ever since.”
A Terrifying Flashback
But that was not the end of Chloe’s struggles. In 2010, she went missing on Christmas Eve while she was out with some friends. Newton-John immediately flashed back to the last missing person in her life, Patrick McDermott. Last she knew, Chloe was clubbing with her friends in Miami before vanishing without a trace for over 12 hours. One of Chloe’s friends finally made contact with Newton-John, informing her that Chloe had been taken to a hotel with some new friends and had been sleeping.
Olivia’s Life Changing News
In 1992, Olivia Newton-John was ready to revive her flailing career. She planned to release a new collection of her greatest hits and was ready to hit the road again for the first time since she went on tour with Physical 10 years earlier in 1992. But as she was on the brink of her departure, Newton-John received a devastating diagnosis from her doctors. She had breast cancer. Her tour was cancelled as Newton-John needed to focus her time and energy on treatment.
Focusing On Herself
Newton-John immediately rushed into surgery, deciding on a modified radical mastectomy with immediate reconstruction as the best course of action. Though she was calm about the impending surgical procedure, it was the idea of chemotherapy that really scared her. “I was afraid I would be allergic, that they would put the needle in me and I would die.” Newton-John revealed to reporters. But she was not going to let fear get in the way of her health.
Making Peace With Her Soul
Newton-John proceeded from surgery to chemo, despite her reservations, while also engaging in complementary medical practices, including taking herbal supplements and getting acupuncture to combat the nausea and searing eye pain she was experience. She shared that she took a holistic approach as she followed the advice of top doctors while also healing her soul through meditation and praying with her Buddhist friends. Newton-John knew that without inner peace her recovery would be hampered.
Blackmailed Into Going Public
Olivia Newton-John wanted to keep her illness private, but when a magazine caught wind of her battle with the disease, they pressured her into go public with the details. It was the last thing she needed while she was battling for her life. But to her relief, she found that opening up with the public helped her process the fear she was feeling, and it was empowering others to begin conversations regarding early detection and research. Things were starting to look up.
The Fog Clears
Olivia fought the disease for two years before doctors told her she was in remission. She credits her friends and loved ones for being an integral part of her recovery. Newton-John said it was like she “emerged [from] initial shock and fog of her illness.” She also called recovery “a long, transitional process” as you finally let go over the fear that the illness will return. Unfortunately, Olivia had no idea that the battle was not truly over, even after passing the 5 year mark.
Being Her Own Advocate
In reflecting on her illness, she shared in a later interview that doctors were hesitant to take her symptoms seriously when both a mammogram and a needle biopsy came up benign. She told Saga in 2013, “I insisted on a surgical biopsy and that confirmed I had cancer. You need to encourage your doctor to do more, despite the fact that all you really want to hear is good news.” Her experience with the disease caused her to become an outspoken advocate for other women.
Walking The Great Wall
Newton-John took placed her renewed vigor into writing albums that focused on the emotional journey she went through while she was ill, and she began using her public influence to fundraise for a number of breast cancer advocacy organizations. But Olivia wanted to think bigger. In a considerable fundraising drive in 2008, she organized a walk of the entirety of the Great Wall of China, which took her 3 weeks to complete. She was joined by other survivors and celebrities for parts of the journey.
Putting Her Money To Good Use
Twenty years after Newton-John’s initial diagnosis, she used the money she raised on her walk, in addition to personal funds in order to open the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre, located in Melbourne, Australia. She also wrote and released a cookbook in order to share her recipes and tips for a healthy lifestyle with others. Despite her best intentions, the tragic disease has continued to affect her life.
Suing For Royalties
Nearly 40 years after the release of the soundtrack for Grease, Newton-John still had not been paid her royalties for album sales. She found herself embroiled in a nasty lawsuit with Universal Music Group, who tried to throw out the case entirely before ultimately caving to Newton-John’s demands. The music moguls claimed the court had no jurisdiction in California, but when it seemed the court disagreed they decided to settle with Newton-John before the case went to trial.
Losing Her Goddaughter
Before Olivia’s own diagnosis, tragedy struck her best friend, Nancy Chuda’s, family when Nancy’s five year old daughter was diagnosed with a kidney cancer that is common in children. Collette Chuda was Olivia’s goddaughter, and Newton-John was absolutely shattered as she watched Collette’s illness progress. Nancy said of her own daughter’s experience with the invasive and painful therapy, “Olivia had seen Colette go through such agony. She had to realize the process could be different for her.” Thankfully, it was.
The Physical Controversy
Olivia Newton-John took a page from Sandy’s playbook and attempted a mid-career image transformation, leaving behind the sweet girl next door image for a more tantalizing persona. When she released “Physical” in 1981, fans went wild about the anthem, which was wildly suggestive. But Olivia balked at the connotations, covering it up by recording her now iconic music video in a leotard, tights, and sweatband, popularizing the outfit in aerobics classes everywhere. Despite her discomfort with her edgier side, Physical became her most successful album.
Being Sandra Dee
When Newton-John was first beginning her music career with then singing partner, Pat Carroll, the pair infamously booked themselves a show at an adult club, unaware of the true reputation of the venue, which was Paul Raymond’s Revue bar. The pair were modestly dressed in frilly high collared dresses, in stark contrast to the revealing costumes of the other performers. The bar did not ask the duo to come back for a second performance. Though they were embarrassed, the incident did not deter their ambitions.
Newton-John just can’t seem to escape family tragedy. In 2013, her older sister Rona was diagnosed with a brain tumor that was so aggressive, she passed away only a month later. She shared the news on her Facebook page, noting that the date of Rona’s passing was the same as their mother’s birthday. She emphasized that Rona luckily had been spared a lot of pain. She continued, “I will miss her forever – my beautiful, smart, talented, funny, brave sister Rona.”
1991 was a bad year for Newton-John. On top of the loss of her goddaughter, her attempt to expand her celebrity into what was first an Australian imports store, which then evolved into a women’s clothing line. Newton-John partnered with her old friend Pat Carroll on the venture, and though they found some early success, the company went bust only a few years later. The ladies were forced to declare bankruptcy in 1991, closing the business entirely in 1992.
Newton-John disappointed her fans in 2017 when she cancelled a scheduled tour due to back pain. Only it turned out to be much worse than she thought. Her cancer had returned, this time, in her sacrum. But three months after her initial announcement, she has spoken out about the continued support offered to her by fans, saying her treatments are almost done, and she’s ready to hit the road once more. But it wouldn’t be an Olivia health scare without some controversy…
Newton-John has most recently made headlines for her outspoken advocacy of a particular herbal treatment to manage her cancer pain. Though medicinal varieties are readily available in California, she is on the crusade to make the remedy an accessible option in her native Australia as well. “It’s an important part of treatment, and it should be available,” she told reporters. “I use it for the pain and it’s also a medicinal thing to do — the research shows it’s really helpful.”
A Serial Monogamist
Newton-John has had a number of high profile relationships, one often flowing into another. Though she first found success as a performer in the 1960s, her relationships with already known artists didn’t begin until she was featured on Cliff Richard’s show in the 1970s, where she met rocker boyfriend Bruce Welch….who was unfortunately still married when they met. Though the pair eventually got engaged, the relationship soured prior to their nuptials, and Olivia moved on to another turbulent relationship.
That was not the end of Olivia’s love life. She immediately fell in love with Lee Kramer when they met on vacation in 1973. He gave up his shoe business to become her manager and their torrid affair progressed quickly, as they moved in with one another shortly after Newton-John resettled in Los Angeles. But business wriggled its way into their love, as Olivia often resented Kramer’s business decisions. Though the relationship lasted 5 years, a Olivia termed most of it “one long break up”.
From Xanadu to “I do”
But Olivia just couldn’t seem to manage without a man in her life, and despite the drawn out break up with Kramer during the production of Grease, Newton-John was back on the market soon after. She met Matt Lattanzi, a dancer who is 11 years younger than her when the two began work on Olivia’s other big film success, Xanadu. Lattanzi was only 20 years old when he got involved with Newton-John, too young to know what he wanted in life.
Newton-John and Lattanzi married in 1984, when he was 25 and she was 36. She gave birth to their only daughter, Chloe, in 1986. Even then, their friends found them to be an odd couple, with little in common outside of Xanadu. They were from vastly different backgrounds, Newton-John came from a family of intellectuals and Lattanzi is descended from blue collar workers. But somehow, they managed to stick it out for over 15 years before the relationship was deemed irreconcilable.
Why He Stayed
When the couple announced their imminent divorce in 1994, People reported that though Newton-John’s illness had kept them together, her recovery made their differences unbridgeable. Olivia’s niece shared that Lattanzi was unbelievably supportive during her treatment, but afterwards Olivia was far too focused on meditation and spiritual pursuits, while Lattanzi just wanted to spend time with his friends and go scuba diving. It’s interesting now that Lattanzi has recently decided to live off the grid in a Malibu teepee.
The Latest Love
Still, Newton-John needed a partner. It would seem that she finally learned from her tumultuous relationships when she took up with John Easterling, one of her first boyfriends who was not in show business. He is an herbalist, which fits well with Olivia’s new zen persona. The pair fell in love slowly over the years, and both feel that being in their 60’s has not diminished but rather enhanced the strength of their commitment to one another.
Eloping In Peru
Olivia Newton-John was finally ready to take the next step with Easterling in 2008. Telling no one but her daughter Chloe, the pair snuck off to Peru, where they married in a spiritual ceremony on top of a mountain in Cuzco, the heart of the Andes. They followed up with a civil ceremony in Florida, and only announced it to their friends and family several weeks later. She told People the secrecy was because “it was the one thing I could keep private.”
Almost Passed Over
Randal Kleiser, the director of the classic 1978 film Grease shared with Bustle in 2015 that he’d very nearly passed over Newton-John for the role of Sandy. Kleiser had been college roommates with George Lucas at University of Southern California. Star Wars was just wrapping production when casting for Grease began, and Lucas invited Kleiser to look at the Star Wars footage to get a better look at Carrie Fisher, whom he was considering for Sandy. Luckily for Olivia, Kleiser couldn’t get over her ludicrous hairstyle.
Scared To Play Sandy
When Olivia Newton-John was first offered the iconic role of Sandy, complete with an offer to rework the script so she the character would be Australian, Newton-John thought she was too old to play a high schooler. At 29, Newton-John still possessed an innocent, doe eyed look, to the point that the director was almost worried that they wouldn’t be able to sell her bad girl transformation at the end of the film. Luckily for both, Olivia pulled it off.
A Real Summer Love
And what of the rumors that Newton-John and Grease costar John Travolta had an affair during the shoot? Olivia says none of that is true, as she was still involved in a protracted break up with Lee Kramer. But she admits she absolutely had a crush on him, and it seems Travolta felt the same about her. The on screen couple recently shared that they did often flirt on set, a testament to why their on screen chemistry was so powerful.