Written by Valerie Miller

One of the perks of being a reporter is getting the opportunity to occasionally interview a true legend. If you are lucky, that person will be someone that is a joy to interview, as well. Olivia Newton-John was all that and more, and I had the great pleasure of interviewing her in the spring of 2014, when she had launched her “Summer Nights” residency show in Las Vegas.

Olivia Newton-John, as a singer and actress, was somebody I was somewhat aware of at a very young age — albeit maybe not by name. My mom saw the 1978 movie “Grease” and talked about how much she loved that musical. (I would later be gifted the 30th anniversary DVD by my brother, and became a huge fan as well).

The Australian-born singer passed away on Aug. 8 at age 73, after battling breast cancer – three different times – over three decades. But Olivia Newton-John was nobody’s victim. Besides her career, she dedicated her life to trying to help others fight breast cancer – and other cancers as well. The entertainer founded many others charities, including “Pink and Blue for Two,” which also raised awareness for prostate cancer. She was also adamant that I also mention her “One Tree, One Child” organization, which combined two of her great loves – helping children and trees.

Olivia Newton-John took up causes close to her heart. Her joyful spirit and optimism shined through during my brief interaction with her. She was so down to earth, and just plain nice. She never acted like a celebrity. 

So, I was very saddened to hear of her passing. We have truly lost not only a great talent, but a great person, as well. 

On a more cheerful note, as Olivia Newton-John always tried to be optimistic, I hope the readers will enjoy hearing from this truly amazing person one more time.

So, please enjoy the interview, and I know Olivia Newton-John’s optimism is something we can all use a little more of in today’s world. 

Valerie Miller: Thank you so much for taking the time. I have to admit that I am a huge fan, and my whole family are huge fans. So, this is the most excited they have ever been about a story I have been doing.

Olivia Newton-John: Oh, that’s nice. Thank you!

VM: I am a little star struck, and I am not usually. So, my first question: A little girl that I know wanted to be your character, Sandy from Grease, for last Halloween. And I was surprised that she had seen Grease, being so young, and I wondered: What do you attribute to that movie’s, like, long-lasting appeal? (All these) years later, you have children wanting to be your character for Halloween, and are fans of that movie.

ONJ: (Laughs). Oh, well I think there is something timeless about the story. It was a big hit even before the movie was made. You know, people love the ‘50s, and they love the whole costume, and makeup and the hair, and everything. People find the ‘50s fun, you know, because it was a great era. I think the music was very romantic, and fun and good dance music and everything. So, I don’t know, if I knew the secret, I would have bottled it, and done it again. That movie just has kind of a magic energy. And, I was talking to someone earlier about the fact that the producers used to come by the set every day, and rev us up, and tell us how great the day was looking and what great energy it had. And the photographer and the director, (did that) too,. They kept us excited most days. Because we were all in our 20s, and we all had to be 16 or 17 … (laughing).  I mean, it was interesting, because we all felt that age anyway. But, it was just a great energy, and the music itself was very catchy and fun, and somehow or another, and the way we shot it, and the way the chemistry worked with everyone, it was just one of those magical moments.

VM: I am probably going to watch that (Grease) movie again tonight, and watch Xanadu. So … (laughing).

ONJ: Oh, good! (laughing). 

VM: That was a good one too! (laughing).

ONJ: Oh, that’s funny, because that (Xanadu) movie became kind of iconic, too. But I think it was really the music. Because some of the script wasn’t that great. But now it is kind of funny, (laughing) and the music really lasts (laughing).

VM: I think that is what it is really fun.

ONJ: It is fun.

VM: I was going to ask you about Xanadu: How did it feel to dance with Gene Kelly in Xanadu?

ONJ: It was scary, of course! I had never tap danced before in my life, and I had to go and learn. For three or four months, I took tap (dance) lessons. I guess it was like the modern “Dancing with the Stars,” which I was doing before – with a real star! (Laughs).

VM: I was going to say … and you were dancing with Gene Kelly, so you (might have been nervous).

ONJ: So, it was very intimidating. But (Kelly) was great, but he rehearsed a lot with me. And, it was great experience.

VM: So, what made you decide to do a long-running show in Las Vegas? Everybody here is glad you did, but I was surprised that you decided to do a long show — a residency show.

ONJ:  (I did it) because I have been touring a lot over these last five years. I traveled … (in 2013), and (2012) actually. I traveled a lot, and I went all over the world. And, you know, touring is very wearing, and the idea of sleeping in one place, one bed, ah, unpacking a suitcase, is really appealing to me … In a place that is state-of-the art. And you don’t have to do a sound check every day, because the sound is the same. And, with all the wonderful things that Las Vegas now has to offer … because I have been working here 30 years, on and off, but Vegas is a different place now. It has got a lot of appeal, especially for a girl. You have the shops, and the great restaurants, and anything you want, you can get it.

VM: So, I was going to ask, how has Vegas changed – for somebody who has  been performing her for like you said, 30 years?

ONJ: Well, just as I was saying, those changes are huge. When I first came to Vegas, there were dirt roads, and few casinos, and gambling, and lots of drinking. But there wasn’t all this nice food or good shopping.  But if you look now, you have shopping everything. And, I used to go there a lot to go shopping. Before all the big malls were in, you had Nieman Marcus there, and that was one of the best ones in the country. I used to love to go there shopping and for lunch.  But now you have everything.

VM:  And it has changed tremendously.

ONJ:  It has.

VM:  You have become really well known now as an advocate, and trying to find a cure for breast cancer … and (advocated) for breast cancer research. And, of course, you are a breast cancer survivor, and congratulations on that.

ONJ:  Thank you.

VM:  That’s amazing. I was wondering: What kind of advice would you give other women about early detection, and also about (in a) worst-case scenario, they are diagnosed with breast cancer?

ONJ:  Well, I guess for women who have been diagnosed. The best thing I can say is that I am here, (all these) years later … whatever it was, ’92. So, that is the positive side … that you can get through this.  I feel very grateful that I did. But you can get through it.  But you have to keep a positive attitude. You have to do everything you can for your body. You have to put yourself first, which, as women, we find very difficult to do. You know, even when we are sick, we tend to worry about our families and our friends, and there’s a time you have to focus on yourself and let other people take care of you a little, which is a different mindset for a lot of women. (Laughing a little).

VM:  Yeah, I’d agree.

ONJ: You have to eat well, and think well, (in) body, mind and spirit, you need to take care of yourself … meditative or whatever kind of spiritual practice, you need to tune into that. Do something for yourself every day that feels good, (whether) that is taking a hot bath, or a walk or laughing … Find people that you trust to take care of all the phone calls. That’s what is wearing when you are going through any illness, but particularly breast cancer, is that people are always calling you to find out how you are. And, that can be exhausting. You need to find somebody that you trust to take on all that, and just focus on healing.

VM:  That makes a lot of sense. 

ONJ:  Yes.

VM:  And, by the way, you do look amazing. I was going to ask you: What is your secret? Because you just look awesome. Is there a secret you have for looking so youthful?

ONJ:  Oh well, you are very kind.

VM:  It’s true.

ONJ:  You know, I think it is … I am married to an amazing man (John Easterling), who has a herb company, Amazon Herbs. He gives me handfuls, three times a day (laughing). I am not on any medications. I eat well. I am lucky genetically. My mother looked really good, even into her eighties. So, I thank her very much (laughing) … and my dad. I exercise, although I am not crazy about it. I walk my dog every day. I use the gym and the treadmill, and all these things, and keep healthy, and try to laugh and live in the moment (laughing) … as much as possible.

VM:  And, of your movie roles, is there one role that, ah, that is the closest to your personality? 

ONJ: And, I don’t know. I think we all have different parts of our personality, or you can imagine you would dare, dare enough to be that personality. You know, I am a lot older. When I did Grease, I was 29. It was me as a young women … There were parts of me. I don’t think there was one I would say was most me, ah.  There are bits of me in all of them (laughing).

VM:  Do you have … I think everybody would love to see that. Do you have a favorite song, out of all your songs, or is that like picking out your favorite child?

ONJ:  Yeah, it is hard to pick a favorite song … But I like them all for different reasons. They are all different parts of my life. 

VM: You carried the Olympic torch in 2000 in Sydney. 

ONJ: Yes!

VM:  How big an honor was that, in terms of all the things you accomplished in your life? 

ONJ: When people ask me what are the biggest highlights of my life, my mind goes to the Olympics, representing my country. I sang, also, in the opening ceremony … And, just to walk out on that stage, and look at that audience, of young, hopeful athletes in that arena was mind-blowing, really, and very exciting, and a big honor. And then I also carried the torch. I got to do two things: I ran around the Sydney Opera House, with the torch,  and my daughter Chloe was allowed to run with me. She ran behind me. That was really amazing.

VM:  That had to make it even better, that your daughter was there with you.

ONJ: Yes, that was very special.

VM: I was reading about the big controversy when (your hit song) “Physical” came out, in 1981. Were you concerned that “Physical” was going to hurt your girl-next-door wholesome image? 

ONJ:  Yes, I freaked out, actually. When we made the record, put it out, I had a panic attack! (Laughing). I called my manager and said, “I think we have gone too far. I think we need to pull it off the radio! It’s too much!” and he said, “It’s too late. … It is taking off.” And, before I knew it, it was like number one. It was like 10 weeks at number one. (Laughing). …. So, I said, ”Ahh! Let’s go in and make a video, and let’s make it about exercise! (Laughing). So, it was really hilarious when I think about it … It was very funny. Looking back, it was very hilarious to me. But I was banned in Utah, as well.

VM: You were banned in Utah?

ONJ:  I was banned, yeah. I wasn’t very thrilled about that. (Laughing).

VM: You know, I think that may be a good a thing. (Laughing).

ONJ:  I know! (Laughing). Now days, I think it is a considered that. But at the time, I was flipped out about it. And then I recorded my concert video in Utah. Can you believe it?  So, here I was banned, but everyone turned out. They didn’t care at all. It was very funny! I was concerned, but nobody else was, which seems to work the opposite now days. (Laughing).

VM: I think there is nothing like bringing out fans — to somebody or something — by saying someone by saying someone banned. Then everybody wants to go see them.

ONJ:  Yes. Isn’t that bazar? 

VM: It’s kind of has the opposite effect.

ONJ:  Yes, It’s weird like that.

VM: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?

ONJ:  The Olivia breast health kit, which is actually in a number of hospitals.

VM: You have done so much for breast cancer awareness. 

ONJ:  My husband  is John Easterling, they call him “Amazon John” because he has spent so much time in the Amazon, finding wonderful herbs for healing. And we have been married for ….. (then)five years …  I lost track, it is terrible. (Laughing). And he is amazing, and an incredible speaker about the Amazon, and the Amazon products ….. And now we have merged with a company called “Trivita.” So, we sell our products through Trivita now.

ONJ:  Yeah, he has a drink, and a number of other herbal products, and he really gets me through. With his schedule, and lifestyle, and every day, he puts a pile of herbs in my hand.  Yeah, it is wonderful. And we both do a lot for the rain forest, through the Amazon Center. (and) through education and research — and helping the people of the Amazon. (This includes)  education and water — these kinds of things. He’s been going down there for (more than) 30 years.

VM:  You know, I have to say, I am so impressed with you. Not just for your music and movies, but the way you are so dedicated, to your causes.

ONJ:  Thank you! That is so nice of you to say!

Valerie Miller is a Las Vegas Valley-based journalist. She can be reached at (702) 683-3986 or valeriemusicmagic@yahoo.com.