Olivia Newton-John gained global fame singing about “Xanadu,” but she also captivated audiences for decades in Las Vegas. The headliner and movie star passed away this week at the age of 73 after battling cancer.
She had a two-and-a-half-year residency at the Donny & Marie Showroom at the Flamingo Las Vegas. It was called Summer Knights.
She also appeared with such Las Vegas stars as Don Rickles and The Smothers Brothers.
The singer, actress and dancer also captured international attention for her co-starring role in the movie Grease, based on the successful Broadway musical. The cult classic continues to draw in viewers.
Janis L. McKay, vice dean at UNLV’s College of Fine Arts, told Casino.org Newton-John will be best remembered for portraying Sandy in the movie. John Freyermuth, a visiting assistant professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, agreed.
“Olivia Newton-John’s iconic role in the film Grease cemented her place in American music history,” Freyermuth told Casino.org. “Her performance as Sandy inspired a generation of musicians.”
The movie capitalized on her “pretty girl, next-door appeal,” University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Jeff Smith added to Casino.org. “In fact, it is hard to imagine any other singer of that time fitting the role of Sandy as well as Newton-John does,” Smith said.
“The film is family-friendly and its music is insanely catchy. Parents play it for their kids, who then play it for their kids, and so on. A sort of circle of life scenario that very few films from the 1970s currently enjoy.”
But she will also be remembered for her part in the cult classic film Xanadu.
The soundtrack for “Xanadu” went double platinum. It featured Newton-John with the Electric Light Orchestra on the title track, McKay said. “Magic” was also a number one hit.
Soft Rock, Sweet Voice
“She was an early star in the soft rock genre, who easily crossed over into pop music,” McKay told Casino.org.
“She specialized in a hybrid of soft-rock and country music that led to hits in the early seventies, such as “Let Me Be There,” “I Honestly Love You,” “If You Love Me (Let Me Know),” and “Have You Never Been Mellow,” Smith said.
“It was sort of Nashville without the twang,” Smith added. “Yet it enabled Newton-John to cross over into the pop charts in a way that other talented country music artists, like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, struggled to do in that same period.”
Songs like “Xanadu” and “Physical” added a disco vibe.
Newton-John’s soft style and sweet voice made her a fave of grandmas everywhere,” Smith said. “But more than 36 million records sold count for something, making Newton-John the top selling female artist of her generation.”
But Newton-John’s achievements went beyond her performance skills. She was also an entrepreneur and activist.
Newton-John was a pioneer in this regard, establishing a template for a type of stardom that later icons, like Jessica Simpson and Beyonce, would enjoy,” Smith said.
In the early 1980s, Newton-John founded Koala Blue. It is a store specializing in Australian imports. It evolved into a chain of clothing boutiques and eventually became a name brand for Australian wines as well as a line of bed, bath, and beauty products, Smith recalled.
In addition, Newton-John used her celebrity to advocate for environmental causes and animal rights. She also became an advocate for breast cancer awareness.
Donny Osmond Recalls His Friend
Las Vegas headliners Donny and Marie Osmond were among her close friends. In 2016, Newton-John was named the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Woman of the Year. Marie Osmond introduced her at the Wynn Las Vegas event.
Singing with Olivia was one of the greatest moments for me during The Donny and Marie Show,” Donny Osmond recollected on Twitter this week.
“I can only imagine how wonderful heaven is, now that this beautiful angel is there. My dear friend, Olivia, I Love You. I Honestly Love You.”
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