For more than five decades, Olivia Newton-John has been one of the most successful and adored entertainers in the world
A four-time Grammy Award winner, she is one of the world’s bestselling recording artists of all time, with more than 100 million albums sold.
Her starring roles in the iconic movies Grease and Xanadu catapulted her into super-stardom. Her appeal as a performer is timeless.
In addition to her music and screen successes, Olivia is perhaps best known for her strength, courage, and grace. After her own personal journeys with cancer, she has thrived and become an inspiration for millions around the world.
A tireless advocate for countless charities, her true passion is as the founding champion of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
She’s also been an amazing ally to the LGBTQ community for decades.
From performing around the world at gay pride events in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Sydney, to the largest ever concert at sea in 2018 when more than 5,000 LGBTQ fans sang along with her.
She was one of the very first major Australian stars to publicly come out for marriage equality in 2012 telling the world, “With respect to marriage equality, I believe that no-one has the right to judge and deny couples who love each other the ability to make a marriage commitment. Love is love.”
And her Grammy Award winning music video for “Physical,” the first music video to win a Grammy, incorporated a gay storyline without blinking.
In her brand new memoir – Don’t Stop Believin’ – for the first time, she shares her journey, from Melbourne schoolgirl to international superstar, in this deeply personal book.
Instinct recently got to chat at length with the music superstar about the memoir.
Instinct Magazine: Olivia! How are you?
Olivia Newton-John: Good, how are you?
IM: How wonderful to hear your voice again.
ONJ: You too (laughing).
IM: I say ‘again’ because I just listened to the audio book of your memoir.
ONJ: Oh, how was it?
IM: It really is the way to go. To hear your story in your own voice. There’s a clarity of intention and atmosphere. It was my first audio book.
ONJ: Oh really? My first one was Michelle Obama.
IM: You know, the two of you have something in common – you’re both New York Times best-selling authors.
ONJ: That’s right, that’s right. If I can catch up to her even halfway, I’ll be very happy.
IM: The book really lets fans get behind the scenes of your career without dipping into the gossipy, salacious kinds of stories.
ONJ: Well, I didn’t want to be gossipy, and I don’t like tell-all gossipy books because I figure that your friends are your friends. And relationships you’ve been in are between you and that person.
IM: You spend a good amount of time sharing the journey of building the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Australia.
ONJ: That was a work of love. They asked me in my hometown of Melbourne, where I grew up and my father was the dean of a College there, and my brother was a doctor. I was asked by the Austin Health Corporation, which is a big hospital campus there, if I’d lend my name to a cancer center.
At first I thought it should just be the family name. But my brother said, “No, no, no, it has to be you.” And my mother said, “Darling, if you can help people, you should do this.”
So, I decided to do it, but felt we need to have a wellness center because I had cancer in 1992, and I was able to incorporate all these wellness programs into my healing. And I wanted that availability to the patients.
I never saw myself going to all those politicians and begging for money, but there were many people involved. And we did it. It’s built and functioning and people are going there and loving it. And last year, when I fractured my sacrum, I got to experience the hospital myself which was such a gift.
IM: You were like ‘Undercover Boss!’
ONJ: That’s what I called myself – undercover boss – because only the nurses taking care of me, and the people I was directly seeing, the people in radiology, etc, knew I was there. I didn’t want them to make a fuss, I didn’t want the press turning up at the hospital. So, we kept it very quiet, so I could have peace, and they could have peace. It turned out to be the most wonderful gift. I got to experience the actual center I had helped create.
The nurses were so wonderful, and the facility had lots of light; all of the things I had dreamt of. And I did the wellness programs in my room. They brought artwork to my room, and music, and it was just great.
IM: I was a fan of your music for years before the mega-success of Grease, so it always surprises me that, for some people, you’re more famous for Grease than anything else. Is that surprising?
ONJ: It’s been 40 years since we made the film, and it’s pretty incredible people are still talking about it.
IM: And you followed that with Xanadu, where you danced with Gene Kelly! It’s now a cult classic for many, including the gay community. How do you feel about the film now?
ONJ: I’m so lucky to have appeared in two films that are still loved! My publicist tells me that both films are shown in gay bars, and I get such a kick out of that.
IM: I was on the Atlantis cruise last year when you sang for over 5,000 gay men and women. I’ve been told it was the largest concert ever performed on the open sea, and that you felt it was one of the best audiences you’ve ever had. The gay community has always loved you.
ONJ: The gay fans have been there for me from the beginning, and they’ve stuck around. I think they are very loyal.
IM: In Don’t Stop Believin’ you also talk about making the movie and series of indie film, Sordid Lives. The LGBTQ community loves your character, “Bitsy Mae,” and I love that you share about wanting to take this character on, as it’s completely different from anything you’d done.
Olivia: Sordid Lives was so much fun to make, and interestingly enough, Del Shores (the film’s writer/director) just came to visit me last week, so it was great to catch up with him. They’ve released a movie called Sordid Wedding which is the follow up to Sordid Lives, which he gave me a copy of so I can’t wait to see it. And he’s doing a one man show, he’s a very brilliant guy.
He was very close to my sister Rona, and that’s how I met Del. We went to see his play, Sordid Lives, and I remember seeing him afterwards backstage and I just casually said, “If you ever make this into a movie, think of me for ‘Bitsy’ because she played guitar and she was a little crazy.” I never thought it would happen.
Six months later he calls me and says, “Well, you know that movie? We’re going to make it – would you like to be Bitsy?” And that’s how that happened. It was really fun.
IM: In coping with the return of your cancer, you’ve shared that you use modern and natural treatments. What kind of homeopathic treatments do you use?
OMJ: My husband, John, makes me a green smoothie every day filled with various herbs. He also creates special cannabis tinctures to help me with sleep and pain.
IM: As you’ve had this recurrence of cancer, you have been speaking out about the healing powers of cannabis.
ONJ: You know, for thousands of years it was in everyone’s medicine. I mean, it’s an amazing plant. They’ve done thousands of studies – if people want to educate themselves they should go online – because they’re doing many research programs into the healing properties of cannabis for cancer, for Parkinson’s, for so many things. It’s really helped me a lot.
IM: Do you have any advice for others on their own cancer journey?
ONJ: Have someone else handle the phone calls asking how you are. Talking about cancer over and over only gives it more power. And do something for yourself every day.
IM: Another way you promote healing is your spa, Gaia Retreat & Spa, in Australia, which I’ve been fortunate to visit. It really is heaven on earth.
ONJ: It’s my favorite place to go in the world. When I go to Australia, Gaia is the first place I go to kind of regroup, eat our incredible food because we grow our own organic food, and be pampered. When we started Gaia, we had no idea what we were doing, but it’s turned into a world class retreat that’s won awards from all over the world. I’m incredibly proud of it.
IM: And folks can now order a part of Gaia to experience at home now?
ONJ: Yes, we have a wonderful skincare line called Retreatment Botanics. And the idea is you take the experience of Gaia home with you. We created our signature scent, and it is has the same beautiful smell as our spa at Gaia. It’s natural skincare and we use a lot of Australian products in it; natural herbs and some of the Amazon because my husband was involved in developing the skincare. There’s about 15 products; I use like five of them each day – the eye cream, the scrub, the masks, the moisturizers, and the amazing oil serum. We launched in Australia and we’re hoping to bring it to America soon.
IM: One last thing – I hear you are planning on auctioning off your finale costume from Grease as a fund raiser for the ONJ Cancer Wellness and Research Centre. The famous leather jacket and pants?
ONJ: The bidding starts at $1 million! I’m hoping a billionaire will want to buy them for their daughter (laughing).
Olivia’s memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’ is available now.
You can listen to my chat with Olivia Newton-John below.