Somewhere in a dusty corner of our basement, tucked away in a cardboard box, lies an essential album in my life.
I think it may have been essential to every female I knew.
Grease, for me, came out just when I started to move from being a bespeckled 8th grader who had just grown six inches and hunched a little from the shock of it all, to a high school freshman working hard to figure things out.
Olivia Newton-John’s Sandy gave me a focal point and an aspiration that, while obviously out of my reach, did my heart good. All of us Sandy wannabees could feel just a little like her when we belted out her songs.
In retrospect, I’m not sure how our vocal chords survived holding that last word in “Summer Nights” on a note few of us could maintain. “Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiights!”
While Olivia Newton John was just playing a character back then, she rose to every occasion in her real life as well. In all those 44 years since, the chipper Aussie never appeared to be anything less than that woman we all admired on screen – a talented ray of sunshine in a world that perpetually needed it.
In her 30-year battle with cancer, she brought the same sense of optimism and purpose. She achieved an admirable balance of fierceness in her determination to beat the disease and joy in the life that transcended that battle. And she didn’t fight just for herself, she used all of her resources to help cancer fighters across the globe through the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre.
The world has changed a lot since 1978, but many of our heroes live in perpetuity. I don’t have to dig that old album, for instance, I can just stream Grease from any device, like I did yesterday and probably will again today, and those songs will bring me right back to Rydell High and the perky heroine who taught us so much.
Rest in peace and love, Olivia, from a grateful fan.