Australian actress and pop music sensation Olivia Newton-John died at the age of 73 on Monday, her husband revealed, five years after the Grammy Award-winning singer publicly disclosed that she was using medical cannabis to treat cancer.
“Dame Olivia Newton-John passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time,” Newton-John’s husband, John Easterling, wrote in a statement on her verified Instagram account. “Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer.”
Newton-John was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, undergoing a partial mastectomy and chemotherapy to treat the disease. In 2013 cancer returned and spread to her shoulder, causing some tour performance dates to be postponed while she was treated.
The singer again postponed concerts for an international tour in 2017 due to serious back pain. In a Facebook message posted in May of that year, Newton-John revealed that cancer had returned once again, this time to the base of her spine, and she announced that additional tour dates would have to be rescheduled.
Singer Revealed MMJ Use in 2018
In a September 2018 interview with the Australian television news program Sunday Night, Newton-John said that she was using cannabis, which she called a “magical, miracle plant,” as part of her treatment.
“My husband’s a plant medicine man so he grew cannabis and made tinctures for me for pain and inflammation,” Newton-John said in 2018.
She explained that the pain caused by the disease was difficult to manage and sometimes caused her problems with mobility.
“The pain was the hardest thing,” said Newton-John. “I can walk, but I can’t go long distances,” adding that she prefers natural cannabis to treat pain and inflammation over other options. “It helped me a lot with pain because I don’t like taking prescription drugs,” she said.
Newton-John noted that the couple was taking advantage of cannabis policy reform in their home state, where personal cultivation of marijuana is permitted by law.
“In California, it’s legal to grow a certain amount of plants for your own medicinal purposes,” she said. “I’m very lucky that I live in a state where it’s legal and that I have a husband who is a plant medicine man.”
The award-winning vocalist added that she believed everyone should have access to cannabis for medical purposes.
“It’s kind and compassionate,” she explained. “It’s what should be available for everybody to use.”
Cannabis Advocate and Healing Force
As an outspoken cannabis advocate, Newton-John spent years lobbying the Australian government to legalize the medicinal use of cannabis. Her experience with cannabis and other alternative healing therapies including plant medicines led her to help create a charitable foundation and the Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre in Melbourne in 2012.
“I have seen the incredible beauty of the plants and their healing abilities… if I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you about kinder therapies… your body wants to heal itself,” she said about the cancer center that bears her name, as quoted by the Daily Mail. “That’s why I’m excited to start this foundation.”
After news of Newton-John’s death broke on Monday, a spokesperson from Austin Health, which runs the cancer center at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital, released a statement announcing the organization will hold a memorial for the advocate.
“Olivia touched the lives of many people across Australia and the world, but none more so than our cancer services staff and patients at the Olivia Newton-John Centre, who she encouraged, inspired and supported every day,” the statement reads.
“We are incredibly grateful for the special relationship we had with Olivia for many years. Her generous support and gift provided hope and changed the lives of thousands of cancer patients here at Austin Health,” the statement continues. “She was the light at the end of the tunnel for many, many people.”
Newton-John started her career in the early 1970s with a series of soft-rock and country hit songs, eventually rising to super-stardom as Sandy in the hit musical film ‘Grease’ in 1978. In 1981 she released the hit “Physical,” a song that help fuel the aerobics dance and exercise craze of the 1980s. Throughout the 20th century and into the next, she continued to reinvent herself as an artist and advocate for cancer research and animal rights.
A star with an international following, Newton-John won four Grammys and several other awards over a career that spanned decades. In 1979, she was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, an honor making her Dame Olivia Newton-John. In 2017, she reflected on her professional life in an interview.
“I’ve had many lives in music. I’ve had country when I started, then I crossed over into pop,” she told CNN. “I had ‘Xanadu’ and ‘Grease,’ many songs in between. I feel very grateful. I have such a large repertoire to choose from.”