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Olivia Newton-John, who played Sandy in 'Grease,' dies at 73

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NEW YORK (AP) — Olivia Newton-John, the Grammy-winning superstar who reigned on pop, country, adult contemporary and dance charts with such hits as “Physical” and “You’re the One That I Want” and won countless hearts as everyone’s favorite Sandy in the blockbuster film version of “Grease,” has died. She was 73.

Newton-John, a longtime resident of Australia whose sales topped 100 million albums, died Monday at her southern California ranch, John Easterling, her husband, wrote on Instagram and Facebook.

“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer,” he wrote. “We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time.”

From 1973-83, Newton-John was among the world’s most popular entertainers. She had 14 top 10 singles just in the U.S., won four Grammys, starred with John Travolta in “Grease” and with Gene Kelly in “Xanadu.” The fast-stepping Travolta-Newton-John duet, “You’re the One That I Want,” was one of the era’s biggest songs and has sold more than 15 million copies.

“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” Travolta wrote in an online post. “Your impact was incredible. I love you so much. We will see you down the road and we will all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”

“Physical,” the bouncy, R-rated smash released in 1981, was No. 1 for 10 weeks and was named Billboard’s song of the year despite being banned by some radio stations. An aerobics-friendly promotional clip, filmed in the early years of MTV, won a Grammy for best video.

Both musically and image-wise, she reinvented herself during those years. The blonde, ever-smiling Newton-John initially favored mild pop-country songs such as “Please Mr. Please” and “Have You Never Been Mellow” and soft-breathing ballads like “I Honestly Love You,” which in 1975 won Grammys for best female pop vocal and record of the year. But she picked up the tempo in “Grease,” especially after Sandy ditched her white sweaters and blouses for waist-high, black leather pants. “Physical” even made Newton-John blush as she told her would-be lover “There’s nothing left to talk about/Unless it’s horizontally” and finally called out “Let’s get animal! Animal!”

“I recorded it and then suddenly thought, ‘Goodness, maybe I’ve gone too far!’” she told Entertainment Weekly in 2017, recalling how the song had been suggested by manager Roger Davies. “I called Roger and said, ‘We’ve got to pull this song!’ He said, ‘It’s too late. It’s already gone to radio and it’s running up the charts.’ I was horrified!”

Fans flooded social media to mourn her death. “Farewell with love to the legend who will forever be my first crush,” wrote actor Daniel Dae Kim. Added Tracie Thoms: “Olivia Newton-John is an icon. We will miss her dearly.” Gabrielle Union said she and her sister watched “Xanadu” “more times than I could count.”

She had a few hits after “Physical,” but her career declined and Newton-John became more likely to make news because of her private life. In 1992, as she was preparing a concert tour, her father died and she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her marriage to actor Matt Lattanzi, with whom she had a daughter, actor-singer Chloe Lattanzi, broke up in 1995 and a years-long relationship with cameraman Patrick McDermott ended mysteriously. McDermott went missing during a 2005 fishing trip in California and his fate remained unknown years later. Numerous reports alleged that he was living in Mexico, with a new girlfriend.

“He was lost at sea, and nobody really knows what happened,” Newton-John told Australia’s “60 Minutes” in 2016. “It’s human to wonder. But you know, those are the things in life you have to accept and let go. Because whenever you go through difficult times, there’s always those concerns.”

Newton-John’s recent albums included “Stronger Than Before”; a holiday collaboration with Travolta, “This Christmas,” and the autobiographical “Gaia: One Woman’s Journey,” inspired by her battle with cancer and by the loss of her father.

Newton-John married John Easterling, founder of the Amazon Herb Company, in 2008. She was involved in numerous charitable causes, serving as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme and as national spokeswoman for the Children’s Health Environmental Coalition. She also founded the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia.

Newton-John was the daughter of German literature professor Brin Newton-John and Irene Bron, whose father was Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Bron. The Newton-Johns moved to Australia when Olivia was 5, but she returned to England in her teens and lived with her mother after her parents broke up. She had early dreams of becoming a veterinarian but was winning singing contests in high school and before age 20 had toured army bases and clubs and recorded her first single, “Till You Say You’ll Be Mine.” In 1971, she covered Bob Dylan’s “If Not for You” and began a close partnership with a friend from Australia, John Farrar, who produced the song and later wrote “You’re the One That I Want,” “Magic” and several other hits for her.

She had loved country music, especially the records of “Tennessee” Ernie Ford, since childhood, but her early success didn’t impress critics or some fellow musicians. A Village Voice review likened her to a geisha who “makes her voice smaller than it really is just to please men.” When Newton-John beat out Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the Country Music Association’s top artist of 1973, Tammy Wynette helped found the Association of Country Entertainers, a club designed to exclude Newton-John and other crossover performers.

But Newton-John had a show business admirer who with her became one of movies’ most unforgettable teams. Travolta had starred in the stage version of “Grease” and for the planned film thought Newton-John would be the “ultimate” Sandy, the nice girl who gets tough in the final act and gets her man.

“I worried that at 29 I was too old to play a high school girl,” Newton-John, who insisted on taking a screen test before accepting the part, told The Telegraph in 2017. “Everything about making the film was fun, but if I had to pick a favorite moment, it was the transformation from what I call Sandy 1 to Sandy 2. I got to play a different character and wear different clothes, and when I put on that tight black outfit to sing ‘You’re the One That I Want,’ I got a very different reaction from the guys on the set.”

She is survived by her husband; daughter Chloe Lattanzi; sister Sarah Newton-John; brother Toby Newton-John; and several nieces and nephews.

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press





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Blue Jays fan Frankie Lasagna just misses catching Aaron Judge’s 61st home run ball

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By Gregory Strong in Toronto

Blue Jays fan Frankie Lasagna grabbed a baseball glove from his garage before heading down to Rogers Centre for Wednesday’s game against the New York Yankees.

With Aaron Judge on the verge of baseball history, Lasagna wanted to be prepared just in case the Yankees slugger hit his 61st homer of the season.

“I would never ever bring a glove other than this situation,” Lasagna said. “I needed a bigger one.”

The 37-year-old Toronto restaurant owner came agonizingly close to catching the historic ball when Judge went deep in the seventh inning.

Lasagna stretched over the railing but the ball hit the wall just a few feet below and bounced into the Toronto bullpen. A Yankees security official later came by to collect it.

The blast tied Judge with Roger Maris, who set the American League’s single-season home run record in 1961.

Lasagna bought his ticket in the front row of the 100 level thinking it would improve his odds of catching the ball if Judge went deep.

“In the front row I felt like you’ve got the best chance,” he said. “Lo and behold, I was just a few feet away.”

Lasagna said the anticipation built during every Judge at-bat.

“It’s like you’re in the game, you’re fielding and getting ready for the pitch,” he said. “When he hit the ball, it was like ‘Oh my God! Oh my God!’ I think I hit my buddy in his neck (as I stretched out). I almost got it.”

Lasagna could only look down into the bullpen as the ball — which could have been worth big bucks to a collector — bounced a couple times before it was picked up.

“The disbelief comes over you and just the shock and the amazement,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I almost had it.'”

One fan seated near Lasagna, still clearly frustrated at just missing the ball, declined to be interviewed.

Lasagna, sporting a baby blue Vladimir Guerrero Jr., jersey, said he would have kept the ball if he had caught it.

“I would have held on to it for as long as I could (to) negotiate,” he said. “Maybe get Judge to try to come to the restaurant.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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'Gangsta's Paradise' rapper Coolio dies at age 59

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Coolio, the rapper who was among hip-hop’s biggest names of the 1990s with hits including “Gangsta’s Paradise” and “Fantastic Voyage,” died Wednesday at age 59, his manager said.

Coolio, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., died at the Los Angeles home of a friend, longtime manager Jarez Posey told The Associated Press. The cause was not immediately clear.

Coolio won a Grammy for best solo rap performance for “Gangsta’s Paradise,” the 1995 hit from the soundtrack of the Michelle Pfeiffer film “Dangerous Minds” that sampled Stevie Wonder’s 1976 song “Pastime Paradise.”

He was nominated for five other Grammys during a career that began in the late-1980s.

Born in Monessen, Pennsylvania south of Pittsburgh, Coolio moved to Compton, California, where he went to community college. He worked as a volunteer firefighter and in airport security before devoting himself full-time to the hip-hop scene.

His career took off with the 1994 release of his debut album on Tommy Boy Records, “It Takes a Thief.” It’s opening track, “Fantastic Voyage,” would reach No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100.

A year later, “Gangsta’s Paradise” would become a No. 1 single, with its dark opening lyrics:

“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I take a look at my life and realize there’s not much left, ‘cause I’ve been blastin’ and laughin’ so long, that even my mama thinks that my mind is gone.”

Jonathan Landrum Jr. And Andrew Dalton, The Associated Press

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