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Singer and actress Olivia Newton-John has died at age 73

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

One of the biggest pop stars in the 1970s and early '80s, Olivia Newton-John, has died. She was 73 years old. When confirming her death, her husband, John Easterling, noted her long struggle with breast cancer. NPR's Mandalit del Barco looks back at the life and career of the Australian singer, who is known for her sweet voice and her movie roles, especially in "Grease."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN AND JOHN TRAVOLTA: (As Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko, singing) You're the one that I want. Ooh, ooh, ooh, honey, the one that I want.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: The soundtrack for "Grease" was wildly successful. Her duet with Travolta was a bestselling single.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")

NEWTON-JOHN AND TRAVOLTA: (As Sandy and Danny, singing) Oh, yes, indeed.

DEL BARCO: Olivia Newton-John was born in England in 1948 and grew up in Australia, where she started her career as a teenager. She was a regular on local radio and TV shows before winning a talent contest. She ended up recording country-pop songs in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET ME BE THERE")

OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN: (Singing) All I ask you is let me be there.

DEL BARCO: For "Let Me Be There," she won her first Grammy Award in 1973. The following year, she got two Grammys for "I Honestly Love You." Newton-John continued with mellow pop songs before getting her fourth Grammy in 1982 for the suggestive single "Let's Get Physical."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GET PHYSICAL")

NEWTON-JOHN: (Singing) Let's get physical, physical. I want to get physical. Let's get into physical. Let me hear your body talk.

DEL BARCO: Newton-John told NPR over the phone in 2012 that the song made her uncomfortable.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

NEWTON-JOHN: I thought it was a great song, but then had a panic attack and called my manager and said, you can't put this out. It's too over the top, and it's too risque. And he says it's too late. It's gone to radio. So then I said, well, you know what? I think we need to make it more about exercise.

DEL BARCO: So for her music video, she wore a sweatband, leotards and leg warmers. After other hits and other movies, she dropped out of the spotlight to raise her daughter and to devote herself to promoting environmentalism and breast cancer awareness after she was diagnosed with the disease. She faced several more bouts of cancer with alternative therapies, medical marijuana, humor and optimism.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "GREASE")

NEWTON-JOHN: (As Sandy, singing) I'm hopelessly devoted. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.