Olivia Newton-John Opens Up About Fighting Cancer, Turning 70, and Her Relationship with Her Daughter
A golden sun sets behind thunderheads and rolling hills. To the east, a double rainbow arcs across a darkening sky. It feels like a blessing. Rainbows are special talismans for Olivia Newton-John.
They’ve lit up significant moments of her life and offered her hope. “Rainbows are special to me,” she says simply, stopping to look up, acknowledge the beauty in the sky, and snap a picture on her phone.
This is an extraordinary time in Olivia’s life. She recently celebrated her 70th birthday. Some of the people she holds dearest partied on the patio and by the pool at friend Gregg Cave’s house, nestled in farmland and forest just west of Byron Bay, AU and across the valley from the Gaia Retreat & Spa, which he, Olivia, and friends founded 14 years ago.
Gregg, who calls her “Blondie,” has known Olivia for 37 years and plainly adores her. He went shopping at the local markets for her birthday and came back with a brooch and a shawl, but he insists (in the words of reggae star Peter Tosh) that she needs “nothing but love.”
Another dear friend created a birthday pavlova filled with lemon curd and cream and decorated with mauve and violet flowers. And, most crucially, Olivia’s husband, John Easterling, and her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi, who is 33 and also a singer and an actor, were here to celebrate with her. There’s a lot of love in the air.
But the party is 12 months late. Last year, when Olivia really turned 70, she spent her birthday in her own Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Center in Melbourne, recovering from a fractured sacrum brought about by a weakening of her bones associated with treatment for stage-four cancer.
Her hospital stay triggered tabloid reports of her death, to which Olivia responded with an online video in which she laughed that “rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated”. But the rumours did hurt.
“It can be upsetting because you’re trying to heal and then people are kind of burying you,” she admits.
“I know it’s not the Australian public doing that. I know the Australian public loves me, and I feel it. I tell my friends, ‘Don’t believe what you read in the tabloids unless you hear it from me.’
“But still, there’s a constant cleaning up that you’ve got to do. I’ve accepted it. I don’t like it, but there’s no point getting too upset about it because that’s the business I’m in and I have such a blessed life.”
Chloe is less forgiving. “That made me so angry,” she says, “because I’m protective of my mom. If you do think someone is sick, surely the decent thing to do is leave them alone.”
“Or be supportive,” Olivia adds.
A full year has passed since then, and much healing. Today, Olivia has invited The Weekly to spend some time with her and with Chloe at Gaia.
It’s been a long day of chatting, dressing up for the camera and showing us her favourite parts of the property – the tree under which she planted some of new-age teacher Liz Hayes’ ashes, the serene new yoga room, the view to the Pacific where whales are breaching on their way south for the summer. John arrives around midday with fresh juices for Olivia and Chloe that he’s pressed in the kitchen, but otherwise, Olivia barely stops.
Through it all, she is generous and patient and joyful, and she does look well – her eyes are bright, she moves easily. Perhaps there is still a little pain, but she is aglow.
As night falls, we make cups of tea and settle in a cosy candlelit lounge, lined with weavings and cushions like a Bedouin tent.
The candles make us think of Christmas, and Olivia and Chloe begin to reminisce. They chat for more than an hour and The Weekly here shares their open and heartfelt conversation.
What were your childhood memories of Christmas?
Olivia: “In Germany, they celebrate on Christmas Eve and, because my mom was German, we followed a lot of those traditions. My dad [who was a university professor] didn’t get involved very much because he was always working. But mom would make Christmas gifts, and do potato cuts.
“She would cut potatoes in half, carve a design, dip that in dye and make tablecloths. When you mentioned Christmas, I thought of that. We had stockings, too, and I remember getting an orange and nuts – just little gifts.
“Christmas was not a big, lavish thing like we have now, but it was lovely. I also remember music. My father was a beautiful singer, so we would sing carols around the piano.”
Chloe, how do you feel about Christmas time?
Chloe: “I’m starting to care a little bit more about it now. Now Christmas means I get to see all my intimate family and spend a lot of time with my mom, so that’s important. When I was younger, it meant all these strangers were going to take my mom away from me.”
Olivia: “I used to take in a lot of people at Christmas time…”
Chloe: “And I don’t think I understood how much my parents’ divorce affected me. [Chloe’s father, the actor Matt Lattanzi, and Olivia divorced in 1995.] Now I’ve realised that family is so healing. Being around your family and having a meal and being able to all go to bed in the same house – that is safety. I love Christmas now because of that warmth and connection.”
Olivia: “Chloe’s dad and I, and our spouses, are good friends, so we have Christmas together and birthdays. We’re very close.”
Chloe: “My fantasy is for all of us to live on the same property. Life’s so short. I want to spend every minute with the people I love.”
Your parents were divorced too, Olivia, at a time when divorce wasn’t common. Was that difficult?
Olivia: “My parents split up when I was about nine. It was tough. I don’t remember how I felt, but I remember one of my teachers taking me to the zoo and then taking me home. I think they were checking to see where I lived. I was a latchkey kid because Mom had to go to work.
“It was unusual for a teacher to spend the afternoon with you, so she must have been concerned in some way, but I was fine. I was always a pretty happy kid, though I missed my dad and I could tell my mom was unhappy.
“We went from living in the university to a little apartment, and I would see my dad after school a couple of afternoons a week. That was hard. I remember sitting outside waiting for him. Then he left Melbourne and took a job in Newcastle, and I would go and visit him just twice a year.”
When you were 15, your mom packed up and moved with you to England. How did you feel about that?
Olivia: “I didn’t want to go and I was mad at her. She dragged me, kicking and screaming. Now I’m so grateful, because she had the wisdom to see a future. If I’d stayed in Australia, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities to do what I’ve done.
“She could see that. I couldn’t see that. I was 15 years old and it was all about the boyfriend [Aussie actor Ian Turpie] and the local TV show [Time for Terry] that I was lucky enough to be doing.
“But she had the wisdom, and thank goodness she had the strength, to make me do it. She was a very wise woman.”
Were there things that you learned from her about being a mother – both the good and the bad?
Olivia: “I’m sure I have re-enacted some of the things my mother did because you can’t help it – that’s in your DNA. It’s monkey see, monkey do.”
What did having Chloe mean to you?
Olivia: “When people ask me what is the most important thing that’s happened in my life, I say it was having her. Nothing compares to having a child.
“She is a young woman now, but those maternal feelings never change. So it’s been just an amazing gift. I wasn’t able to have any more, so she is ‘the lucky egg’, as her dad calls her.”
What are the times you spend together that you treasure most?
Olivia: “It’s all precious.”
Chloe: “It’s the simple things, the little things. We like to go shopping at CVS [a US pharmacy chain] or watch some mind-numbing television and laugh, cuddled up on the couch.”
Olivia: “Taking the dogs to the vet…”
Chloe: “Those are the things, when we just get to be normal.”
Did your mom make you feel safe?
Olivia: “That’s a good question. I’ve never thought of it.”
Chloe: “I didn’t always feel that way. I do now, in this part of our relationship, but I think the teenage years are difficult for everyone, and I think moms are afraid for their children.”
Olivia: “Like Chloe and I, my teenage years were difficult for my mom – really difficult – but, when I look back, I can see that she was wise and firm and she did the right things.”
This article originally appeared on our sister site, Now to Love.
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