Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Stellar Contents - Photography DENISE TRUSCELLO Styling MA­RINA AFONINA Cre­ative di­rec­tion ALEKSANDRA BEARE

Olivia New­ton-john looks back at her 50-year ca­reer, and re­veals how tragedy has made her stronger.

Olivia New­ton-john was back­stage at Oprah Win­frey’s Opera House show in 2010, talk­ing to Ni­cole Kid­man and Keith Ur­ban, when Bono walked in. The lead singer of one of the world’s big­gest bands took one look at New­ton-john and knelt to the floor in a sweep­ing bow. “You are the queen of Aus­tralia,” he said.

At one of New­ton-john’s re­cent Sum­mer Nights shows in Las Ve­gas, there was a fa­mil­iar face in the au­di­ence. It was co­me­dian Kris­ten Wiig, of Ghost­busters and Brides­maids fame, who has a photo on her iphone of her­self as a 12-year-old with New­tonJohn’s 1983 al­bum, Two Of A Kind.

Ac­tor Jim Par­sons (Shel­don from The Big Bang The­ory) has her en­tire opus on his ipod. And on the day of our shoot with the singer, pho­tog­ra­pher Denise Truscello asked New­ton-john to pose with a sign say­ing “Hi, Steve”, as a favour to a fan-boy friend. Who just hap­pens to be Steven Tyler from Aero­smith.

Many Aussies have for­got­ten – and some have never known – how big New­ton-john, now aged 67, was in her hey­day. She is, by far, the most suc­cess­ful solo artist our coun­try has pro­duced. Bill­board puts her at num­ber 20 on its list of the Great­est Of All Time artists, ahead of Billy Joel, The Beach Boys and Kenny Rogers, and her sin­gle “Phys­i­cal” at num­ber eight in the All-time Top 100 Songs.

This, how­ever, is not a story about a fa­mous singer. It’s a story about a lovelorn woman whose ca­reer was touched by magic, but whose per­sonal life has been scarred by heart­break, and who, nine years ago, fi­nally found the love she’s craved all her life. “I didn’t think it was pos­si­ble,” she says. “But it’s pos­si­ble.”

IT’S A SWEATY Tues­day night in Las Ve­gas. New­ton-john’s first show of the sea­son has ended in a stand­ing ova­tion and the band is min­gling with friends in the green room. A tanned, sil­ver-haired man weaves his way through the crowd, shak­ing hands as he goes. His name is John Easter­ling, and he’s New­ton-john’s hap­pily-ever-af­ter.

To ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of this we must wind the clock back to the early 1960s when New­ton-john, who was al­ready a reg­u­lar on The Go!! Show, was dragged by her mother to au­di­tion for Johnny O’keefe’s tal­ent show Sing, Sing, Sing.

Irene New­ton-john had wanted her daugh­ter to go to univer­sity and carry on the fam­ily tra­di­tion set by her own fa­ther, who won a No­bel Prize for quan­tum me­chan­ics in his na­tive Ger­many, and her hus­band, who was an MI5 of­fi­cer-turned-univer­sity pro­fes­sor. But her youngest failed at maths, and was more in­ter­ested in the an­tics of her big sis­ter, ac­tress Rona.

So Mrs New­ton-john de­cided that if her daugh­ter wanted to sing, she should give it 100 per cent. Olivia won a singing con­tract in Lon­don, but was so re­luc­tant to leave her boyfriend, Ian Turpie, of The New Price Is Right fame, that she waited a year to ac­cept it. Even­tu­ally, she left, and when she later booked a flight home to see Turpie, her mother can­celled it.

“She thought I was too young to be in­volved, and she was right, I was 16 or 17,” says New­ton-john. “She [thought that] if I was go­ing to be there, and had a chance at hav­ing a ca­reer, I should work hard at it.” New­ton-john has her own daugh­ter now; would she do the same? “I would ad­vise her to work at it if that’s her pas­sion – I re­ally did like what I was do­ing – but I think love is just as im­por­tant. So that was a dif­fi­cult one, but I’m grate­ful to my mother now.”

In Lon­don, New­ton-john’s ca­reer blos­somed. She teamed up with fel­low Aussie Pat Car­roll and they per­formed around the UK. New­ton-john moved on from Turpie with Bruce Welch of The Shad­ows, and Car­roll fell in love with mu­si­cian John Far­rar. Far­rar and Car­roll mar­ried; New­ton-john’s en­gage­ment to Welch, who was in­volved in a messy di­vorce when they got to­gether, ended in an­other heart­break.

As New­ton-john’s love life fal­tered, her star soared. “I don’t think I was am­bi­tious in the be­gin­ning,” she says. “I wanted the fam­ily and the picket fence, and Pat, she re­ally wanted to be a star. She got mar­ried and got the picket fence, and I went on to be the suc­cess­ful one in the mu­sic in­dus­try... with her hus­band.” (Far­rar wrote some of New­ton-john’s big­gest hits, in­clud­ing “Hope­lessly De­voted To You” and “You’re The One That I Want”.)

At age 24, New­ton-john won her first Grammy. There were more awards, then Grease, then Xanadu, then “Phys­i­cal”. These were, she says, her “Britney Spears years”, when she was one of the big­gest stars in the world. “She had peo­ple all around her – she was big time,” re­calls Car­roll, now known as Pat Far­rar.

De­spite, or per­haps be­cause of, all this suc­cess, the “hap­pily-ever-af­ter”

“I’ve al­ways said I want to grow old grace­fully and not cut and slash”

still eluded her. She met dancer Matt Lat­tanzi, who was 11 years her ju­nior, on the set of Xanadu. They mar­ried in 1984 and had a daugh­ter, Chloe. New­ton-john would have liked more chil­dren, but it wasn’t meant to be. “I tried… I lost one, and yeah, I wasn’t lucky enough to have more,” she says.

Her night­mare year was 1992. She lost her fa­ther, her com­pany Koala Blue (which she co-owned with Pat Far­rar) was de­clared bank­rupt, and she was di­ag­nosed with breast cancer, from which she re­cov­ered af­ter a mas­tec­tomy and chemo­ther­apy. (The ex­pe­ri­ence heav­ily in­flu­enced her mu­sic, which now fo­cuses on heal­ing and grat­i­tude.) She and Lat­tanzi di­vorced in 1995, but re­main friends. How­ever, her great­est heart­break was yet to come; watch­ing her daugh­ter strug­gle with anorexia and drug prob­lems.

Chloe, now 30, has blamed her is­sues on the pres­sures of be­ing the daugh­ter of a celebrity. “My mum trav­elled a lot, so I think I missed out a lot when I was younger. I’ve spent a lot of time alone in big houses. That was hard,” she has said. “I don’t blame my mother for my prob­lems, but I’d never want to be fa­mous or raise a child around the cult of celebrity. It ruins lives.”

New­ton-john won’t talk about Chloe’s strug­gles. “It’s not fair, she can’t help that she’s my daugh­ter,” she tells Stel­lar. “She’s healthy and happy now, that’s what counts.” Chloe is en­gaged to a mar­tial arts trainer and lives in LA. “They are very happy, and that makes me happy,” says New­ton-john.

Then there’s Pa­trick Mcder­mott. It’s the only topic that’s off-lim­its in an Olivia New­ton-john in­ter­view. She met the cam­era­man a year af­ter her di­vorce, and they had an on-off re­la­tion­ship for nine years. In 2005, he dis­ap­peared dur­ing a fish­ing trip off the Cal­i­for­nian coast, and is be­lieved to be lost at sea.

Her grief was deep. She took an­tide­pres­sants, went on long walks with her Ir­ish set­ter and wrote an al­bum, Grace And Grat­i­tude, to re­mind her­self that there was joy in the world. “I loved him a lot and I miss him a lot,” she told a mag­a­zine soon af­ter his dis­ap­pear­ance. “I’ve been through cancer and di­vorce. Noth­ing com­pares to this.”

Ru­mours have per­sisted that Mcder­mott faked his own death to es­cape child-sup­port pay­ments. In 2009, New­ton-john said the lin­ger­ing doubt meant, “I don’t think I’ll ever re­ally be at peace with it.” Those close to her be­lieve Mcder­mott is dead and that

the re­lent­less pur­suit of the story is tabloid muck­rak­ing. It is a con­stant thorn; a deep grief reg­u­larly poked and prod­ded be­cause she’s fa­mous.

Then, in 2007, came Easter­ling. She first met the busi­ness­man through friends while she was still with Lat­tanzi. Both are en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists (Easter­ling im­ported herbs from the Ama­zo­nian jun­gles) and would cross paths at con­fer­ences over the years, but there was no at­trac­tion. “I thought any­one from Hol­ly­wood and in­volved in the things she was in­volved with must be some kind of nut­case,” says Easter­ling.

In the mid-noughties, she per­formed in his home­town of Florida and in­vited him along. “She came out singing “Pearls On A Chain”, which is from her heal­ing CD. Peo­ple around me were cry­ing. And it hit me, it pierced right into my heart – she’s a healer, that’s what’s go­ing on. Her words and mu­sic are a medium for her heal­ing,” he says. “I had to take her to Peru and in­tro­duce her to the cu­ran­deros [tra­di­tional heal­ers].”

So he did, and some­where deep in the Ama­zon jun­gle, they fell in love. A year later, they were mar­ried by a shaman on a sa­cred site, wear­ing tra­di­tional shawls. Easter­ling de­scribes her as his soul­mate. “It’s a su­per­nat­u­ral thing,” he says. “It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary, beau­ti­ful, won­der­ful thing. I hope ev­ery­body gets to ex­pe­ri­ence that same thing.”

The wed­ding was eight years ago. “She’s had some rough pe­ri­ods, but it has all turned out well,” says Far­rar. “I have known her since she was about 15, and she is the hap­pi­est she has ever been.”

IN AUS­TRALIA WE tend to let our big stars of yes­ter­year fade into dag­gi­ness, con­demned to RSL clubs and re­vivals of Hey Hey It’s Satur­day. Per­haps if she’d re­turned home, the big­gest-sell­ing solo artist in Aus­tralia’s his­tory would have suf­fered the same fate. But in Amer­ica, su­per­stars, even grey­ing ones, are revered and treated as el­der states­peo­ple, and el­e­vated to the pan­theon of en­ter­tain­ment. That pan­theon is known as Las Ve­gas.

New­ton-john does about 100 shows a year in Ve­gas, an ab­so­lutely crack­ing pace for a 67-year-old. There, her bill­board sits on the Las Ve­gas Strip be­neath Donny and Marie Os­mond at the Flamingo, and op­po­site those of Reba Mcen­tire and Garth Brooks.

She stays at the Palazzo Suites at the Rio All-suite Las Ve­gas Ho­tel & Casino, which is also home to El­ton John and Jen­nifer Lopez when they’re in town.

Ve­gas res­i­den­cies are only granted to ev­er­green en­ter­tain­ers guar­an­teed to fill the­atres. New­ton-john’s Sum­mer Nights show does just that, night af­ter night. It’s a ret­ro­spec­tive of her ca­reer – Grease, Xanadu, coun­try mu­sic, and her post-cancer and pro-en­vi­ron­ment songs, clos­ing with the much-loved Peter Allen-penned hit, “I Hon­estly Love You”.

Su­per-fan Michael Krupin­ski, 53, has seen her Las Ve­gas show 65 times in the past two years. Ev­ery time, he pays $300 for the pack­age that in­cludes a meet and greet af­ter­wards. At one of these, he pro­posed to his boyfriend in front of a sur­prised New­ton-john. Hav­ing col­lected enough au­to­graphs for him­self, he now runs a kind of char­ity, get­ting au­to­graphs on be­half of those New­ton-john fans around the world who can’t af­ford to get to her con­certs.

Pia Falk, 52, and Niels Nielsen, 47, both trav­elled to Las Ve­gas from Den­mark, hav­ing met on a fan fo­rum. Falk has the New­ton-john song ti­tle “Love Is Let­ting Go Of Fear”, writ­ten for the Great Wall of China Fundrais­ing walk, tat­tooed on her wrist. While New­ton-john has a Grease fan base, an Aus­tralian fan base and a gay fan base, since 1992 she has also had a cancer fan base, in­spired not only by her sur­vival but also her fundrais­ing ef­forts for the Olivia New­ton-john Cancer & Well­ness Cen­tre in Mel­bourne.

Ev­ery year, she comes home for a fundrais­ing walk and gala at the cen­tre. This year, there will be a walk and run event on Septem­ber 11, fol­lowed by a gala on the 17th.

New­ton-john doesn’t con­tinue per­form­ing for the money or fame, says her man­ager Mark Hart­ley, but be­cause she likes to sing. Her voice is the same as it ever was, thanks to daily ses­sions with her vo­cal coach. “[Singing] is all I know, truth­fully,” she says. “Since I was 15, this is what I’ve done.” Her lat­est al­bum, Liv On, will be re­leased on Septem­ber 30. It’s a col­lab­o­ra­tion with two friends whose lives have also been touched by cancer.

When she’s not per­form­ing, New­ton-john is at her ranch in Santa Bar­bara with Easter­ling, feed­ing her 17 chick­ens, walk­ing her dog Raven and rid­ing horses. “I am very much a home­body, I like muck­ing out sta­bles and tak­ing care of my horses,” she says. “Once I get home, I for­get all about this.” Easter­ling al­ways trav­els with her. “We don’t like to be apart,” he says.

New­ton-john still talks to Pat Far­rar ev­ery few days. She is close to Bee Gee Barry Gibb, Jane Sey­mour and, of course, John Tra­volta. (Easter­ling hadn’t seen Grease un­til af­ter they were mar­ried, when Tra­volta sur­prised him with an af­ter-din­ner screen­ing in his plane. “I was re­ally im­pressed,” he en­thuses.)

She is at ease with her ad­vanc­ing years and says she has never had plas­tic surgery. “I’ve al­ways said that I wanted to grow old grace­fully and not cut and slash… So far I have, and I hope I can con­tinue to do that,” she says. “I guess be­cause I have had real surg­eries for re­ally im­por­tant, se­ri­ous rea­sons, I don’t take play­ing with your face lightly.

“I’ve had points in my life when I’ve gone to see plas­tic sur­geons, when I was down and de­pressed or af­ter a break-up or some­thing, but I couldn’t ever do any­thing. I couldn’t go through with it. I thought, ‘I don’t want to look like those women.’ Some of them look great, it doesn’t all look bad, but I couldn’t do it.”

Amid all these great loves and heart­breaks, it’s clear that the one per­son New­ton-john is most hope­lessly de­voted to is Chloe. The singer is of­ten pho­tographed with her daugh­ter, they re-recorded her hit sin­gle “Magic” to­gether, and New­ton-john’s face lights up when she speaks of her. “I think that’s prob­a­bly her big­gest love,” says Chloe’s long­time pub­li­cist, Michael Caprio.

She feels re­laxed, know­ing Chloe is with a man she loves. “The first per­son I think of to tell some­thing to, apart from John, is my daugh­ter,” she says. “I can al­ways tell if some­thing is wrong. Chloe has a beau­ti­ful heart, she is a very loving, very sweet, very sen­si­tive soul. In some ways, she is like me – in her sen­si­tiv­ity she is like me.

“I don’t care if she is a star. What­ever she wants to be, I don’t care. I just want her to be ful­filled in what­ever she does. I wouldn’t say [as New­ton-john’s own mum once did], ‘You need to go get a ca­reer and not have a boyfriend.’ I would say, ‘You’ve found your love and I think it’s won­der­ful.’”

“[As she sang] peo­ple were cry­ing. And it hit me – she’s a healer”


OLIVIA WEARS Michael Lo Sordo top, michael­losordo.com, Sport­max pants, sport­max.com; Am­ber Sceats gold/sil­ver ring, am­ber sceats.com, all other jew­ellery Olivia’s own (worn through­out)

THE GIRL FROM OZ (clock­wise from left) Olivia New­ton-john with her daugh­ter Chloe in April; on­stage in Brazil; with her hus­band, John Easter­ling, this year.

OLIVIA WEARS Max Mara jacket, world.max­mara.com; Michael Lo Sordo dress, michael­losordo.com; Bally shoes, 1800 781 851

OLIVIA WEARS IRO jacket, iroparis.com; Coun­try Road top, countryroad.com.au; Dion Lee skirt, dion­lee. com; Bal­main shoes, miss­louise.com.au

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