Grease was the backing track for those of us growing up in the 70s

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Unlike what seems like most of Melbourne, I don’t have a selfie with Olivia Newton-John at the Coles in Richmond. I don’t have an anecdote like my buddy Nicko about hanging out with her on a balcony at the Xanadu dance contest at Chasers in 1980.

What I have are memories of Olivia as a backing track to my early 1970s in the back of the Valiant as Mom dropped off Tupperware to the Housewives of the Eastern Suburbs. My brother Sammy and I were thrilled when You are so vain and Maggie May were followed on AM radio by ONJ’s Ohio shores and If it’s not for you.

Olivia Newton-John (center) with Didi Conn (right, in pink) singing Summer Lovin’ in Grease.Credit:Getty

Future generations had the Wiggles as their preschool musical love. We had Liv. I don’t know if I knew what she looked like then. Countdown wasn’t airing yet but from her voice and lyrics about love (“please sir please don’t play B17”) I correctly suspected she was incredibly pretty like a box of chocolates.

Then she was replaced in my consciousness and my record collection by the Bay City Rollers. Until August 1978, when suddenly Olivia was not only back but the leading lady of what was the cultural touchstone, the rite of passage, for anyone growing up at the time, Fat.

Based on a musical – the brainchild of an art teacher and a copywriter – that got its start in an old Chicago streetcar factory, Fat changed the situation. Thanks to the songs, the cursed romance, the high school antics, the frothy angst, it was the highest-grossing musical of all time until its 2008 eclipse by Mama Mia!

At its heart, the serenity and cheekbones of Olivia Newton-John.

Fat was a game-changer, a rite of passage for teenagers at the time.

Fat was a game-changer, a rite of passage for teenagers at the time.

Like 9/11 and the death of Princess Di, everyone knows where and when they first saw Fat. My girlfriend Margie was 14, standing in line in “bad jeans, bad sweater, bad hair” outside the Bercy cinema at the top of Bourke St.

Olivia’s death at the age of 73 from breast cancer she lived with for three decades brought Margie to tears as she watched the TV tributes, filled with old clips of ONJ in her skate pump on wheels Xanadu, doing wide-eyed I love you, honestly in 1974, as a duo in a Camilla top and jeans with Farnesy two strong hearts in 2020.


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