Olivia Newton-John Helped Me Make Magical Memories With My Family

Olivia Newton-John's music was the soundtrack of one mom's life—and became an important part of her kids' lives, too. A family mourns the loss together by revisiting her music and magic.

Olivia Newton-John Smiling at Camera
Photo: Getty

I was first introduced to Olivia Newton-John when my sister picked out a 45 of Magic from Sam Goody the very first time my mom took us to a record store. I was 7 and the album immediately became part of the soundtrack of our lives. From the first time we sat listening, rapt with attention on my Holly Hobby bedspread, Olivia came right into our little girl hearts. We believed we were magic as we put on that record and roller-skated around in our basement singing every single word. Nothing could stand in our way.

Later, Xanadu and Grease became movies we would watch over and over, willing ourselves into the place of Kira or Sandy. Olivia was everything to us in those roles as she transformed her life and found love. She was magic every time she belted out another heartfelt ballad, singing her way through her pain and joy and also through ours.

With my sisters or my friends, we would gather on the couch, hearts over our hands, putting our whole souls into "Hopelessly Devoted To You," aching for our own unrequited 15-year-old loves. We rooted for Sandy when Rizzo mocked her naivete and vulnerability—oh how we knew what it was like not to fit in. We willed Zeus to let her join Sonny Malone and roller skate into the sunset and cheered when she drove off with Danny Zuko, because love had to be the answer in our romantic teenage hearts. We wanted every outfit she wore from the last scene of Xanadu and longed for our own summer love. She was just exactly who we wanted to be.

As luck would have it, she was also my husband's first crush, because I was right there with him and a little in love with her, too. He introduced me to more of her music, and his penchant for the less known music of artists opened up a new world. Olivia's lullaby "Jenny Rebecca" became the lullaby for our babies. I would rock them and weep to the lyrics, "Jenny Rebecca, four days old. How do you like the world so far?" Oh, my heart. Olivia had come along to parent with us. What a gift.

We introduced our oldest daughter to Xanadu as soon as she could walk and she would pull the sleeves of her t-shirt down over her shoulders to mimic Kira's look. She would perform all the songs and dance moves. Eventually she got a younger sister to join her, who took to pretending she was skating around our family room. We would watch on rainy Saturday afternoons and as we added more kids, my oldest children never got tired of watching, noticing new things, or repeating every word.

When my girls were a little older, Grease was the word. We watched and rewatched and experienced the joy of sharing something my husband and I had loved with the loves we were raising. We contemplated life at Rydell High compared to all they were experiencing at their high school. Olivia was again at the center of it all, the girl who transformed herself. Where I didn't once question that transformation when watching it with my friends, my girls wished Sandy had just stayed herself. Things had changed since I was a teenager, and my kids were calling it out. But enough had stayed the same that a whole new generation of teens could see themselves in the movie. It gave us so much to talk about.

My oldest burst into tears when she heard of Olivia's death. "A part of my childhood is just gone mom," she said. I understood this with my whole heart. Part of my childhood was as well, and along with it I felt the loss of hers.

I wanted to travel back in time to rock my babies to "Jenny Rebecca" and to my littles singing, "I'm Alive" in the playroom as they watched Xanadu and I made them snacks. I wanted to listen to them trying to memorize the words to "You're The One That I Want."

I wanted to travel back to listening to "Summer Lovin'" on a loop with my friends as we rode around town. I wanted to be 16 again and full of hope. I wanted to sit on my bed with my sisters, full of the knowledge that we were magic. Olivia Newton-John had told us so and we believed her.

She helped to make everything magic. And that magic threaded through generations. There are so few that can say they have touched so many lives by bringing beauty and wonder and the suspension of disbelief along with all the hope. We will miss you Olivia. We are grateful for the magic you have left behind.

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