After news of Olivia Newton-John’s tragic death broke, her Grease co-star John Travolta was among the many mourners who responded to the loss by celebrating the life of the multiple dashes. “My dearest Olivia, you have made all of our lives so much better. Your impact was incredible. I love you so much,” Travolta’s emotional tribute read on Instagram. “We’ll see you on the street and we’ll all be together again. Yours from the moment I saw you and forever! Your Danny, your John!”
The first name the actor signed off with was a nod to his “Grease” character Danny Zuko, the flawless-haired teenage T-Bird leader whose summer love left him quite bewildered: the cute Aussie girl he met on recess met, enrolled in his high school and threatened his tough rep. As the “hopelessly devoted” Sandy Olsson, Newton-John showed off her acting, singing and dancing skills before sending her character away with a leather jacket, a makeover and a magical ride alongside the man who would become a lifelong friend.
In an interview with E! In 2018, Travolta revealed that he and Newton-John still kept in touch via email and text. He also revealed that they saw each other in person a few times each year and have been close since the 1978 film. “We care about each other and we will always be friends,” Newton-John told Hollywood Life in 2021. However, their friendship only came about because Travolta had his heart set on Newton-John.
Why Olivia Newton-John was hesitant to star in Grease
Producer Robert Stigwood decided that John Travolta was who he wanted in the film adaptation of “Grease” even before the actor became a star in “Saturday Night Fever,” per Vanity Fair. By the time Grease went into production, Travolta was at a point in his career where his input was being considered by casting director Joel Thurm. Travolta knew exactly who he wanted to play as his love interest. “I said, ‘There’s no other person in the universe than Olivia Newton-John to play Sandy. You have to cast her,'” Travolta recalled during an event celebrating the film’s 40th anniversary, per E!. He confessed he was mesmerized by the singer’s steel-blue gaze on one of her album covers, and Thurm set about casting Travolta’s Dream Woman as Sandy Olsson.
“Everyone wanted Olivia here, but Olivia didn’t accept the offer. That’s the most important thing to know,” Thurm told People. Per E!, Newton explained that she was initially reluctant because she was a relative newcomer to acting and didn’t have much experience filming an earlier movie musical, the 1970 sci-fi comedy Toomorrow. But Thurm told People that Newton -John agreed to take on the role after requesting a screen test with Travolta and watching him on tape. Lute! Travolta also had to reassure his then 29-year-old leading lady that she wasn’t too old to play a teenager. “I held on tight, didn’t I, and I pushed through,” Travolta said.