Olivia Newton-John was born in Cambridge, England to a Welsh-born father, Brinley ("Bryn") Newton-John and a German-born mother of Jewish descent, Irene Born. Newton-John is the youngest of three children following brother Hugh, a doctor, and sister Rona, an actress once married to Grease co-star Jeff Conaway.
Newton-John's mother was the eldest child of Max Born, a German Nobel prize-winning physicist. Newton-John's father was an MI5 officer on the Enigma project at Bletchley Park and the officer who took Rudolph Hess into custody during World War II.
Newton-John's family emigrated in 1954 to Melbourne, Australia where her father worked as a Professor of German and became the Master of Ormond College at the University of Melbourne.
At 14, Newton-John formed a short-lived all-girl band, Sol Four, with three classmates and often performed in a coffee shop owned by her brother-in-law. She soon became a regular on local Australian radio and television shows including HSV-7's The Happy Show where she performed as Lovely Livvy. She also appeared on the Go Show where she met her lifelong friends, Pat Carroll and John Farrar. (Carroll and Farrar eventually married.)
She entered a talent contest on the television program, Sing, Sing, Sing, hosted by 1960s Australian icon Johnny O'Keefe, performing the songs "Anyone Who Had A Heart" and "Everything's Coming Up Roses." She won the contest and received a trip to England as the prize. Initially, she was reluctant to go, but her mother encouraged her to broaden her horizons.
Newton-John recorded her first single, "Till You Say You'll Be Mine" b/w "Forever," for England's Decca Records in 1966. Newton-John was homesick in England as she missed Australia and her then boyfriend, Ian Turpie, with whom she co-starred in an independently produced Australian telefilm, Funny Things Happen Down Under.
Her mother cancelled trips back to Australia that Newton-John would repeatedly book. Newton-John's outlook changed when Pat Carroll also moved to England. The two formed a duo and toured nightclubs in Europe until Carroll's visa expired forcing her to return to Australia. Newton-John remained in England to pursue solo work.
Newton-John was recruited for the group, "Toomorrow", the brainchild of American producer Don Kirshner, creator of The Monkees. The group recorded an album and starred in a "science fiction musical" film both named after the group released in 1970. The project failed and the group was quickly disbanded.
Newton-John's career soared after starring in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Grease in 1978. She was offered the lead role of Sandy after a chance meeting with producer Allan Carr at a dinner party held by Helen Reddy in her Los Angeles home.
Burned by her Toomorrow experience and concerned that she was too old to play a high school senior (she turned 29 during the later 1977 filming), Newton-John insisted on a screen test with the film's co-star, John Travolta.
The film accommodated Newton-John's Australian accent by recasting her character from the play's original American Sandy Dumbrowski to Sandy Olsson - an Australian who vacations and then moves with her family to the United States.
The release of the film was preceded one month earlier by the telecast of Newton-John's second television special, Olivia. Grease became the biggest box office hit of 1978 and remained popular enough that it was re-released in theaters on its 20th anniversary in 1998.
The soundtrack spent 12 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 and yielded three Top 5 singles for Newton-John: the No. 1 "You're The One That I Want" (with John Travolta), the No. 3 "Hopelessly Devoted To You" and the No. 5 "Summer Nights" (with John Travolta and the film's cast).