Olivia Newton-John, who turns 65 today, has been a part of gay culture since before many of us were born. Though she’s not included in discussions of the diva elite as frequently as, say, Bette Midler or Madonna, we honor her today by pointing out some of the hottest, campiest, or otherwise most memorable moments in her accomplished career.
Next time you’re dancing to Kylie Minogue, remember which Aussie paved the way for that kind of fabulousness.
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We start our roundup with one of Olivia’s earliest works from an Australian TV performance in the late 1960s. This clip shows her and Pat Carroll (not the one who voiced Ursula in The Little Mermaid) bouncing along to a light, charming little pop confection. The wholesome dancing, perky smiles, and voluminous hairdos are basically as close as anyone could get to Drag Race in those days.
Unfortunately, partner-in-crime Carroll never made it big and had to sashay away.
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Grease represented a turning point in Olivia’s career, raising her profile to that of a household name and pop-culture icon. It also provided step-by-step instructions in how to seduce the lithe bad boy with heaping doses of disdain, Lycra, and pop music. Those lessons are as vital and relevant today as they ever were.
Now that you’re here. Now that you’re near. In XANADOOOOO!
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Let’s get “Physical,” shall we? This song is about how it’s time to stop talking and start banging, and the video features oiled-up guys who end up walking off together to have sex. This isn’t a birthday card, it’s a thank you note. ONJ even reprised the song with Sue Sylvester on Glee.)
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“The Promise” was a track off the Physical album, subtitled “The Dolphin Song,” and is every bit as weird as it sounds. The dreamy lullaby synths are punctuated by a series of high-pitched squeaks and clicks made by actual porpoises. I guess it’s supposed to soothe your mind while raising awareness about ethical maritime practices? It’s mostly just awkward. If the previous track represents her slutty Xtina side, then this one shows her inner experimental Gaga.
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After her breast-cancer diagnosis in 1992, she did less pop music, focusing her efforts on advocacy and treatment. Rather than listen to one of the tracks off her Walgreens-only Wellness Collection albums, bask in this delicious live performance of one of her classics.
Get More: Sordid Lives
In Sordid Lives (both the film and Logo TV series), ONJ turned her persona around with a deliciously over-the-top embodiment of Bitsy Mae Harding, the country-singing ex-convict. The part gave her a chance to play a new kind of character while singing original songs. This clip, with Rue McClanahan, will bring on the waterworks
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Hoping to make (greased) lightning strike twice, studio executive reunited Olivia Newton John with John Travolta for ta Christmas album. While both are giving everything they have to “I Think You Might Like It,” there’s nothing worth saving, sadly. But we can’t fault the delivery: Olivia’s voice is as clear and sultry as ever, her smile is just contagious (though slightly “improved”) and she comes dangerously close to making that dance look non-tragic.
Besides, what’s a gay icon without a camp classic? She needed this.