Olivia Newton-John talks cannabis, Christmas and community ahead of ‘Grease’ sing-a-long in Tampa

By : Kirk Hartlage
Comments: 0

This holiday season Olivia Newton-John is dreaming of a green Christmas in more ways than one.

Despite battling breast cancer for the third time, the singer and actress is maintaining a busy schedule of events that keeps her connected to her fans while still raising money and awareness about the disease.

Just a few weeks ago she raised lots of green – a reported $2.7 million – through an auction of outfits and other items from her career. Among the items sold: Newton-John’s “Bad Sandy” leather jacket and skintight pants from “Grease.” The black satin pants were purchased by Spanx founder Sara Blakely, a Clearwater native and “Grease” superfan who once hired Newton-John to sing at her wedding.

This weekend across the Sunshine State Sandy and Danny will reunite at three “Meet ‘N’ Grease Movie Sing-A-Long” events. Newton-John and costar John Travolta will appear, answering questions from the audience who are encouraged to dress as their favorite characters from the movie.

The tour plays Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre at the state fairgrounds on Dec. 14 at 7 p.m. Additional screenings will also take place in West Palm Beach on Dec. 13 and in Jacksonville on Dec. 15. Tickets start at $20 and are available at LiveNation.com.

A portion of the proceeds from both the auction and mini-tour will benefit cancer facilities including the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia, and Tampa’s Moffitt Cancer Center.

There’s also green to be found in the cannabis oil, medical marijuana and other natural remedies Newton-John is using to manage pain and sleep issues from her current diagnosis: stage four breast cancer that has metastasized to her bones. Newton-John and her husband John Easterling – founder of an herbal wellness company – grow the drug at their California home where medicinal and recreational marijuana are legal under state law. She’s not only become an advocate for medical cannabis but an educator as well, including schooling this reporter on plant-based medicine.

Photos by Denise Truscello.

So how did this mini-tour of the Grease Sing-A-Long screenings come about?

We had discussed doing something on the 40th anniversary (last year). But then I wasn’t well, so I had to postpone it. So the next year comes up and we thought why don’t we just do this? It’s a simple and fun thing to do. People are always asking us about Grease and it just seemed like a really natural thing to do.

And right now there are only these three dates in Florida. Is this a test run?

This is our first time. We’re gonna see how people receive it and see where we go from there. It’s gonna be just a hoot to see everyone dressed up in their outfits and to hear them sing along and all the things that come along with that. I’m just really looking forward to it. It’s not a stressful thing because we don’t have to perform. We’re just going to be talking and meeting our fans and having photographs done in the beginning.

Are you and John singing along as well?

No, I don’t think so. I think we’ll leave that to the audience! (Laughs)

Did you get to see “Grease: Live!” when they did it on Fox , and what’s your review?

I did! Yeah! I thought it was really good. I thought Julianne [Hough, who portrayed Newton-John’s character Sandy] did a great job. She’s a fabulous dancer, too.

“Grease” certainly has had a huge impact; are there other movie musicals that are favorites of yours?

Oh gosh, I love musicals! When I was a little girl I loved “Sound of Music” and “West Side Story.” “South Pacific” I think was my favorite when I was young.

I was having a conversation with a straight friend recently who’s very open to learning about the gay community. She asked why musicals are so associated with the gay community. I had a tough time answering her. So let me ask you, since you’ve done a few of them: Why do you think musicals are so well embraced by the gay community?

I think gay people have good taste! (laughs) They do like music, like Judy Garland and all the wonderful stars of old are very popular with the gay community. They have good taste and they’re not ashamed to like those things, larger than life things, you know? I don’t really know the answer, but I have noticed it! (Laughs) I think you’re creative. The gay community, a high percentage of them, are very creative and they enjoy creativity and fun, so that’s the only way I know how to answer! And maybe because dressing up and having fun are part of that lifestyle – that’s why I love my gay friends, because they are fun and always choose the fun path. I think maybe that’s why musicals are really attractive to them, because they are fun also!

I think I ended up telling her that gays are certainly not short on being fond of drama, and once you set it to music, we’re all in!

(Laughs) There you go!

While we’re talking about gay things, you were also a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Oh yeah! That was so much fun! I love Ru. He actually came to my auction, which is really lovely because he’s such a nice, nice man.

Did he contribute to the $2.4 million that was raised?

You know, I’m not sure he bought anything. He was there! But I’m not sure he bought anything.

Still, $2.4 million is a lot of money!

I think that’s in Australian dollars; I don’t have a final figure, but I was very very thrilled that so many of my things now have a purpose in life, to help people with cancer. It was very exciting and a really fun experience to go through. Letting go of stuff is important in life; not to be attached to things.

Tell me about that process. How does Olivia Newton-John decide what to put out for what’s basically a garage sale?

(Laughs) I decided to get rid of all my performing clothes, because I’m not sure I’m going to do it again, and if I did I would probably choose to do it differently. So that was easy; I had a lot those. I didn’t even realize how many I had! It started out just being the [“Grease”] jacket and pants as an idea to sell for my hospital. Then when I met the people from Julien’s Auctions, they saw I could have a catalog and it could be bigger than that. It grew into 500 pages! It was actually exciting. It was a lovely way to simplify and at the same time do something good.

Speaking of which, you’re also on the board of advisers for the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

Lee Moffitt is a dear friend, because many years ago before I built my own cancer research center I went to visit Moffitt and made a wonderful connection with Lee. If you get a chance to read my book [“Don’t Stop Believin’,” released earlier this year] there’s a whole chapter on meeting Lee that’s kind of funny. He and his wife have become really dear friends. He even came to Australia before we had built it to meet with the architect and to give me ideas and things to ask for. They’re really a splendid operation.

You’ve also become an advocate for medical cannabis.

Absolutely, yes. My husband grows it for me and it’s been a life-saver for me with pain. We’re finding out that it does much more than that. I’m really lucky that I have this wonderful plant-medicine man as my husband and that he’s growing these wonderful cannabis compounds for me. It’s really been a life changer. I’m doing really really well and I know the cannabis is part of that.

Fantastic!

Is it legal in Florida yet?

Uhhh… I don’t know! I’m not sure… I need to find that out!

Oh, wow! (Laughs.) You don’t know? C’mon!

I don’t know! I’m not a smoker, so…

O.K.!

I’m a drinker…

(Laughs) Well, this is better for you!

(Laughs) Well, uhhh… I can’t say that I’ll soon start but, you know, I’m going to have to tell my friends that Olivia Newton-John told me I should start smoking pot!

(Laughs) Well, it’s not even smoking. It depends on what you need. You can take drops; I take drops. It’s amazing, yeah.

As long as we’re on the topic of greenery, I wanted to ask about holiday traditions. Other than getting together with John Travolta and filming a music video at his home in Ocala for your joint 2012 Christmas album, what other holiday traditions do you have?

Well, they’ve changed over the years because I’ve lost my family. My sister and my brother are gone. My parents are gone. My nieces and nephews live in another country, so our traditions change year to year, depending on where we are. We try to see

John’s family somewhere in the Christmas holiday. Christmas Eve I go to my friends who have a party that I always love to go to because long-time friends always gather there. But Christmas Day always varies. Whoever is around we take in, and it’s a special day!

My daughter lives in another state, so I try to see her at either Thanksgiving or Christmas. This year I’ll be seeing her before the holiday so we’ll celebrate early so she can go to her fiance’s family. It varies every year now. Once your children are grown it changes. When she was little, you know, we could always be home. When your children grow and they have their partners it makes it more difficult.

Yes, my mom in Ohio reminds me of that every year!

“Meet ‘N’ Grease Movie Sing-A-Long” with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta will be at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa Dec. 14 starting at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $20-125 and are available at LiveNation.com

Share this story: