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Flamingo series highlighted Newton-John’s Las Vegas history

Updated August 8, 2022 - 5:47 pm

Olivia Newton-John was a 2½-year resident headliner on the Strip. She showed up as a star, memorably announcing her arrival in April 2014 while riding in a rumbling, black Mercury convertible. The beast was painted with bright-orange flames.

It seemed like a lost scene from “Grease,” actually. All that was missing were members of the T-Birds and Pink Ladies. But hundreds of fans turned out to celebrate her upcoming production at the Flamingo, which would mark her final Las Vegas performances.

Beloved in Las Vegas and around the world, Newton-John died Monday at age 73. She had battled cancer since first being diagnosed in 1992. Her husband, John Easterling, confirmed her death Monday in a statement on Newton-John’s Instagram account.

ONJ, as her fans referred to her, had ties to Las Vegas dating to July 1974, when she opened for Charlie Rich at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Newton-John would perform at several Vegas hotel-casinos over the next five decades. She once remarked, “I worked with Don Rickles, The Smothers Brothers, a bunch of other entertainers. Eddie Rabbit … I was the opening act for a long time. I bounced around to different hotels.”

Her more prominent headlining performances were at Desert Inn’s Crystal Showroom, Circus Maximus at Caesars Palace, Ls Vegas Hilton’s showroom (today’s International Theater at Westgate) and her final run at the Donny & Marie Showroom at the Flamingo.

Newton-John’s series at the Flamingo was titled “Summer Lovin,” tapping into “Grease’s” enduring popularity. The stage show ran from April 2014 through December 2016.

In what would be her final Vegas performances, Newton-John displayed her great versatility and vast talent as a front woman. She performed a medley of “Grease” hits, again donning her Pink Ladies jacket from the film. She showed her versatility with “Have You Never Been Mellow,” “I Honestly Love You,” and her hit from the dance-skating movie, “Xanadu,” and “Physical.”

During the Flamingo run she issued a club mix of her hit “Magic,” titled, “You Have To Believe,” filming the video with an all-star collection of Vegas tribute artists. The song was officially credited to Newton-John and her daughter, Chloe Lattanzi. The song sent Newton-John back to the Billboard music charts for the first time in more than 20 years.

Newton-John was honored as Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Woman of the Year in January 2016. Her friend and then-fellow Flamingo headliner Marie Osmond introduced her during the event at Wynn Las Vegas.

Newton-John said the dancing talent in the family belonged to her older sister, Rona. But Newton-John had worked diligently to learn the steps in “Grease,” saying before the NBT event that choreographer Pat Birch and co-star John Travolta worked as a team to perfect the famous scenes.

“She was amazing. She would watch how you moved naturally and choreographed you to use that movement,” Newton-John recalled. “It took us a week to rehearse the ‘Hand Jive’ number, and we rehearsed the scene where John lifted me up over and over.”

The superstar was very close to her longtime Las Vegas publicist Michael Caprio and his husband, Randy Slovacek. Newton-John participated in the couple’s renewal of their wedding vows at the High Roller at Linq promenade in October 2019. Members of the Chippendales and Newton-John’s friends from Australia, the Motown act Human Nature, attended the ceremony in one of the High Roller’s pods.

Battling cancer at the time, Newton-John told the guests she had not sung for more than a year. Then she delivered a wonderful “Some Enchanted Evening” for the couple.

Newton-John was also a tireless philanthropist and advocate for pioneering of plant-based research and treatment for cancer. The family has asked that donations be made in her memory at the ONJ Foundation (@ONJfoundation on Instagram).

In October 2016, she recalled in interview with the RJ her original cancer diagnosis, which would return the following May and once again in September 2018.

“I have had a long time to brighten up as time has gone on, but it was very frighting, very scary,” the pop superstar said in a chat at a charity event at Hard Rock Live. “I knew it was serious when my doctor left a message for me to come in to see him. He did not want to tell me something this serious over the phone, and when he told me my first response was to laugh, actually. That was my first way of coping.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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