The Grease scene where Olivia Newton-John transforms into a cigarette-smoking, leather-clad badass and sings “You’re the One That I Want” is so iconic that it often overshadows the rest of her moments in the 1978 film. As new kid in town Sandy Olsson, Newton-John cheerleads, skips around the Rydell High campus with a carton of milk, and duets repeatedly with John Travolta’s Danny Zuko. But none of those highlights capture the pure, sweet, heartbroken essence of pop’s original Queen Olivia than the solo turn she takes at a Pink Ladies sleepover, where she belts “Hopelessly Devoted to You” — one of the greatest lovesick ballads of our time.
The slumber party is a bit awkward for Sandy. She sits uncomfortably as Jan sings to the “Brusha Brusha Brusha” commercial, Rizzo passes around a bottle of wine, and Frenchy teaches her how to properly smoke a cigarette (minutes before piercing her ears).
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She steps outside to take a breather and write a letter to Danny, the summer crush she never thought she’d see again, but she ends up singing instead, looking like a nightingale in a long white gown with a delicate ribbon around her hair. She rips apart each line of “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” with her powerhouse vocals, not missing a beat — even when she sees Danny’s reflection creepily appear in the water.
“Hopelessly Devoted to You” peaked at Number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song. It’s worth buying the single, just for Newton-John’s incredible suspenders and tie on the cover art. “I spent the longest period writing the lyrics of any song I’ve ever written,” writer John Farrar recalled in 2004. “Every thesaurus and every rhyming dictionary I had, just trying to really make it work properly.”
Newton-John died on Monday at 73, three decades after her first diagnosis of breast cancer. A statement on her social media hailed her as “a symbol of triumphs and hope.” Her Grease co-star Travolta paid tribute to her, too, writing, “My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better.” They’re both right, and she was never more radiantly herself than on “Hopelessly Devoted to You.”
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