Top 5 Lessons Learned from Olivia Newton-John’s Films/Music

Yesterday, one of the most important women of my childhood celebrated a birthday–Olivia Newton-John. (This would have been posted yesterday, but my hosting server crashed. My apologies, Olivia!)

I imagine there are many gay men who also fell in love with ONJ in their youths. Not only was she beautiful but she was amazingly talented, and her songs bewitched me the first moment I heard her open her mouth. I still remember when I first saw her in Grease on the big screen. With my mother sitting next to me munching on popcorn and nachos, I was transfixed upon seeing her playing on the beach as Sandy with John Travolta’s Danny. The song “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” played in the background of our first glimpse at their burgeoning love.

I was hooked. I had to shush my mother for interrupting the dialogue, when she asked if I wanted some popcorn.

For a young boy struggling with his sexual identity, she was my first official fag hag, before I even knew what that was or meant. Her fresh, innocent face and gorgeous blue eyes had me hopelessly devoted to her. After Grease, I watched every movie she starred in (okay, there were only three others, but I anxiously awaited each one), I collected every single vinyl record she ever put out, and I danced and sang to her tunes in the privacy of my own room. She was my BFF, and she knew exactly what I was feeling. When she sang, she did so just for me–to help me get through those tough times in life.

So, for her 63rd birthday, I decided to write some lessons I learned from the Australian-born singer/actor’s career in film and music.

Lesson #1 from Grease’s Sandy: Bad boys LOVE the innocent type, but they like them even more if they occasionally take a ride on the wild side.

  • Being a good boy at heart (Those of you who know me well can stop laughing! I am a good boy!), I knew I needed to adapt my image if I wanted the boys I liked to actually take any interest in me. While I didn’t immediately adopt those lessons at the time of my youth, when I grew up I knew exactly what I had to do. Men enjoy trash for sowing their wild oats AKA Rizzo and Cha Cha DiGregorio, but when it’s time to settle down, they want the tart wrapped up in a helping of sweet. So, during my single days (and a bit still today), I was the good boy capable of hopeless devotion but who was also known to don leather pants, smoke, and make the boy strip off his sweater for a mere chance of singing “We Go Together” with me. And, eventually, I found my own husband, a mixture of the good and the bad himself, and who must’ve watched Grease a lot too!

Lesson #2 from Xanadu’s Kira: When you play hard to get and act aloof, the boy wants you that much more!

  • As the mythological muse in this not-well-received movie, ONJ’s character remained just out of reach of her intended Sonny Malone played by Michael Beck. That drove him crazy! He pursued her relentlessly, even challenging her father Zeus, for merely a chance of spending one more moment with her. Lesson quickly learned. I realized men, no matter how much I loved them, had very short attention spans. You give them everything they want, and they lose interest quickly. But when there’s a challenge, something for them to overcome, they will run whatever obstacle course you place before them for the mere chance to get to you. And let’s face it, we’re all worth a challenge. Some boys failed the challenges. They were promptly eliminated and sent packing. But, eventually, you meet the boy who overcomes all the obstacles until he finally reaches you. When that happens, even if your father is Zeus, you know you’re good for eternity just like I am.

Lesson #3 from Two of a Kind’s Debbie: When you sacrifice all for love, incredible things can happen.

  • Even though this ONJ movie took some serious hits from critics, her character still taught me a lot. ONJ played a good girl turned bank robber, and she clashed with fellow bank robber Zack AKA her Grease co-star John Travolta. They spent the movie trying to outdo each other and falling in love, and it was their love that eventually saved the world. (Apparently, the devil and God struck up a bargain. If God didn’t find true love on the planet, then the devil would be granted dominion over the Earth.Yeah, I know, it sounds awful, but lessons can be learned from awful too!) Thanks to her character’s selflessness, I learned that for the sake of true love you sometimes have to put everything, your reputation and even your life, on the line. After all, it’s not true love if you’re not willing to do that!

Lesson #4 from ONJ’s “Physical” video: You can’t win them all!

  • I’m sure many of you have seen the steamy video I’m mentioning. In it, ONJ is training some rotund fellows at the gym, all the while singing about more than just physical education. However, once her work is complete and the boys are sculpted masses of superb man flesh, the boys fall for each other and not her. While it was a hard lesson to learn in life, it was one that everyone needs to accept. No matter how attractive we might make ourselves and no matter what we might do to catch the attention of that guy, sometimes, he might just not be into you. That is no reason to fret, though. Men are like tissues. When one leaves, another pops up as ONJ found out at the end of her video. That lesson helped me through many a heartbreak, so if heartbreak happens to you again, be confident that just beyond the gym room door (or bar door, or club door, or whatever other doors you open), the right man is waiting on the other side. We all find him. Eventually.

Lesson #5 from It’s My Party’s Lina: A good friend is always there–no matter what!

  • In this movie, ONJ played the best friend to Eric Robert’s Nick. Nick was dying of AIDS and rather than continue to live in pain, he wanted to end his life on his own terms. ONJ’s Lina didn’t want him to do it. She begged him not to do it, but he went through it anyway. She didn’t like it, and she was deeply sad to watch him do it, but she stayed by his side–a true blue friend indeed. This was a lesson that I try to hold true. I have friends, some of whom have changed drastically, and though the distance between us may now be great, I will be here when those friends need me again. True friendship is not a ship that should be missed. Once you board it, you’re on it for life!

Looking at these lessons I’ve learned, it’s easy to see that I am indeed a fan of Olivia Newton-John, and I always will be. She was there for a fat, insecure kid who grew into a man I think she would be proud of.

So for her 63rd birthday, I want to thank you personally, Olivia (we are on a first name basis now), for the lessons on love, life, and friendship you taught me throughout your career. They have shaped me into the person I am, and I love you for it. I will always be Hopelessly Devoted to You!