Tributes have continued to pour in for Australian icon, global film star and passionate cannabis advocate Olivia Newton-John who died this week aged 73.
The singer and actress, who championed the benefit of plant-based medicine during her decades-long battle with breast cancer, passed away at her home in the US on Monday.
While finding fame as Sandy in 1978 musical Grease, Newton-John became equally influential in later life with her campaigning for greater access to plant-based medicine, with cannabis at the forefront.
Tributes flowed from the Australian cannabis industry, with Newton-John widely acclaimed to have played a key role in legalising medicinal cannabis in 2016.
Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia (MCIA) chairman Peter Crock, who has faced a cancer battle of his own, spoke for many by describing her passing as “incredibly sad day”.
“Olivia was the most incredible person, touching the lives of so many people, directly and indirectly, with her beautiful soul, compassion, and influence,” he said.
“I had the privilege of spending time with Olivia and her husband John Easterling through the intersection of their support of medicinal cannabis and my own cancer journey – a test developed at ONJ Cancer Research Institute related to immunotherapy for metastatic melanoma literally saved my life.
“Olivia was very careful to ensure her support for medicinal cannabis and interaction with MCIA and the “industry” in general was not misconstrued as being commercially motivated.
“Knowing how useful medicinal cannabis was in helping manage her own wellbeing, Olivia, with John by her side, was always incredibly generous with her time and support in ensuring patients had all options available to them in dealing with cancer.”
Crock added: “Olivia has been an inspirational and vocal advocate for medicinal cannabis, and there is no doubt it played an important role in Olivia’s quality of life in dealing with cancer. The legacy Olivia leaves is incredible on so many fronts.”
The Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA) described Newton-John as a “trusted advocate” of therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
“AMCA is deeply saddened to have heard this morning about Olivia Newton-John’s passing. She was a very strong supporter of the compassionate campaign initiated by Lucy Haslam for wider access to medicinal cannabis,” AMCA said in a statement.
“She was a trusted advocate of the many therapeutic benefits of medicinal cannabis, having spoken openly about the benefits she derived from using medicinal cannabis as a key part of her treatment during her cancer journey.
“Our hearts go out to Olivia’s husband, John Easterling, and family during this very difficult time. We are very grateful to both Olivia and John for their powerful advocacy and support of our ongoing campaign to facilitate access to medicinal cannabis for all Australians.”
One of Newton-John’s last public engagements was at the United in Compassion summit in May where the activist and humanist told how cannabis had “changed her life”.
Addressing the event from her home in California, Newton-John said she still used cannabis every day.
“Thank goodness for my husband who grows it for me and makes it for me,” the Grease star said.
“I use it topically and also take it by mouth and it has helped me a great deal with pain, discomfort and clarity of my brain. It’s been amazing. I am very appreciative of cannabis and for my husband for making it.
“I wanted to be part of a movement to make it accessible to people because it has been so wonderful in my life. It has changed my life.”
United in Compassion founder Lucy Haslam paid her own tribute, describing her fellow cannabis activist as a “gentle and loving warrior fighting for the truth”.
“She was a passionate, caring and generous spirit who thought of others more than herself and who did not shy away from what is possibly one of the hardest fights of all, against ignorance, stigma and bias,” Haslam wrote.
Cann Global chief executive Sholom Feldman, who worked with Easterling while he was a Cann Global board member, described Newton-John as a “force” who helped advance the legalisation of medical cannabis in Australia.
“I had the honour and pleasure on a number of occasions to meet with Olivia, including her hosting me at her home in California, and she was always so full of life and contagious positive energy,” Feldman said.
“She had a contagious smile, and was intent on making everyone around her feel special and I would leave her presence feeling that little bit more energised and uplifted.
“Olivia was passionate about ensuring that everyone who needed it would have access to the healing properties of the cannabis plant. She was definitely one of the forces that helped advance the legalisation of medical cannabis in Australia.
“Countless people owe her a debt of gratitude for her fearless lobbying for the legalisation of and greater access to medical cannabis in Australia.”
Feldman added that while Australia has a way to go to make Newton-John’s vision of access for all a reality, her work “will continue to be a driving force in the promotion of the healing and therapeutic benefits of the cannabis plant”.
“As a human being she will be sorely missed, a light has gone out in the world, but the light she lit in others will live on for eternity, and will surely only get stronger,” he said.
The Melbourne-based Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre said she touched the lives of countless people but “none more so than our cancer services staff and patients at the Olivia Newton-John Centre, who she encouraged, inspired and supported every day”.
“We are incredibly grateful for the special relationship we had with Olivia for many years. Her generous support and gift provided hope and changed the lives of thousands of cancer patients,” it said in a statement. “She was the light at the end of the tunnel for many, many people.
“Since the ONJ Centre opened, thousands of cancer patients have come through the doors and accessed the world-leading services. Olivia’s dream was supporting people with cancer through supportive wellness therapies. She found them so helpful to her journey that she wanted everyone to have access to them.
“The ONJ Centre was her dream, and we are proud of everything we achieved together. We will continue our work to honour her legacy.”
Health House International chief operating officer Paul Mavor shared his memories of the “Queen of Australia”.
“I had the pleasure of meeting ONJ on several occasions and her infectious smile lit up the room,” he said. “We nicknamed her the Queen of Australia and could not think of a better advocate for medicinal cannabis.
“Olivia was quite public about her use of cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering and helped to win support from sceptical patients and prescribers.”
Little Green Pharma tweeted: “Not only a music icon and acclaimed film star, for many she was a beacon of resilience and compassion.
“Olivia Newton-John was one of the most visible activists for medicinal cannabis on the international stage.”
Elevated Extracts co-founder David Madigan said: “I had hoped to tell her in person that we named one of our hero products after her and that it was in tribute to the amazing research and advocacy she has offered our community.
“I didn’t get that chance, however, many others will have the chance to live longer, healthier and happier lives due to her amazing contributions. Thank [you] Olivia Newton-John.”
Former health minister Greg Hunt, who was in office when medicinal cannabis was legalised in Australia, praised her “utterly focused” aim of helping others.
“So very sorry to hear about the passing of Olivia Newton-John,” he tweeted. “If possible she was even more positive and energetic in person than her public image.
“Genuine, generous, caring and utterly focused on helping others through their cancer journey based on both research and hope.”
Reason Party leader Fiona Patten tweeted her sadness – and urged the Victorian Government to mark her passing with a more progressive approach to cannabis.
“I grew up with her music as so many of us did. We have truly lost an icon,” she said. “Something we could do in her memory in Victoria is to improve access to medicinal cannabis, something she fought tirelessly for.”
Patient advocate Dianah Walter described Newton-John as a “woman of endless compassion whose advocacy for medicinal cannabis added light and perspective to patient access here in Australia.”
The Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute insisted her determination will “continue to inspire the researchers at the Institute.
Chairman Richard Balderstone said: “Olivia will be remembered for her warm-hearted spirit and the enormous impact she has had on so many lives. She will remain a source of great inspiration to the entire team at the Institute in their continued commitment to conduct world-leading innovative research into new and more effective ways to treat cancer.”
Legalise Cannabis WA MP Brian Walker branded Newton-John an “icon of our age and a shining star from my younger days to the present”.
“She was tireless in forging a path to wellness, including the use of a safe and natural healing herb – cannabis. May her memory be a blessing.”
In announcing her death on Monday, her family said in a statement: “Dame Olivia Newton-John passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends. We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy at this very difficult time.
“Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer. Her healing inspiration and pioneering experience with plant medicine continues with the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, dedicated to researching plant medicine and cancer.
“In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any donations be made in her memory to the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund ONJFoundationFund.org.”
Newton-John launched the foundation in 2020 to fund “kinder” cancer treatments, including medicinal cannabis.
She has long insisted that medicinal cannabis was one of the most effective therapies.
“I have seen the incredible beauty of the plants and their healing abilities. If I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you about kinder therapies. Your body wants to heal itself,” said Newton-John in a video on the new ONJ Foundation website.
Newton-John was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and twice before in 1992 and 2013, and has spent years lobbying the Australian government to approve the use of medicinal cannabis for cancer patients.
She also set up the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre.