The passing of Olivia Newton-John left the industry – and the wider world – mourning a passionate, brave and influential woman. Here, fellow cannabis activist Lucy Haslam pays tribute to an Australian icon who touched the lives of so many people

I am not really one for being star struck. I don’t idolise the rich and famous as a rule.

But Olivia would be my exclusive exception.

Not because she was rich and famous but because she used her profile for the good of so many others, for ordinary people, living ordinary lives, and living with the ravages of cancer, chronic pain and suffering.

Kindred spirits: Cannabis activists Olivia Newton-John and Lucy Haslam

Olivia was in a unique position, battling the effects of stage 4 breast cancer yet living a life of high profile.

How difficult that walk must have been. And now that we have heard the sad news of her passing, it makes me appreciate even more just how much she did for the cause of medicinal cannabis in Australia.

I was privileged to meet Olivia and her husband John Easterling (aka “Amazon John”) in Melbourne several years ago. It was just after Olivia had gone public about her use of medicinal cannabis.

That was a huge moment for the medicinal cannabis movement in Australia. A hastily arranged introductory meeting turned into a long and in-depth conversation and hours generously given as Olivia sought to understand how the change in Australian laws were going to translate at the bedside for patients.

Like many people, Olivia was shocked and disheartened to learn that although the law in Australia now made medicinal cannabis legal, and appeared progressive and compassionate, it was fraught with complex regulatory burden and restrictions. It bothered her that the level of politics verged on sabotage and she, like me, felt driven to add her valuable voice to the cause.

Olivia walked a fine line. She needed to not jeopardise the great work of the ONJ Cancer Centre in Melbourne who at that time were not yet embracing the idea of medicinal cannabis.

She was measured, well informed, and sensible in her approach. Every word that she spoke about medicinal cannabis came with great thought, and the integrity that she was able to apply was immense.

When Olivia spoke, Australia listened. No one berated or vilified her. They understood, they believed and they supported.

When I asked Olivia if she might consider being interviewed for a documentary called “High as Mike” by DC Stories, she gave it her usual careful consideration and then generously obliged. She could see that her voice, amidst the voices of ordinary Australian patients, could add huge value to our campaign to highlight the many barriers to patient access.

In 2020 I invited Olivia to take part in the inaugural Australian Medicinal Cannabis Conference for Nurses as part of the UIC Medicinal Cannabis Symposium.

Our efforts to progress medicinal cannabis had led us to educate nurses, the most compassionate caregivers of all. Olivia happily agreed before Covid-19 delayed the event for two years.

I knew Olivia was approaching the final stages of her illness and that her capacity to participate diminished with every passing month. I was worried that I had promised a personal conversation to the audience of nurses that I probably could not deliver.

It was a delicate situation at a time when Olivia’s only desire would likely have been to spend quality time with her loved ones.

Again, Olivia surprised and delighted me. Unselfishly she thought of other patients suffering and despite her failing health in May 2022, she made herself available to fulfil her promise, a promise I would never have expected her to keep.

Just a few months later she is finally at peace. But she leaves an enormous legacy. Yes she was a wonderful iconic singer and entertainer…..but she was so much more than that.

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.

Like my son Dan, Olivia shared a love for the Hummingbird as a symbol of the truth. The Hummingbird became the symbol of United in Compassion and was a point of common interest for Olivia and me.

For me, Olivia’s most valuable legacy will be as a gentle and loving warrior fighting for the truth.

We can never replace her. But hopefully others of high profile will feel compelled to step into the void and add their voices to the chorus which, sadly, will still be needed for a while yet.

Light and love dear Olivia. Like Dan you can finally rest in peace now.

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