Olivia Newton-John’s Widower John Easterling Shares Lessons Learned During Her Cancer Battle

On what would have been their 15th anniversary, John Easterling returned to the cliff in Peru where he and Olivia Newton-John pledged their love in 2008. “A hummingbird came and hovered. I could almost reach out and touch it,” he tells Closer exclusively, adding that it felt as if the tiny bird were delivering a message. “It came in like, ‘Live life, love life,’ and then it flew away.”

The British-born, Australia-reared singer and actress, who became an international sensation playing Sandy in the 1978 movie-musical Grease, remains a part of her husband’s life 18 months after her death. “I feel her early in the morning when I wake up,” John says. “I receive messages, if you will, from her. They’re always very encouraging, very positive and comforting to me in a big way.”

Despite Olivia’s success, beauty and enviable talent, she’d been unlucky in love until she fell forJohn, 71. She and her first husband, actor Matt Lattanzi, the father of her daughter, Chloe, 38, divorced in 1996 after 12 years of marriage. Another long relationship, with Patrick McDermott, a cameraman, ended in 2005 when he was lost at sea.

Mutual friends arranged for Olivia and John, a specialist in Amazonian plant medicine, to have lunch on a blind date around 1995. “I was a little suspect of meeting a Hollywood diva,” John admits, “but she had such a great sense of humor and was a really warm, personable human being. She was not what I was expecting.”

Let Me Be There
First diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, Olivia was interested in John’s work with plant medicine and therapies. For 12 years, the pair remained platonic friends who largely saw each other at charity events. “Then, she invited me to a concert she was doing in Miami,” John recalls. Although he wasn’t familiar with Olivia’s music, the show made him realize that they were kindred spirits. “It was a small, intimate theater, and I heard these Peruvian flutes playing. She walked out onstage and sang “Pearls on a Chain,” and people around me were so moved they started crying,” he says. “That’s when I recognized who she is – she’s a healer! Her song and voice are mediums of her healing gift.”

He invited the singer to Peru, a country close to his heart, where John has worked with native healers to understand the potential of the rainforest. Olivia agreed to go as long as their mutual friends were invited, too. “The next thing I know we’re in Peru, upriver in the Amazon,” he says.

When Olivia became ill, John remained with her despite plans to travel to another village. “I couldn’t abandon her in the jungle,” says John. “That was the day we started having deep conversations that went back hundreds of years in our relationship. It was nothing that either one of us expected, but we were bonded from that day on.”

He believes that the timing was right for them to find each other. “I think if we would have met like 20 years before, it wouldn’t have been the same,” John says, noting that both of their careers kept them too busy moving around the world. “I also think we had to go through decades of life experience before we were ready for each other.”

A Little More Love
During their 15-year marriage, Olivia and John largely split their time between California and Florida. “She was the happiest when we were in nature, listening to bird songs or watching animals. We’d play games like, ‘What do you think that animal is thinking about that one?’ Those were beautiful times,” he says. “Another commonality was our interest in natural healing.”

Olivia founded the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, which sponsors scientific research on plant medicine for cancer. “Early results from Dr. Kumar at the University of British Columbia is showing very promising result,” says John. “Support of this three-year research project will provide new data and new hope for millions seeking kinder ways to treat cancer.”

The pop singer also created the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia, which provides programs designed to boost cancer patients’ spirits as well as their health. Today, they both carry on her work. Additionally, every October, Olivia’s Walk for Wellness joins friends and fans around the world in raising funds for the singer’s charities. “Olivia’s daughter, Chloe, has really helped carry it forward,” says John, who adds that Olivia would be proud.

One of the biggest lessons he learned from loving Olivia, who never gave up during her long battle with cancer, was the power of positive thinking. “She believed that all things are possible when you put your mind and energy toward it,” says John, who admits he misses his wife’s bright spirit most. “I miss her voice, her touch, and her sense of humor,” he says. “I miss her puttering around the house and spontaneously breaking into song.”

He remains always on the lookout for hummingbirds — which seemed to bless their union from their first visit to Peru. “We were sitting on a ledge when the hummingbirds — like a dozen — hovered in front of us for a minute,” John says. “The whole world shifted right then. I looked at Olivia and she looked at me, and it was like looking into infinity.”

“My dream is that we will realize a world beyond cancer. I honestly believe we can do it!” – Dame Olivia Newton-John.

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