Olivia Newton-John dead: Stockard Channing, who played Rizzo in Grease, pays tribute

She was the dark-haired, sexy Rizzo to Olivia Newton-John’s blonde, innocent Sandy in Grease – polar opposites on screen but good friends off screen.

And now, Stockard Channing has paid a sweet tribute to her co-star, who has died at the age of 73.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Olivia Newton-John looks back on her incredible life

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Channing, 78, said in a statement to People that Newton-John represented “the essence of summer” to her.

“I don’t know if I’ve known a lovelier human being,” Channing said.

“Olivia was the essence of summer – her sunniness, her warmth and her grace are what always come to mind when I think of her.

“I will miss her enormously.”

Stockard Channing as Rizzo; and Channing with Olivia Newton-John in 1998. Credit: Getty

Channing made her mark as the leader of the rebellious Pink Ladies in the hit 1978 musical Grease.

She gives Newton-John’s goody-two-shoes teenager Sandy Olsen a hard time when she arrives at US school Rydell High from Australia.

But each character comes to have a grudging respect for one another, with Sandy eventually adopting some of Rizzo’s sassy style to snare and keep her man, John Travolta’s Danny Zuko.

Stockard Channing as Rizzo and Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in Grease. Credit: YouTube
Olivia Newton-John and Stockard Channing were good friends in real life. Credit: Getty Images/Getty Images

That transition from good-girl preppiness to leather-clad sexpot in the final scenes of Grease would come under fire in the decades to come.

But Newton-John always defended the film, urging people to lighten up and just accept it as a fun bit of 1950s nostalgia.

Newton-John and John Travolta in a scene from Grease. Credit: Archive Photos/Getty Images

“It’s a movie. It’s a story from the 50s where things were different,” Newton-John said at the height of the #MeToo movement, when some critics called for the much-loved film to be “cancelled.”

“Everyone forgets that, at the end, he changes for her, too.

“There’s nothing deep in there about the #MeToo movement.

“It’s just a girl who loves a guy, and she thinks if she does that, he’ll like her.

Australian singer and actress Olivia Newton-John and American actor John Travolta as they appear in the Paramount film ‘Grease’, 1978. (Photo by Paramount Pictures/Fotos International/Getty Images) Credit: Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

“And he thinks if he does that, she’ll like him.

“I think that’s pretty real. People do that for each other.

“It was a fun love story.”

Watch: Olivia Newtown John’s final interview

Watch: Olivia Newtown John’s final interview

John Travolta was one of the first celebrities to publicly comment on the death of Newton-John, writing a tender tribute to her on social media.

“My dearest Olivia, you made all of our lives so much better,” he wrote.

“Your impact was incredible.

“I love you so much.

“We will see you down the road and we will all be together again.

“Yours from the first moment I saw you and forever!

“Your Danny, your John!”

John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Credit: Gregg DeGuire/WireImage

Dinah Minoff, AKA fellow Pink Lady Marty Maraschino (“like the cherry”), also paid tribute to her Grease co-star.

“As many will tell you, Olivia Newton-John was one of the kindest, most generous souls ever to grace the earth,” she said.

“I was one lucky Pink Lady to have spent time with her during the filming of Grease,” she wrote.

Olivia Newton-John, Didi Conn (Frenchy) and the rest of the girls sing in a scene from the film ‘Grease’, 1978. Credit: Archive Photos/Getty Images

Didi Conn, who played Frenchy, also spoke about Newton-John on BBC’s Newsnight.

“Her heart is such a vibrant light … I thought of how lucky I had been to be her friend,” she said.

“She’s very special in my heart in many, many ways.”

Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted To You – Part 1 airs on Channel 7 and 7plus Tuesday 9 August 9.10pm

Olivia Newton-John: Hopelessly Devoted To You – Part 2, airs on Channel 7 and 7plus Wednesday 10 August 9.00pm

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