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Olivia Newton-John and the Hong Kong connection...

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

Many don’t really understand just how important karaoke was when it came to marketing and making artists popular in Hong Kong, especially, and the region.

When with Universal Music, and then EMI, it was easy to see which songs would live on for years and years by gauging their popularity in Karaoke clubs.

The popularity of these songs built up an artist’s “catalogue” and which meant that any concert by them filled with hits would be sellouts.

Karaoke is what made the Bee Gees, Air Supply, John Denver and Olivia Newton-John, the mega stars they became in the the region.

It wasn’t about being hip and cool and “out there”, but recording extremely catchy songs that were memorable.

It didn’t hurt Olivia Newton-John that she was also very pretty and had one of the sweetest voices in popular music- a unique voice like that of the great Karen Carpenter, another artist who was a karaoke favourite with the Carpenters.

Some of us met ONJ a few times as Hong Kong was a very special place for her.

Her songs and her sweetness clicked with local music fans- songs like “I Honestly Love You”, “Have You Never Been Mellow”, “Hopelessly Devoted To You”, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”, “Physical” and so many others.

Like the Bee Gees, she also had a special bond with Pato Leung, below, a former pop columnist in Hong Kong with the China Mail, who became a successful concert promoter.

Because of their trust in Pato, we- Norman Cheng and I, who had known him for many years, were able to license and release exclusive product by these two artists when both of us were at Universal Music and then EMI.

These included a Bee Gees Greatest Karaoke Hits release that was a best seller around the region, and at least two albums by Olivia Newton-John that were made available only in this region.

With the passing of this extremely popular and very nice artist, the tributes have been flowing.

Today, I read a piece about the “two Sandys”, Sandy being the character she played in “Grease”.

Away from what we’ll always associate with Olivia Newton-John, her’s was a turbulent life.

There were the failed relationships including the bizarre disappearance of cameraman and partner Patrick McDermott during a fishing expedition.

Though there were stories that the Korean born McDermott faked his death to avoid debt and was hiding out in Mexico, these were unfounded.

Before him, her breakup up with producer and manager Bruce Welsh, one time member with the Shadows, had him attempt suicide.

From her marriage to young dancer Matt Latanzzi, there were daughter Chloe’s battles with food disorder.

Then came the singer’s own and ongoing fight to beat cancer.

She’s known to have embraced herbal remedies and Eastern philosophies.

Ironically, her old friend in Hong Kong- Pato Leung- was now a Doctor specialising in herbal medicines. Did she seek his advice? Very likely.

Olivia Newton-John kept her problems to herself until she couldn’t keep things a secret anymore.

Still, she never gave up and was optimistic that she had beaten and outrun the hounds of hell.

She gave many hope.

To describe her as a “survivor” would be too easy.

Olivia Newton-John lived life to the full and to the best she could.

Her life should be celebrated.

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