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Hoda and Olivia Newton-John shared emotional moment discussing breast cancer diagnoses: ‘We’re sisters’

The TODAY co-anchor and the pop legend bonded over their journeys with breast cancer, and Newton-John shared how she manages living with her third bout of the illness.
/ Source: TODAY

Before Olivia Newton-John died at age 73 this week, she shared a special moment with TODAY co-anchor Hoda Kotb late last year, as both of them had battled breast cancer.

Newton-John was not aware that Hoda had been treated for breast cancer over 14 years ago, but once she found out in October last year, it was an instant bond. At the time, the "Grease" star was living with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer, her third bout of breast cancer nearly 30 years after her first diagnosis.

Hoda held back tears when Newton-John asked about her health.

"I’m really sorry you went through that," Newton-John said. "I didn’t know that about you. So you’re well now, you’re doing good?"

"Yes, I’m doing good," Hoda said before getting emotional. "By the way, I’m just going to pause for a second. Another wonderful thing about you is what you just did there. Thank you. Thank you for asking."

"Oh, of course," Newton-John said. "We’re sisters, anyone that has gone on this journey with cancer, its unknown destinations and surprises and turns."

The British-Australian entertainer was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992.

"Right now I’m feeling pretty good," she said in October last year. "I have my days, I have my pains, but the cannabis that my husband grows for me has been such a huge part of my healing, and so I’m a really lucky person."

Newton-John also spoke about the enduring appeal of "Physical," the 1981 hit with the quintessentially '80s video featuring Newton-John in aerobics gear. She appeared on TODAY to mark the song's 40th anniversary.

"How is this possible that I’m still talking about a song that I recorded 40 years ago and people still like it?" she quipped.

The lyrics saying "nothing left to talk about unless it's horizontally" were controversial at the time, getting the song banned by many radio stations and the entire nation of South Africa.

"Today the lyrics are like a lullaby, don’t you reckon? But in those days ..." Newton-John said with a laugh.

"I remember listening to it and going, 'That’s a really great song,' and didn’t really tune in to what it was about. And then when I recorded it, I started to panic, and I called my manager and said, 'I think I’ve gone too far with this song. It’s just too much.' And he said, 'Well, it’s too late, love. It’s taken off everywhere.'"

She also laughed when thinking about the reason for making the classic video that was a staple in the early days of MTV.

"I said, 'We need to create something funny, and it needs to be about exercise, because if it’s about exercise, they’re not going to have any other thought,'" she said.

Pushing through her trepidation about releasing the song taught her a lesson.

"Very often the things that you’re most afraid of are the things that you really need to just go for it," she said. "It’s one of my most successful records, and I never would’ve dreamt that could’ve happened."

Newton-John sold more than 100 million albums in her career and was still touring as recently as four years ago.

"For me, singing is my soul," she said. "I don’t miss the touring, but I do love to sing and I like to write songs. So I don’t know yet what I’m going to do about that. At the moment I just enjoy being because we are human beings."

Newton-John's husband, John Easterling, announced her passing Monday in a statement on Facebook.

"Dame Olivia Newton-John (73) passed away peacefully at her Ranch in Southern California this morning, surrounded by family and friends," the statement read. "We ask that everyone please respect the family’s privacy during this very difficult time."

"Olivia has been a symbol of triumphs and hope for over 30 years sharing her journey with breast cancer."