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Newton-John devoted to improving lives

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Singer and actress Olivia Newton-John speaks to CNN's Connect the World
  • Star of hit musical "Grease" a prominent campaigner for breast cancer awareness
  • Newton-John also a passionate advocate of rainforest protection
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London, England (CNN) -- "I had to be stitched into those pants," Olivia Newton-John recalls of the skin-tight black trousers she worn in the film "Grease".

That fact will come as no surprise to the millions of people who have watched the iconic scene at the end of the smash hit film musical.

"But they were quite comfortable," she assured CNN's Max Foster, "despite what they looked like."

But those trousers, "made of some sort of shark skin material" she says, plus a string of memorable songs from the film including "Summer Nights" and "You're The One That I Want" helped propel Olivia Newton-John to superstardom which has continued to this day.

The British-born actress, who was raised in Australia from the age of five, was already an established singing star -- having won three Grammy Awards -- prior to being cast as Sandy Olssen alongside John Travolta's Danny Zuko in the 1978 film.

And many of the songs from that era still rank among her favorites in a recording career which has produced over 30 albums including the 1981 double platinum selling "Physical" -- which spawned the single of the same name and a craze for spandex and leg warmers.

"The songs I did with John Farrar [the Australian producer and songwriter] are among my favorites. And a lot of those songs, 'Magic' and 'Suspended in Time' are on 'Xanadu,'" [the soundtrack from the 1980 film].

Of her more recent recordings she cites 2006's "Grace and Gratitude" as another favorite. "It was a healing CD that was very personal for me," she said.

After the runaway success of the early 1980s Newton-John was preparing for a comeback in 1992 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The diagnosis changed the course of her life forever.

After successfully beating the disease, Newton-John talked openly about her experience and became a passionate advocate for early detection and helping other women cope with the disease.

"I'm so grateful to be here, 17 years after being diagnosed," she told CNN. "I want to empower other women to be really observant of their breast health and do regular breast self-examination."

She also has a Website -- http://www.liv.com// -- which provides information on breast self-examination.

"When I talk to women in my age bracket, they're afraid. I understand the fear but if there is something wrong, the earlier you find it, the better chance you have of a healthy outcome," she said.

Cancer awareness isn't the only cause she lends her name to. Along with her second husband John Easterling, who she married in 2008, Newton-John helps promote education about rainforests.

"We're helping educate the children of the Amazon to realize the importance of the living rainforest so that when the timber and oil companies come in they know to save it."

Three decades on from her life-changing appearance in "Grease", Newton-John is still finding plenty things in her life to become hopelessly devoted to.