I had been planning to do a retrospective of Xanadu, possibly accompanied by as much of a Fug the Fromage as I could muster, in honor of its premiere on August 8, 1980. Instead, on August 8, 2022, Olivia Newton-John died, with her third bout of breast cancer metastasizing too far and too fast. Grease is iconic, but to young Heather, the almost universally reviled Xanadu was her crowning achievement. It never occurred to me to wonder whether the movie was any good. I just thought Olivia was beautiful: the curls in her hair, the flow of her skirt, the clarity of her voice, the dancing, the music. She is the reason my deepest childhood dream — other than playing Annie, obviously, and yes I had the wig — was to be a muse who roller-skated around Los Angeles outlined in neon, making men fall for me until one of them eventually skated full-boar into a concrete mural on the off-chance that he’d find me on the other side in a nether-realm. (Granted, if I’d had that fantasy separately from Xanadu, it would be a little worrisome.) This was the height of dreaminess to me, even if I mentally recast Sonny Malone with Stefan Edberg. Sorry, Michael Beck; the heart wants what it wants.

Variety called Xanadu “a stupendously bad film,” but with a hat-tip to Olivia’s charm and the catchy soundtrack. And it truly is some of ELO’s finest work. I damn near wore out my cassette, snatched my sister’s album version so I could learn the words to every song — I would sit in the tub and belt out “Suspended in Time” to an audience of My Little Pony toys lined up on the edge — and as an adult bought the CD and DVD and, eventually, digital versions. I just listened to it last week in the car. Liam hopped out humming “All Over The World.” Days of our Lives used “Suddenly” as someone’s love song (Carrie and Austin, maybe?). “Don’t Walk Away” is particularly satisfying to belt in the car, and is one of the best parts of the movie because it wasn’t until I re-watched it as an adult that I realized the Unexplained Animation was just to cover where a sex scene would be. And “Dancin’,” the mash-up of Big Band and rock, is a steady favorite, although I had to look up the official title because I exclusively refer to that song as “Six Guys Wearing Electric Orange.”

I love this scene, because at first it’s distracting that all three women are lip-synching to Olivia Newton-John’s single voice, and then the costumes and bonkers choreography sweep you up, and then suddenly Six Guys In Electric Orange come in, and then by the time the songs and dancers and sets start to fuse together, you’re completely on board. Bonus points for the drum kit that’s a pair of eyes. (The band playing Six Guys In Electric Orange is The Tubes.)

So, maybe someday I’ll recap the joys of Xanadu, a movie that I still hold absolutely dear to my heart, and which killed the career of poor Michael Beck before it even really began. But for now, I’m sad, because one of the muses’ neon lights is out, and it’s on us to keep her suspended in time. Thank you for this and so much more, Olivia. I didn’t even get into your actual music career, but suffice to say my friend and I played “Physical” on a boombox all day at school the year we went as ’80s women for Halloween. Rest in peace and painlessness.

[Photos: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images, Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images, Alan Messer, David Graves, Clive Dix, Robert Taylor, Chris Foster, Dezo Hoffman, Ben Smith, John Barrett, Andre Csillag, Broadimage, ITV, Moviestore/Shutterstock, Monty Fresco/ANL/Shutterstock, Paramount/Rso/Kobal/Shutterstock, Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock, 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock, Reed Saxon/AP/Shutterstock]