Courtesy Leeza Gibbons and Olivia Newton-John
Speaking to PEOPLE about the impact the Grease star had on her life and their 30-plus-year friendship, Gibbons says that even in her final moments, Newton-John never lost touch with her "grace and goodness."
"Her last text to me was, "I'm grateful for all the love in my life. I'm such a lucky person," Gibbons, 65, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "There will never be another like her.... a true angel on earth. Not just an iconic artist, but a humanitarian and game-changing voice for empowering women to show up for themselves. Like with so many others, she changed my life and encouraged me to reach higher and be better."
Courtesy Leeza Gibbons Olivia Newton-John and Leeza Gibbons
Newton-John died Monday at age 73, five years after announcing she had breast cancer that had metastasized to the sacrum.
Gibbons and her husband Steven Fenton recently spent a weekend with Newton-John and her husband, John Easterling, at their ranch. The former Entertainment Tonight co-host says that while her friend "may have been slightly slower" in pace, her optimism still shined through like always.
"That radiant smile and generous heart was on full display," she says. "Olivia is whip-smart and always engages others in conversations about them, rarely talking about herself. She would quickly deflect any discussion of herself or her illness. It just seemed like she had beaten the odds for so long that she could somehow be immortal."
The Celebrity Apprentice winner grew up admiring Newton-John, and "could hardly believe" her luck when the woman she long considered a "hero" became a close friend after Gibbons interviewed her for Entertainment Tonight in the late 1980s.
Courtesy Leeza Gibbons Leeza Gibbons and Olivia Newton-John
Over the years, the pair's friendship grew as they provided support for one another during some of the most important moments of their lives. In 2008, Newton-John invited Gibbons to join her in walking the Great Wall of China to raise money for a cancer and wellness center in Melbourne. When the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre officially opened seven years later, Gibbons was on hand to celebrate.
There was also the time that Gibbons was competing on The Celebrity Apprentice in 2015, and called on Newton-John to fly cross-country for a last-minute performance on the show's season finale — which she did without hesitation.
"She knew I was on the program to raise money for Leeza's Care Connection, my charity honoring my mom who died of Alzheimer's," Gibbons recalls. "Olivia didn't hesitate and said, 'Yes, I'll be there. These are the things that matter most.' She was captivating on the show, and secured my victory."
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Gibbons also says that despite her ups and downs, Newton-John achieved "everything she wanted." "She got a true love affair and soulmate in her husband John Easterling; a successful Cancer and Wellness Center to carry out her legacy; a close relationship with the light of her life, her daughter Chloe, and final, peaceful days at the secluded ranch she loved."
"Olivia, our love for each other transcends our understanding. Every day we expressed our gratitude for this love that could be so deep, so real, so natural. We never had to 'work' on it. We were in awe of this great mystery and accepted the experience of our love as past, present and forever," Easterling began.
He concluded, "Even now as her soul soars, the pain and holes in my heart are healed with the joy of her love and the light that shines forward. Our family deeply appreciates the vast ocean of love and support that has come our way. Onward Ho John Easterling."