Her troubled daughter Chloe Lattanzi had been missing for 12 hours somewhere in Miami, Florida’s seedy entertainment strip, and a full-scale police search was underway. As helicopters hovered, the singer and actress planned a press conference pleading for public help to find her only child. Olivia hoped for the best, yet feared the worst.
‘It was 12 hours of hell, really,’ says Chloe’s life-long friend Jaala Ruffman, who was with her just before she disappeared.‘Olivia was a scared mum. Her first words were, “You lost Chloe… How could you lose Chloe?” It was a gut-wrenching moment
and we felt devastated.
‘We tried to remain upbeat. But Miami after dark can be pretty unsavoury – it’s a party city. We were all scared,’ Jaala continues. ‘We all went through waves of different emotions as the hours went by.’
For Olivia, it was a heart-wrenching flashback to 2005 when her partner of nine years, cameraman Patrick McDermott, vanished from a fishing charter boat off California. Investigators claim Patrick is alive but his whereabouts are still unknown.Now the Grease star’s much-loved daughter was missing in crime capital Miami on Christmas Eve, after a night out gone wrong.
‘Olivia’s had to bear more tragedy than any one person deserves, and I was terrified to make the phone call telling her what had happened,’ Jaala recalls.
The evening had started with four friends imbibing the festive spirit. But by the small hours of Christmas Eve, Chloe – who turns 24 this week – was on the Miami Police Department’s missing persons list and the subject of a widespread search.
Frantically combing the streets for her old kindergarten friend at 2am, Jaala was counting the minutes, wondering when to let Olivia know she’d lost track of her Chloe between the bars.
‘We didn’t realise Chloe had gone missing for at least an hour. We were all plastered and were in our own little worlds,’ Jaala says.
Frantic search‘When I finally made the call we had already been searching everywhere and had to assume the worst. Miami police usually wait 24 hours before they issue a missing person alert, but when we told them it was Olivia’s daughter they pulled out all the stops.’
Olivia, who lives two hours away from Miami, was frightened and frantic. She rushed to the city with her husband of 18 months, entrepreneur John Easterling.
They stayed on the line to Jaala, John’s nephew Mike and Chloe’s friend Vincent Vanguard, praying for a safe outcome.
‘Olivia was very shocked, but she wasn’t angry with us,’ Jaala explains. ‘Olivia knows her daughter is a strong girl.
‘We were all enjoying seeing Chloe come out of her shell after years of battling anorexia and dealing with her own demons. People might think she’s spinning out of control, but it’s more that she’s enjoying herself after all the years when she was going through her anorexia and was totally antisocial.’
Once Chloe’s friends met up with Olivia and John at Miami’s fashionable Raleigh Hotel, it became a tense waiting game.
‘Chloe had given me and Mike her wallet and passport for safekeeping before the night began,’ Jaala says. ‘She had left her phone charging at the hotel. She knows my number by heart so we were hoping the phone would ring. It was agonising.’
By 2pm there was still no sign of the missing pop starlet.
‘Olivia asked us if she should hold a press conference and we were preparing for that when the phone finally rang.’
Chloe sounded scared and disoriented. She was two blocks away but couldn’t remember the name of the hotel.
‘The look of relief on Olivia’s face was beyond words,’ Jaala recalls. ‘We were all a little hysterical, that combination of exhaustion and elation. We walked to meet her on the street and there were hugs and tears all round.
‘Chloe was sobbing and Olivia hugged and soothed her.’
Chloe had last been seen about 1am, having a ‘drunken heart-to-heart’ with Jaala, prior to getting separated from her friends.Mike and Jaala thought she was with Vincent, while he believed she was with them.
Chloe had been dragged into a club by two Russian men, before a chivalrous young Italian came to her rescue.
‘They walked to a few hotels, but he eventually thought it would be easier for her to crash at his place,’ Jaala explains. ‘He slept on the couch and Chloe slept in his bed.
‘She woke around 2pm in a strange apartment, disoriented and with no recollection of the evening’s dramas. When she was able to call me, she was in tears and felt devastated that she had put us all through this.
‘No one was angry with her. We were just so relieved, no one more than Olivia, who exchanged a few private words with her and then thanked the police for everything they’d done.’
The reunited – and greatly relieved – family and friends drove in convoy to Olivia and John’s house, where they started their celebrations early, decorating the couple’s huge tree.
On Christmas Day, Olivia cooked a special lunch. John said a prayer of thanks and appreciation – all the more meaningful after everything they’d been through.
As a happy Jaala tells New Idea, ‘After the ordeal, we were very grateful just to be spending Christmas together.’
Olivia's ups and downsAustralia’s sweetheart of song keeps smiling despite more than her fair share of life’s slings and arrows. After decades of hit records and films, she founded clothing store Koala Blue in 1983. The next year she married Xanadu co-star Matt Lattanzi, and they had Chloe in 1986.
Olivia was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, on the same weekend her father Brinley died. She fought a brave battle to overcome the disease and became a health advocate. That same year Koala Blue was declared bankrupt, but Olivia went on to revive the brand.By 1995, Olivia and Matt were divorced and Chloe later struggled with anorexia. Olivia’s long-term boyfriend Patrick McDermott mysteriously vanished in 2005, but she found happiness again with John Easterling (above). They were married in 2008.