But people don’t simply “like” Cher. More than 40 years of show business success make crystal clear that she is, and has always been, much more than merely “liked.” Cher is that rare entertainment industry icon that defies classification. Continually referenced, adored, and examined, she belongs in the exclusive pantheon of performers who have not only outdistanced all of their contemporaries, but have, decade in and decade out, stubbornly navigated the transient whims of public taste and carved a permanent place for themselves in the hearts and minds of cinema, television, music and pop culture enthusiasts everywhere.
Born on May 20,1946 in the sleepy town of El Centro, California, to mother Jackie Jean Crouch (later changed to Georgia Holt) and father John Sarkisian, any hint that Cher would have a remarkable life and career seemed like nothing more than sheer fantasy. Even so, the girl whose birth name was “Cherilyn,” believed that she was destined for something extraordinary. “I didn’t know how or what I would do but I just knew I wanted to be famous.”
She didn’t have to wait long. At 16 Cher met aspiring singer/songwriter Salvatore Phillip Bono (everyone called him Sonny) and the two entered into all-encompassing “all parts of a family” relationship whose center- piece was their love and devotion to one another and their shared dream of making it big.
At the time they first met, Sonny was an assistant to famed “Wall of Sound” record producer Phil Spector, and although Cher accompanied Sonny to many of those recording dates, she had little expectation of becoming a singer. She wanted to be an actress. But Sonny thought otherwise. Young, hip, fashionable, friendly, willing and eager to learn, Cher possessed an unrefined yet unmistakably buoyant energy and charisma. And she had the pipes. As Sonny put it in his 1992 autobiography And The Beat Goes On, “I became convinced that this shy, skinny, teenage girl with an unusually deep singing voice, was star material. All she needed was someone to channel her hidden talent. And I was bent on doing it.”
And he did. It was through Sonny that Cher sang background vocals on some of the era’s biggest hits. These included The Crystals’ “Da Doo Ron Ron,” the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” the classic Spector Christmas Album and perhaps most memorable of all, the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,”— on which Cher’s powerful vocal can be distinctly discerned from all six other male backing singers.
Soon she was recording on her own. “Ringo I Love You” (recorded under the pseudonym Bonnie Jo Mason) a love lament to Beatle member Ringo Starr flopped. So did a follow-up single, the Spector-ish “Dream Baby.” Sonny joined her for a brief stint as “Caesar & Cleo” and the new singing duo released three songs; “The Letter,” “Do You Wanna Dance” and “Love is Strange.” Then an epiphany: “Why not just be ourselves?”
“Sonny & Cher’s” first record release was an upbeat tune called “Baby Don’t Go.” This was followed by the melancholy “Just You.” The third time at bat they struck gold. “I Got You Babe” became a million-selling No. 1 hit and made Sonny & Cher household names. As Sonny would later put it, the song, written from the heart about his and Cher’s love for one another, “changed everything.” Music historian Todd Everett accurately summed up “I Got You Babe’s” appeal. “With ‘I Got You Babe’ all the right buttons had finally been pushed. From its vaulting bridge, to the rapturously resolved false ending, the song touched the hearts of the most curmudgeonly crew cuts…it was a stirring confidence that love would prevail over anything a vague, uptight societal ‘they’ might throw at it.”
Not only did love prevail but so did their careers. “Laugh At Me,” “What Now My Love,” “But You’re Mine,” “Little Man,” and “The Beat Goes On” were hits that kept them on the charts, on the radio, and performing before screaming young audiences around the world. At one point, the duo had five songs in the Top 20, a feat equaled only by Elvis and The Beatles.
Cher’s first solo album All I Really Want to Do was issued the same year that “I Got You Babe” hit. The title song peaked at No. 15, out-charting The Byrds’ simultaneous release. Sonny won a bet with Byrds’ producer Terry Melcher that Cher would prevail. Before the decade was over she had four Top 40 solo hits of her own—“Where Do You Go,” “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” “You Better Sit Down Kids,” and “Alfie.”
At the dawn of the seventies Sonny & Cher traded in their multi-colored bell bottoms and fur vests (clothes that had become their visual trademark) for a tuxedo and a gown. A guest host appearance on the Mike Douglas Show “changed everything” for them a second time. After a CBS-TV summer replacement series scored big with audiences, they were offered their own Prime Time variety show. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour aired from 1971-1974 and made Sonny & Cher bigger, more visible, and more celebrated than they had ever been before. And, quite incredibly, the music kept coming. Although they never managed to top the phenomenal success of “I Got You Babe,” the singing duo—now (along with their little daughter Chastity) beloved television stars, released a string of strong seventies singles including “When You Say Love,” “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done,” and “All I Ever Need Is You.”
It was during their tenure as television performers that Cher’s solo singing career skyrocketed. She hit the No. 1 spot on the all-important Billboard music charts not once, but three times, first with 1971’s “Gypsies Tramps & Thieves” (at the time the biggest selling single in the history of MCA Records), and then with 1973’s “Half-Breed,” and 1974’s “Dark Lady.” The No. 7 power-ballad “The Way of Love,” cemented Cher’s status as a formidable vocalist who was as comfortable singing pop/rock as she was singing a formally orchestrated torch song.
When the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour went off the air and the couple parted ways, both personally and professionally, Cher returned to tele- vision in her very own variety series entitled, what else—Cher. That success behind her, in 1976 she re-teamed with former husband Sonny for The Sonny & Cher Show, a reprise of their old variety series and when that went off the air, headlined two network television extravaganzas; 1978’s Cher…Special, and 1979’s Cher…and other Fantasies—an hour of song and dance fashioned around that year’s hit “comeback” dance tune “Take Me Home.”
“There’s no star like a movie star,” one critic memorably said, and as the seventies turned into the eighties, Cher was determined to make good on her very first dream of success—acting. She forfeited her lucra- tive nightclub career (she had toured the world in 1979 and 1980 in a standing-room-only nightclub act), moved to New York City and pursued “serious” acting roles. First up was a co-starring part (with Sandy Dennis, Karen Black and Kathy Bates) in Robert Altman’s Broadway production of Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. It was during a matinee perfor- mance of this well-received play that Cher’s life, once again, took a dramatic turn. Director Mike Nichols, impressed with her performance, cast her (totally against type) opposite Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell in the movie Silkwood. It was a make or break career moment. In the film Cher played dowdy Dolly Pelliker, a friend of plant-worker/whistleblower Karen Silkwood with such jaw-dropping intensity that even though she was on-screen for little more than fifteen minutes, her performance garnered her a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination.
Starring film roles followed. Mask (1985; the real-life story of Rocky Dennis, a boy suffering from a rare, disfiguring facial disease), and a trio of films released in 1987, The Witches Of Eastwick (with Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson), Suspect (with Dennis Quaid and Liam Neeson), and, finally, Moonstruck (with Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis and Danny Aiello)—for which she won the coveted Academy Award for Best Actress. Cher’s Oscar win did three important things: It forever placed her in the record books, it added “critically-acclaimed actress” to her already established renown as “singer/TV personality,” and it made good on her earliest per- sonal dreams of movie stardom. “I don’t think that this award means that I’m somebody,” Cher said during her memorable Oscar acceptance speech (notably, the assembled audience rose to their feet when her name was announced) “but maybe I’m on my way.”
“On her way” was, of course, a profound understatement. More films followed. Mermaids (1990; with Winona Ryder and Bob Hoskins), Faithful (1996; with Chaz Palminteri and Ryan O’Neal), If These Walls Could Talk (also 1996; an HBO television movie—a segment of which she directed, with Demi Moore and Sissy Spacek), Tea With Mussolini (1999; with Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith and Lily Tomlin) and Stuck On You (2003; with Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear).
Incredibly, at the same time that Cher was “reinventing” herself as a serious actress, she was enjoying simultaneous success on the music charts. Beginning with 1987’s “I Found Someone” (from the album Cher) the hits just kept coming. “We All Sleep Alone,” another cut from Cher, was followed by “If I Could Turn Back Time,” “Heart of Stone” and “Just Like Jesse James,” from the album Heart of Stone, “Love and Understanding” and “Save Up All Your Tears,” from the album Love Hurts, and two stand-alone movie theme songs, “After All (Love Theme From Chances Are)”—a duet with Peter Cetera, and “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)” from the movie Mermaids. Cher’s continued renewed success in the recording industry cemented her status as both a long-standing hit-maker, and a top-draw concert attraction.
But then, just at the point when most entertainers’ careers are supposed to wind down, in 1999, at the ripe “young” age of 52, Cher had the biggest hit of her entire career—the No. 1 (in 23 countries, including the U.S., the UK, Australia and France) 11-million-copies-sold “Believe” from the album of the same name. As Cher succinctly put it, her unexpected late- career triumph “just knocked everyone’s brains out—even mine!” Follow-up hits from Believe included “Strong Enough” and “All or Nothing” and Cher, became unique as the only woman with No. 1 hits in each decade from the 1960s through to the new millennium.
After a long break from the stage, she returned with her spectacular Do You Believe? Tour (121 performances) and once again thrilled adoring audiences around the world. But then Cher lowered the boom.
At the pinnacle of her success, she announced that she would put her touring days behind her— forever. Living Proof: The Farewell Tour (later humor- ously dubbed the Never Can Say Goodbye Tour) hit the road in June of 2002 and didn’t wind up until almost three years later in April of 2005! Cher performed 325 glamorous, spectacular, outrageous shows and then decided to call it quits.
Then came a call from Caesars Palace. Cher could perform live but there would be no need to tour. She thought long and hard before committing.
“So much technology changed after I stopped touring. I realized there had been huge advances in lighting, sound and special effects. By staying in one theater I could present biggest and best show that I have ever done in my life.”
And so the Cher phenomenon continues! A woman. A mother. A singer. A television star. A movie star. An author and businessperson. The list goes on and on. What is there really not to “like” about Cher? Everyone has a dream. Everyone has a wish they want to come true. Everyone wants to live their lives honestly and on their own terms. Cher has done this and more—much more.