Inside The Life And Career Of Cher

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This article contains mentions of drug addiction and substance misuse.

Cher always dreamed about being in the spotlight, but she worried that she didn't have the right look to become a singer. "So I decided that I just wanted to be famous — maybe not with a specific talent, like Judy Garland or Dorothy McGuire, but as a personality," she wrote in her memoir "The First Time." What that little girl never imagined is that she would grow up to be a global superstar, conquering the worlds of music, movies, and television. As half of the duo "Sonny & Cher," the singer-actor established herself as a force to be reckoned with, singing "I've Got You Babe," and "The Beat Goes On."

After the pair teamed up on the hit series "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," the "Goddess of Pop" broke out on her own with hits including "Gypsys, Tramps, & Thieves" and "Believe." She's sold over 100 million records and has sold out her concerts, per Parade. From TV, Cher moved to the big screen, where she proved herself to be a serious actor in many memorable films, including "Mask," "Silkwood" and her Oscar-winning performance in "Moonstruck."

The famous fashionista is also known for her knack at making a stunning entrance, and for making an exit from some of her rocky relationships over the years. But fame and fortune didn't come easy for the three-time Golden Globe winner. Cher has faced some challenging times, along with people who tried to stand in her way. Fortunately, the mononymous star never stopped believing in herself.

Cher thought Sonny was 'the coolest guy ever'

Cherilyn Sarkisian was born in El Centro, California, the daughter of Georgia Holt, an aspiring actor, and John Sarkisian, a truck driver and gambler who spent much of her childhood behind bars. "I didn't meet him until I was 11," she told Parade. The singer, who suffered from dyslexia, dropped out of high school and moved to Los Angeles, where she met Sonny Bono while he worked with producer Phil Spector.

"I swear to God, the moment I saw Sonny, everyone else in the room disappeared," Cher recalled. "He was the coolest guy ever." The duo, who first performed as Caesar and Cleo, recorded their first track as Sonny & Cher with 1964's "Baby Don't Go.” According to People, the couple tied the knot that year but were not legally married until they welcomed Chaz Bono into their lives in 1969. The following year, they released "I've Got You Babe," which topped the Billboard charts. They were quickly becoming household names.

After that song's release, Sonny and Cher traveled to London. "It sounds so dumb, but everything happened so fast," Cher told Elle in 2018. "I didn't even know where I was. One day we were poor. Two days, three days later, we were famous." They put together a Las Vegas variety show, which was the seed for their hit CBS series. 

Cher broke out as a solo artist

Following the success of "I've Got You Babe," Cher released a huge hit in the '60s as a solo artist with "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)." The singer's title track from her album "Gypsys, Tramps, & Thieves" reached Billboard's top spot in 1971. "It was a song I recorded in, like, an hour," she told Billboard in 2017 about the signature track. "With Snuffy [producer Snuff Garrett], you had to crank out an album in a weekend," she joked.

The next year, she released "Half-Breed," her 10th studio album, and scored a No. 1 single with its title track. Sonny & Cher received a best new artist Grammy nomination. In 1972, they were nominated again for "All I Ever Need Is You." Cher received a nod as a solo artist as well, and their music career as a duo cooled after that. 

"He was Lou Costello, and I was Bud Abbott," Cher told Billboard about "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," which ran for four seasons and garnered 30 million viewers a week. "I was the sharp one who looked good in clothes. Sonny was the lovable goofball." The show featured musical numbers, sketch comedy, and witty banter about the couple's marriage. But when the cameras stopped rolling, trouble was brewing at home, and things were about to get ugly.

Cher divorced Sonny Bono, and it didn't end well

While their television show was a hit, Sonny and Cher's marriage was crumbling. In 1974, they separated. "Sonny and I have been together since I was 16," she told People at the time. "So we've been more than husband and wife. It's like husband, mother, brother, sister, daughter, father. To break up something like that is a hard thing." Cher later filed for divorce, citing "involuntary servitude," per Elle.

Although Cher was clearly the marquee star, she walked away from the divorce owing Sonny millions of dollars, and Bono made out like a bandit. She shared with The Guardian in 2020, "We worked side by side for 11 years and I ended up with nothing. I worked really hard for that money, and it never occurred to me that he would take it." When the series ended, CBS gave the star her own variety show. "The Cher Show," which featured Teri Garr, Steve Martin and other big-name guest stars, was Emmy-nominated. The series ended in 1976, as Cher was joining Sonny professionally again.

Cher claimed the rules were different for her when she returned to network TV as a single woman. In her 1998 memoir "The First Time," she wrote, "It was the strangest thing. When I was married and doing the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, I could get away with all kinds of double entendre stuff, and nobody took it seriously," the actor explained. "But after my divorce, all that changed."

The actor landed her breakout role on Broadway

The ink on Cher's divorce decree was barely dry when she married Greg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band, per People. The couple collaborated on an album, "Two the Hard Way," and they welcomed a son, Elijah Blue Allman, in 1976, before divorcing a few years later. "Gregory was a Southern gentleman who also happened to be a heroin addict," Cher told Parade, adding, "As crazy as I was about him, I wasn't going to let him be around my kids."

Cher set her sights on a serious acting career. But for years, she couldn't get a job in TV or movies. ”People always said the same thing, and it was 'Oh, you're too Cher,"' she told The New York Times. In 1975, she landed her breakout role in a Broadway play, "Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean." In the production, directed by Robert Altman, she played a wise-cracking waitress named Sissy, a character she reprised in his 1982 film.

Director Mike Nichols saw Cher's performance on Broadway and offered her the part of Dolly, a nuclear plant worker in "Silkwood," which starred Meryl Streep and was co-written by Nora Ephron. Cher received her first Oscar nomination for the role, and she developed a lifelong bond with Streep. "We've stayed friends all these years. ... [Silkwood] was my first film, and she helped me," Cher told ET of the A-lister. "I mean, she was unbelievable, because I had no idea what I was doing."

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Cher is an Oscar winner

"Mask" was Cher's next big screen project. In the 1985 film, she plays Rusty, the biker mom of a teenage boy (played by Eric Stoltz) who has "a disfiguring congenital disease," per The Chicago Tribune. The film was well-received, but Cher was disappointed she didn't get an Oscar nod for her performance. For the 1986 Oscars, she wanted to make a statement, so she called on costume designer Bob Mackie to create a show-stopping moment.

"I had the idea mostly because the Academy didn't really like me," Cher told Vogue in 2019. She added, "They hated the way I dressed and I had young boyfriends and they just thought I wasn't serious. So I came out and said, 'As you can see, I got my handbook on how to dress like a serious actress.'" Her Bob Mackie black headpiece certainly did the trick. It was Cher's turn as a widowed accountant in the 1987 rom-com "Moonstruck" that would earn her the coveted Academy Award and her first Golden Globe. Roger Ebert raved that Cher was "never funnier or more assured. ... this is the best comedy in a long time," he noted.

As for her "young boyfriends," Cher dated producer Josh Donen as well as Rob Camilletti, an aspiring actor who baked bagels to pay the bills. Donen and Cher had more than a decade between them. Camilletti was 18 years her junior. After relentless media scrutiny, the pair split in 1989. Cher told Parade, "They were so mean with Robert — you know, 'the bagel boy.'" No hard feelings, since she told Vanity Fair that they remained friends.

The Witches of Eastwick started with a rude wake-up call

After celebrating her 40th birthday in 1986, Cher was looking forward to her future as a newly-minted Oscar-winner. Then, she received a call from George Miller, the director of "The Witches of Eastwick." "So he said, 'I just wanted to call and tell you that I don't want you in my movie and Jack Nicholson and I think you're too old and you're not sexy.' Good morning, 40!" Cher recounted to The Hollywood Reporter in 2018.

But the director, who is also known for "Mad Max: Fury Road," didn't let it go at that. He continued to tell the actor all the things he hated about her. After reminding him of her credentials and telling him, "You didn't find me under a rock," she was cast in the 1987 film alongside Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Susan Sarandon. Reaction to the movie was lukewarm, but THR critic Duane Burge wrote, "...witches is highlighted by the three masterful performances of Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer..." He gave additional praise to Veronica Cartwright.

In 1989, Cher released "If I Could Turn Back Time," one of her biggest hits. Diane Warren, who wrote the song for Cher, told People the singer hated the number, and Warren begged her to record it. "The How Do I Live" hitmaker even offered to pay for the recording if Cher wasn't pleased. "I remember looking at her in the booth and the look on her face when she sang the opening line, like, 'You b****, you were right.'"

Cher is a Grammy winner, too

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Cher revealed that she was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus in 1986, and fatigue was a major symptom. Cher told The New York Times that she couldn't work for two years and was sad to turn down movie offers. The actor's first big-screen project after "The Witches of Eastwick" was 1990's "Mermaids," which features Cher's hit song "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" on the soundtrack.

In 1998, Cher released her 22nd studio album, "Believe," and the singer picked up a Grammy for best dance recording. The song's message struck a chord with the LGBTQ community, and according to Pink News, it's "the world's most enduring gay anthem." In the 2000s, the gay icon made two unforgettable cameos on "Will & Grace." On "Jack Meets Cher," Sean Hayes confuses her for a drag queen. On "Is Cher God?," Jack ponders that question, amid a bunch of dancing angels in white speedos. 

Speaking to The Bulletin in 2008, the performer explained her connection to queer guys. "Gay men understand that I understand what it's like to be an outsider," she said. "To singers, I wasn't a singer. To actors, I wasn't an actor. I know what it's like to fight for your place. Besides, gay men are very choosy, and they have great taste."  

The singer is officially an icon

In January 1998, Rep. Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident in South Lake Tahoe, California, per The New York Times. Sonny & Cher received a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame five months later. Sonny's widow Mary accepted his posthumous honor. "I couldn't be happier today if I were twins. It's so cool," Cher said of the award (via The Buffalo News). 

The singer reflected on her ex-husband with Vegas magazine in 2017. "When he died, everything changed. When he was alive, we could fight or do whatever we wanted to, but then all of a sudden, he was gone, and it was a big loss — a huge loss." She continued, "Our marriage was the least important thing that we did together." In 2003, Cher moved one step closer to EGOT status, after winning an Emmy for the televised version of "Cher – The Farewell Tour." All she needs now is a Tony Award. In 2010, the actor starred in "Burlesque," alongside Stanley Tucci and Christina Aguilera, playing a role not unlike herself.

"I've never tried anything more than playing who I am. If you look at my characters, they're all me," she told The New York Times. In 2017, the Goddess of Pop officially was recognized as an icon at the Billboard Music Awards. In her acceptance speech, the sole artist with a No. 1 single in six consecutive decades said, "I think luck has so much to do with my success. I think it was mostly luck and a little bit of something thrown in."

Cher 'took a while' to come to terms with Chaz's transition

Chaz Bono made a documentary about his transition from female to male called "Becoming Chaz" that was released in 2011. He was also the first transgender contestant on "Dancing With the Stars." Cher explained to the Daily Mail in 2018 that it "took a while" for her to come to terms with the new Chaz. "And then as I started to see him kind of blossom, and be happier than I'd seen him in such a long time, it was just great," she said. The singer, who blasted Donald Trump for banning trans individuals from serving in the military, summed up her first-born son's perspective on the world around him. "Chaz is happier than I've ever known him. But he's also very nervous of this climate. America is a much more dangerous place now. There's a lot more hate crime," Cher said.

Speaking to CNN's Christiane Amanpour in 2020, the singer said she and Chaz discussed his transition for a long time. Cher seemed concerned about the way some people react to her son and transgender people at large. "Some of it's religious, I'm just not sure why it's such a big thing," she said, noting that progress has been made since Chaz transitioned, but we have still have a long way to go. "It's really open with some people, a few people, and just closed to the rest of the majority," she added. "They don't want to do it."

Mamma Mia! Cher made a major big screen comeback

In 2017, tragedy struck when Cher's second husband, Greg Allman, died from complications related to liver cancer, per Billboard. Mourning the loss of the "Midnight Rider" rocker, she found herself speechless. "IVE TRIED...WORDS ARE IMPOSSIBLE GUI GUI FOREVER, CHOOCH," she tweeted. Back in 1978, Cher opened up to People about her relationship with The Allman Brothers Band frontman. "Nobody ever made me feel as happy as Gregory did. God, he's wonderful. I don't understand why he can't see it."

The following year, Cher made the mother of all big-screen comebacks, stealing the show as a gorgeous grandma in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again." NBC News reviewer David Ferguson wrote, "It's simply impossible to look at anyone else when she's onscreen." But the legendary performer was a bit cautious about joining the all-star cast in the sequel, 10 years after the original film. "Everyone knew each other, so it was like home for them," Cher told People. "I was terrified. They're like a family, and there's lots of awards in that group. So to step in as the evil grandmother..." she added. 

As it turns out, Cher's co-stars, who raved about her "Fernando” duet with Andy Garcia, were a little intimidated by her. "The anticipation that we were going to meet Cher made the air crackle," Colin Firth told People. "I actually wonder what it felt like for her because we were all rather awestruck." The jukebox musical rom-com was the summer's guilty pleasure.

The Cher Show came to Broadway

In 2018, a musical based on the ups and down of Cher's storied career and personal life opened on Broadway. "The Cher Show" was a project over 10 years in the making. "I'm fussy 'cause it's my story," the musical's very inspiration explained to Elle. "I want it to be honest and right and funny and sad, like my life." Micaela Diamond, who portrayed a young version of Cher, said she admires the superstar's strength, and her ability to show her softer side.

"To be so vulnerable and yet have the most power in the room, that's a really hard place to stand in. She was born with that," Diamond told Elle. After the success of "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again," Cher recorded an album of ABBA covers and launched the "Here We Go Again Tour," which was postponed due to COVID-19. "It can get exhausting being Cher, especially when you're older and you're still doing the same things," she told People in 2018.

"But I still have a great time. To have the stamina, and also to have the audience ... You forget that people just do regular jobs that they don't get applause for," Cher added. Before year's end, the acclaimed artist added one more award to her collection — a Kennedy Center Honor. Whoopi Goldberg said of Cher in her lifetime achievement award tribute, "She not only marches to the beat of her own drum, honey, she is a one-woman band," per USA Today.

Cher is a fashion trailblazer

There is one man who's been a constant throughout much of Cher's life: costume designer Bob Mackie, the man behind many of her show-stopping looks, per Town & Country. Mackie, who first met the singer on "The Carol Burnett Show," noted that it wasn't just what Cher wore that made her a style star. "Most of the girls that were popular [at the time] were all blonde, and they had beehives and flips, and there was Cher with her long, straight hair," he recalled. "I tell you, within a few months, every young girl in America had long, straight hair with it parted in the middle. The whole world changed," the Emmy-winning designer added. 

Mackie created Cher's gowns for "The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour." In 2018, he shared with Elle, "She can look like anything. She loved getting dressed up, and nothing intimidated her," he said. "By the end, people were turning on the show just to see what she was going to wear."

The celebrity wore Mackie's famous sheer feathered "naked dress” at the 1974 Met Gala and people had very strong feelings about it. After the photo appeared in Time, Mackie told Variety that some states banned the mag for Cher's supposedly scandalous look. Of the elaborate black sequined ensemble with feathered headpiece he created for the 1986 Oscars, the designer told Town & Country, "She wanted to wear something fun. She was very comfortable in her own skin."

She has dated her share of famous men

Besides her well-known husbands, Cher has been linked to a number of celebrities. Before he was married to Annette Bening, Cher hooked up with "Bugsy" star Warren Beatty. Speaking to Elle in 2018 about the infamous Hollywood playboy, she explained, "But you can't call it a relationship. It was very Warren." Cher rates Tom Cruise as one of her top five lovers, as she shared with Andy Cohen on "Watch What Happens Live" in 2013. 

Gene Simmons is among Cher's former bedfellows. In a 1979 interview with People, she called her relationship with the Kiss frontman "the best relationship I've ever had with a human being," but it reportedly ended when Simmons fell for Diana Ross. Val Kilmer and Cher were hot and heavy in the '80s — and apparently too much. After two years of dating, they split. "Val is terrific but sometimes it's just too intense and hot," she told People in 1984.

Cher was also involved with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and media magnate David Geffen before he came out as gay at an AIDS benefit in the early '90s, according to the Los Angeles Times. "I enjoyed them all!" the "I Found Someone" singer told Parade in 2010. "I never felt I chose badly, and I was always happy when the next man came along. ... The moment the relationship goes into the phase of more commitment, it changes."

What's next for the legendary star?

These days, the "If I Could Turn Back Time" singer may tire a little more easily, but Cher's voice and her body are both in tip-top shape. "There are 20-year-old girls who can't do what I do," the face of Balmain told The Guardian.

Appearing on "Today" in 2018, the ageless beauty, who has been open about having cosmetic surgery, credited her youthful appearance to exercise, a healthy diet, and the fact that she doesn't drink or do drugs. "I think, also, I've always kept working," Cher told "Today." "When I was working on the road we used to work two shows a night and then go out dancing all night long," she explained to The Guardian, adding that nowadays, "It's like we've got to rest because you've got another night." Still, after six decades on stage, Cher craves the rush she gets from performing. "I love being able to take an audience and move them to a different place," she stated. 

In 2022, Cher celebrated her 76th birthday, and she has at least a few irons in the fire. The "Moonstruck" star announced that a biopic based on her life was underway, and she signed on as producer in 2021, per People. The same year, Cher revealed to USA Today (via Retro Pop) that she was working on her 27th studio album. Without sharing much detail, she said, "I've never heard an album like this before." She is clearly up for an exciting adventure in this phase of her career.