Tragic Details About Cher

This article contains mentions of drug addiction and substance abuse.

Cher might have one of the most successful and long-lasting careers in show business, but her life wasn't always so glamorous.

The icon has been open about her chaotic childhood and how she didn't grow up with her biological father, John Sarkisian. Cher met her father for the first time at age eleven, as she recalled in her autobiography "The First Time." "My father seemed nice; he was fun to be around; however, I remember feeling a little bit standoffish," the singer wrote, admitting that she hadn't been curious about him before. "I really did want to like him, but he was a stranger. He was just a man who'd walked into our house with my smile."

Sarkisian's Armenian heritage may have given Cher her distinctive looks, but their meeting didn't lead to any kind of lasting relationship and she continued to think of her stepfather as her real dad. It was also reported that Sarkisian tried to sue her in 1975 for calling him a "criminal" in interviews, leading to the father and daughter becoming even more estranged. Keep reading to find out more about how the pop goddess overcame her complicated upbringing and became an international star.

She had an unstable childhood

As she admitted to Parade, Cher's childhood was "pretty rocky." The young Cherilyn, as she was known, sometimes lived with her grandparents and even spent a short time in an orphanage. "That mother superior was a b***h to me," her mother later told Vanity Fair. "She wanted me to put Cher up for adoption. I would go over and look through this little window, and Cher would be standing at her crib crying."

Since her mother dated a wide range of men, their circumstances could change drastically overnight. "I remember being really ashamed of my clothes," Cher later recalled, telling Vanity Fair about the time they spent in poverty. "My mom would say, 'Jesus Christ, Cher, we can't afford shoes. Stop this!' I remember going to school with rubber bands around my shoes to keep my soles on." 

But they weren't always living paycheck to paycheck. "We ate a can of stew or a can of beans one week, but then sometimes we lived in Beverly Hills," the singer observed. "It was a very strange life."

Her dyslexia made school difficult

School wasn't the easiest for Cher, since she has struggled with dyslexia her whole life. "My mom was my biggest fan. She said it doesn't matter, school is not important," she recalled fondly to The Guardian. When the young Cherilyn pointed out that she couldn't even tell numbers apart and explained that they didn't even look like anything familiar, her mother replied: 'When you grow up, you're going to have somebody else to do numbers for you.'"

But dyslexia still had its challenges, despite her mother's support. "And so, I couldn't read," Cher told ET Canada, adding that she didn't enjoy reading any books until Sonny Bono gave her "The Saracen Blade" later in life. "And I read it at my own pace, and I loved it," she revealed. "And then I found out that I loved reading." She has also encouraged schools to help young dyslexic kids to understand their own special way of learning and embrace it.

Her dyslexia has also made her a distinctive voice on social media, where she uses emojis to express herself. "FYI, I'M DYSLEXIC & USE EMOJI AS HIEROGLYPHS," Cher wrote in one Instagram post, describing her "GERIATRIC MEETS TWEEN" style of communicating.

Her marriage to Sonny Bono was controlling

Cher was only 16 when she ran away from home and met her future husband Sonny Bono in Los Angeles. As she recalled in her autobiography "The First Time," "I was fascinated by anything different, and I was fascinated by Son from the moment he walked through the door," the singer wrote, adding that he was the most bizarre-looking man she had ever seen. "And I actually thought to myself. 'Something is different now. You're never going to be the same.'" She moved in with the older man and they eventually began the romantic and creative partnership that would result in hits like "I Got You, Babe."

But their real-life marriage wasn't as rosy as their cheerful pop songs seemed to imply. "Sonny didn't even love me, I don't think," Cher claimed in a 1990 interview with Vanity Fair, years after their divorce. "He just didn't want me to get away from him." She also later implied that fame turned Sonny into a controlling womanizer. "Sonny did a couple of things ... treating me more like the golden goose than like his wife," the superstar reflected in another Vanity Fair piece. "I wouldn't have left him if he hadn't had such a tight grip — such a tight grip."

Sonny and Cher began to decline

Sonny and Cher couldn't hold the attention of their young audience forever, especially in contrast to the sex, drugs, and rock music that took over the airwaves in the late 1960s.

"I loved the new sound of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the electric-guitar oriented bands," Cher recalled in her autobiography "The First Time." "Left to myself, I would have changed with the times because the music really turned me on." Sonny Bono, however, didn't approve. He also appeared on the radio to talk about the dangers of marijuana, which completely alienated all their fans who had become hippies. "That was our death sentence, the last nail in our coffin," Cher added.

Her first film "Chastity," written by Bono, was also a flop that plunged them into debt. "Sonny and I, we were really famous, and then our career just went off a hill," she told Jimmy Fallon, recalling how they struggled after their initial fame. "We had no money, we had no job and we owed the government $278,000 ... We were broke." The pair turned to television, but the end was already near.

She faced financial ruin through her divorce

Cher's 1975 divorce from Sonny Bono was a difficult time for the pop star, especially since it turned out that she was trapped in a contract where Bono owned 95% of all their earnings.

"We worked side by side for 11 years and I ended up with nothing," she told The Guardian. "I worked really hard for that money, and it never occurred to me that he would take it." Cher even had to pay out an extra $2 million when they split, because she was technically breaking their joint contract. "It never occurred to me that I would be charged with the contracts we didn't fulfil," she added.

She was dating record executive David Geffen at the time, however, and he managed to get her free. "When they broke up, she was deeply in debt and under contract to him," Geffen recalled in Vanity Fair, adding that it "was a terrible situation ... certainly specific to their relationship." Cher still credits him with rescuing her from debt and her legally binding ties to Bono. "I had no money and no way to live," she insisted to Vanity Fair. "If it wasn't for David, I don't know where I would have been. I would have been in the street."

Her marriage to Gregg Allman was rocky

Cher's next major relationship was with Gregg Allman, the unpredictable Southern rocker who formed the Allman Brothers. The pair had a whirlwind marriage sabotaged by his substance abuse issues, which pushed her to file for divorce after only nine days.

As he admitted in the autobiography "My Cross to Bear," Allman had done heroin on their very first date. But it wasn't until they were married that Cher realized how serious his problem was. "So I woke up one morning and told her, 'Look, I've got to tell you something. I'm addicted to narcotics,'" he wrote. Cher became determined to cure her husband of his addiction, but none of her ideas (like using Quaaludes so he could sleep off the withdrawal symptoms) worked out.

The birth of their son, Elijah Blue, changed things. "You know, I loved him, but I didn't really want Elijah around him alone," Cher later admitted to Vanity Fair. "It's hard finding a drug addict who is also going to be a father." Their joint album was also a critical and commercial failure, but it was the subsequent tour that finally split them up. "Gregory was a special man," she told The Guardian, admitting that he might have been the love of her life. "He was a southern gentleman who happened to do drugs. It was that simple. And he tried hard to get off them."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Sonny Bono died in a shock skiing accident

Sonny Bono's unexpected death shocked the world in 1998. Bono, who had since become a Republican politician, had been skiing in California with his new family when he hit a tree and suffered massive head trauma.

Cher was devastated over the loss. She gave the eulogy at his funeral and stated that it was "the most important thing I've ever done in my life," calling Bono "the most unforgettable character" she had ever encountered. "And no matter how long I live or who I meet in my life, that person will always be Sonny for me," the singer concluded.

"I forgive him, I think," she later told Vanity Fair, reflecting on the lifelong bond between them. "He hurt me in so many ways, but there was something. He was so much more than a husband—a terrible husband, but a great mentor, a great teacher." Cher also revealed that if her ex-husband had just agreed to split their business deals fairly, she probably would never have left him.

She was attacked before a Broadway performance

Cher's acting ambitions took off in the 1980s, but they were nearly cut short when a man tried to attack her at a stage door. As the New York Magazine noted, "Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" was her first on-stage gig ever and the drama was an intimidating project for Cher. Before one performance, she arrived at the theater and was greeted by a stranger who gave the term "stage fright" a new meaning.

"I thought he was going to shake my hand, and he grabbed my arm and put it behind my back," she told The Guardian. "He started pushing me down the alleyway, and he said: 'If you make a sound, I'll kill you.'" Luckily for Cher, there were a couple of witnesses nearby who had actually been waiting to see her. "Two fans, who later became friends, saw something was wrong, and they started screaming and ran towards me, and he ran away," she recalled.

The terrifying incident left her afraid of encountering fans out on the street. "People rush you, and you don't know if they're going to kill you or take your picture," the singer observed. 'Either way, I don't like it."

No one took her film ambitions seriously

Cher made her first critically praised movies in the 1980s, starring as Meryl Streep's lesbian friend in the conspiracy drama "Silkwood." But as she told Graham Norton, audiences didn't take her first big role seriously.

"It was terrible, actually," the superstar admitted, recalling how the film's director Mike Nichols had told her to go see the trailer when it first aired in a nearby cinema. "My sister, my friend, and I ran to see it," Cher continued. "They say "Meryl Streep" and everyone applauds, and then they say "Kurt Russell," and everyone applauds, and then they say "Cher" and everyone started laughing." She was hurt by the audience's heartbreaking reaction, but Nichols reassured her over the phone that night. "They may laugh in the beginning, but they won't be laughing in the end," he confidently promised.

In the end, he was right: Cher received an Academy Award nomination for her supporting role. She followed that up with films like "Mask" before actually winning the Oscar in 1988 for her star turn in the romantic comedy "Moonstruck" opposite Nicolas Cage. "I don't think this means that I am somebody, but I guess I'm on my way," she quipped in her acceptance speech.

She's lived with a chronic disease for years

For decades, Cher has been living with chronic illness and fatigue after contracting the Epstein-Barr virus. "When I was first diagnosed in the late 80s, I had doctors telling me I was crazy," she told USA Today, per Express, adding that she had to go to Germany for treatment. "I was sick constantly and almost died from pneumonia. You never lose it, and it really takes the life out of you."

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Cher revealed that she had been formally diagnosed with Epstein-Barr in 1986, but it was during the filming of "Mermaids" that she really felt the weight of the disease. "I was so sick I thought I was going to die. I went to doctor after doctor," she recalled. According to her Twitter, the star kept working as she initially thought it was just bronchitis. But she wasn't getting the antibiotics that she needed, so her condition worsened.

Cher has always found comfort in performing whenever she's physically able, however. "Even when you're feeling sick, hurting a lot, like you might die, once you get out there onstage and find everything is working–the lights, the music–you know you'll be fine," she told Parade. "You feel so big and so tall, like you are in some sort of alternate universe. It's magnificent!"

She struggled with her son Chaz coming out

Although Cher has become an icon for the LGBT community over the years, she struggled with her own child's journey at first and her reaction caused a painful rift.

When her son Chaz Bono originally came out as a lesbian at age eighteen, Cher kicked him out of the house. "I had a girlfriend, luckily, and I moved in with her," Chaz recalled in an interview with Joy Behar, adding that the estrangement from his mother didn't last that long. "She freaked out for about a week, and then she called me up and apologized." He also blamed his mother's reaction on "the fact that everybody else knew and she didn't," which reportedly hurt her feelings. "It's different when it's your kid," he added, explaining her short-sighted approach to his sexuality.

In 2009, Chaz came out to the world as a transgender man and announced that he had begun medically transitioning. Cher later admitted to CNN that she found it hard to adjust, but learned to accept her son over time. "You have one child, but you don't really lose them — they just are in a different shape," she observed. "Chaz is so happy, so unbelievably happy, and I don't know what the people's problems are."

She's been estranged from Elijah Blue

Cher's relationship with her other child, Elijah Blue Allman, has been strained over the years. "When you go to boarding school at seven years old, it's kind of hard to feel like you're not being shunned," Allman told Entertainment Tonight in 2014. "There's unresolved stuff, for sure."

During his troubled childhood, Allman began relying heavily on substance abuse. "It's actually shocking to think about myself at like 11 years old buying drugs in Harlem," he reflected. "It's pretty crazy. It seemed normal at the time." He ended up spending time in rehab to recover from his addictions and has praised his wife Angie for helping him out, but the pair haven't exactly received Cher's blessing.

Although the couple moved in with his famous mother for a while in 2013, they ended up leaving on bad terms and Allman didn't speak to Cher for months afterwards. As he revealed to the Daily Mail, Cher never acknowledged his engagement to Angie King and wasn't invited to their subsequent elopement. The musician remains positive about his relationship with his mother, however. "You know, man, we have our issues. We've worked through a lot of them," he told Entertainment Tonight. "You don't have any choice if you want to be a balanced person, but to ultimately heal."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).