Born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946, in El Centro, CA; daughter of John and Georgia (a model; maiden name, Holt) Sarkisian; stepdaughter of Gilbert LaPiere (a bank manager); married Sonny (Salvatore Philip) Bono (a record producer, songwriter, and entertainer; died 1998), October 27, 1964; divorced, May 1975; married Gregg Allman (a musician), June 1975; divorced; children: (with Bono) Chastity, (with Allman) Elijah Blue. Addresses: Record company--Chers Plattenfirma, WEA Records, Arndtstr. 16, 22805 Hamburg, Denmark, website: http://www.wea.de. Website--Cher Official Website: http://www.cher.com.
Performing artist Cher has been a mainstay of the Hollywood glitterati for more than three decades, and her personal star seems to be waxing still. Mademoiselle contributor Diana Maychick calls Cher "a breed unto herself" who "has lived enough lives to fill a novel." Professionally, the statuesque performer has had equal success as a singer, a comedienne, and an actress, with highly successful records and an Academy Award and Grammy Award to her credit. Personally, a series of tempestuous relationships with several rock stars, producers, and actors has helped keep her name in the news even when her career stagnated.
As a reporter for Time wrote, the arc of Cher's rise to stardom "proves that at least one American dream lives: she gives evidence that show biz can still reach out among the adolescent millions and--with a little luck and a lot of hype--transform a mildly talented young woman into a multimillion dollar property." Ironically, though known for her cool onstage demeanor and effectively understated acting, Cher admits to a chronic case of stage fright. "I've been running on fear," she told Mademoiselle. But, she added, she has learned that "you take your terror and you do it."
A younger generation might recognize Cher as simply a film actress, but it was as a popular singer that she first gained national notoriety. Her initial success in the music industry can be attributed to her former husband/partner, the late Sonny Bono; they married in 1964 when Cher was only 17. Bono had some experience as a songwriter and record producer, and he recognized Cher's star potential. However, a Time reporter wrote, "they both must have known that she needed him. Her ambition may have been fierce, but like her talent it was vague and undefined." First Bono talked Cher into concentrating on singing rather than acting, her art of choice. Then, after she had done some studio backup work for other artists, he began to write songs specifically for her.
Bono told Time that Cher "was too frightened to perform by herself," so he provided vocal harmony "just to be with her." After a short stretch as Caesar and Cleo they began singing as Sonny and Cher, and their third record release--featuring the 1965 soft-rock tune "I Got You, Babe"--sold more than four million copies and made them instant headliners. By the fall of that year they had five singles on the top 40 charts simultaneously and were playing at major rock concerts in the United States and Europe.
The Sonny and Cher sound drew on folk and rock roots, especially the work of Bob Dylan. A critic for the Rolling Stone Record Guide contends that the couple "always cultivated an exuberant vulgarity in order to disarm Sixties songwriting ... to push it into a more comfortably sentimental direction." This "exuberant vulgarity" extended to their wardrobes as well; both favored hip-hugging bell-bottom pants and a gaudy array of hippy-style shirts and vests. Then, observes Time, "fashion changed. Hard rock, acid rock, were suddenly in, and Sonny and Cher were out."
Their vocal criticism of drug use accelerated their plunge in popularity. Cher told Time that after she and Sonny made a public service film denouncing drugs, their fans "thought we were stupid." Deeply in debt after a movie project called "Chastity" bombed, the couple had to reassess its act and change drastically. Against Cher's wishes they opted for a more mainstream approach in sound and style, and they turned to nightclubs for performing venues. In this environment, Sonny and Cher developed the comic repartee and musical variety formula that they would take to television so successfully.
Between 1971 and 1974, more than 30 million viewers saw The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour weekly. Simultaneously, Cher began a solo singing career in the pop format; her best known hits were "Half Breed" and "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves," both of which reached number one on the charts. By virtue of her glamorous Bob Mackie gowns and ever-changing hairstyles--a look Rolling Stone correspondent Lynn Hirschberg called "ridiculously sexy for television"--Cher cultivated an image of materialistic excess that the themes of hurt and vulnerability in her music tempered. "Television always made Cher accessible," Hirschberg wrote. "She seemed like a lot of fun. ... She appealed to the junky impulses in everyone."
In 1975, Sonny and Cher divorced; both starred in their own variety shows, but only Cher's was a success. Still, the dissolution of Sonny and Cher marked the beginning of a difficult period for her. Gradually her show declined in popularity, and her marriage to and subsequent divorce from band leader Gregg Allman added chaos to her personal life. She became tabloid fodder as a result of extended liaisons with producer David Geffen and with Gene Simmons of rock group Kiss. By 1977, she told Rolling Stone her career "cooled down to an ice cube." Musically she experimented with a fully orchestrated studio sound on the 1977 album I'd Rather Believe In You and then turned to disco on 1978's Take Me Home. Neither record achieved the popularity of her previous offerings. She renewed her attempts at musical innovation in 1980 when she formed the hard rock band Black Rose. The effort was a critical disaster; Jim Farber reported in Rolling Stone that "newspaper reviews were pointedly negative," singling out Cher for their barbs even though she deliberately understated her role in the band. "The critics panned us," Cher told Rolling Stone. "And they didn't attack the record. They attacked me. It was like, 'How dare Cher sing rock & roll?'"
Stung by this defeat, Cher returned to the more conventional Las Vegas stage show and tried to inch her way onto a stage or into a film as a serious actress. In the latter capacity--as an actress--she met with unanticipated but welcome critical favor. In movies such as Silkwoodin 1983, Mask in 1985, and Moonstruck in 1987, "Cher not only triumphs as an actress, but finally vanquishes her glitzy Vegas image," according to Newsweek contributor Cathleen McGuigan. Indeed, Cher won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Moonstruck. Cher also appeared in Tea with Mussolini in 1999.
Even as she won respect for her acting, this ambitious performer never relinquished her musical career. She continued recording and singing regularly in New York, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City, while constantly entertaining the idea of starring in a movie musical. She released new albums throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, including It's a Man's World in 1996, the multiplatinum Believe in 1998 for which the title track won a Grammy Award in 1999, and Not.Com.mercial, an album sold strictly on the Internet, in 2000. She also dabbled in directing in 1996 and following the death of Bono in a skiing accident in 1998, published a memoir. In 2003, Cher released her newest album, Farewell Tour, in limited edition. In 2005 she commenced her "Never Can Say Goodbye" tour, by announcing that she would donate proceeds from her initial show, in Sacramento, California, to victims of the December 26, 2004, tsunami in Asia.
Time suggested that by whatever medium she might choose, Cher will continue "to woo the world through performance." Cher herself told Time: "From the time I could talk I began to sing. Singing just came from the inside--something I'd do without thinking whenever I felt good or was really blue.... It released my tensions."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Singer, with husband, Sonny Bono, in duo Sonny and Cher, 1964-75, 1977; recorded and performed as a soloist, 1965--; star of musical variety television shows The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, 1971-74, Cher, 1975-76, and The Sonny and Cher Show, 1977; member of rock group Black Rose, 1979-80; actress in feature films, including Good Times, 1966, Chastity, 1969, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, 1982 (also performed role on Broadway), Silkwood, 1983, Mask, 1985, The Witches of Eastwick, 1987, Moonstruck, 1988, Mermaids, 1990, and Tea with Mussolini, 1999; released multiplatinum album, Believe, 1998; released Not.Com.mercial, 2000.
Academy Award, Best Actress for Moonstruck, 1988; Golden Globe, Best Actress for Moonstruck, 1988; Vanguard Award and star on the Walk of Fame, both for "Sonny and Cher," 1998; Grammy Award, Best Dance Recording for "Believe," 1999.
- Selected discography
- All I Really Want to Do , Imperial, 1965.
- Sonny Side of Cher , Imperial, 1966.
- Cher , Imperial, 1967.
- With Love, Cher , Imperial, 1968.
- Backstage , Imperial, 1968.
- Golden Greats , 1968.
- 3614 Jackson Highway , Atco, c. 1969.
- Gypsies, Tramps, and Theives (includes "Gypsies, Tramps, and Theives"), MCA, 1971.
- Cher , Kapp, 1972.
- Foxy Lady , MCA, 1972.
- Bittersweet White Light , MCA, 1973.
- Dark Lady , MCA, 1974.
- Half Breed , MCA, 1974.
- Stars , Warner Bros., 1975.
- I'd Rather Believe In You , Warner Bros., 1977.
- Cherished , Warner Bros., 1977.
- Two the Hard Way (Allman and Woman), Warner, 1977.
- This Is Cher , Sunset, 1978.
- Take Me Home , Casablanca, 1978.
- Prisoner , Casablanca, 1979.
- I Paralyze , Columbia, 1982.
- Cher , Geffen, 1988.
- Heart of Stone , Geffen, 1989.
- Outrageous , PolyGram, 1989.
- Love Hurts , Geffen, 1991.
- You Better Sit Down Kids , Great Hits, 1996.
- It's a Man's World , WEA, 1996.
- Believe (includes "Believe"), Warner, 1998.
- Take Me Home (Australia), Polygram, 1999.
- Not.Com.mercial , Isis, 2000.
- Farewell Tour , Image, 2003.
- With Sonny and Cher
- Look At Us (includes "I Got You, Babe"), Atco, 1965.
- Wonderous World , Atco, 1966.
- In Case You're In Love , Atlantic, 1967.
- Good Times , Atlantic, 1967.
- The Best of Sonny & Cher , Atlantic, c. 1968.
- Sonny & Cher Live , Kapp, c. 1969; reissued, MCA, 1972.
- All I Ever Need Is You , Kapp, 1971; reissued, MCA, 1974.
- Live In Las Vegas , MCA, 1974.
- Greatest Hits , MCA, 1975.
- The Beat Goes On , Atco, 1975.
- With Black Rose
- Black Rose , Casablanca, 1980.
April 30, 2005: Cher ended her three-year farewell tour before a sellout crowd at the Hollywood Bowl. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-05-02-cher_x.htm, May 3, 2005.
June 16, 2006: Cher testified before a House subcommittee about the need for better helmets for U.S. armed forces in Iraq. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, June 17, 2006.
- The Rolling Stone Record Guide, Random House, 1979.
- Billboard, March 4, 2000.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 10, 2000.
- Mademoiselle, June 1985.
- Newsweek, March 18, 1985.
- People, April, 10, 1978; October 22, 1979.
- Rolling Stone, October 16, 1980; March 29, 1984.
- Time, March 17, 1975.
- "Cher," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 2, 2002).
- "Cher," Internet Movie Database, http://us.imdb.com/Name?Cher (January 2, 2002).
- Cher Official Website, http://www.cher.com (January 2, 2002).
- "Cher donates proceeds from first 2005 show to tsunami aid",Sun-Sentinel(Fort Lauderdale, FL), January 14, 2005, http://www.southflorida.com/news/sfl-klwnig1jan14,0,4611498.story?coll=sfe-news-wire (January 17, 2005).
- Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921992299(August 28, 2003).