NO TURN­ING BACK

We’re still to­tally into Cher.

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents -

HAVE YOU EVER STOPPED TO THINK ABOUT CHER? You are aware of her, of course, the way you are aware of the sun, with its blind­ing light, its ris­ing and set­ting. But have you ever con­sid­ered the to­tal­ity of Cher — not just the ce­les­tial body her­self, and not just the epic arc she has trav­elled, but the sheer range of stel­lar ex­plo­sions she has un­der­gone?

Let’s re­view. She be­came fa­mous as half of Sonny and Cher in 1965, at the age of 19. They sold mil­lions of records, mor­phed into a lounge act, then drew more than 30 mil­lion view­ers a week on their hit show, The Sonny & Cher Com­edy Hour. Cher launched a solo ca­reer on the side, re­leas­ing three num­ber-one sin­gles: “Gyp­sys, Tramps & Thieves”, “Half Breed” and “Dark Lady”. Af­ter di­vorc­ing Sonny in 1975, she starred in her own damn TV show, thank you very much, which was called — what else? — Cher.

Many more Chers fol­lowed. There was Disco Cher, Punk Cher and Rock’n’roll Cher. In the ’80s there was Best Ac­tress Cher, who starred with Meryl Streep in Silk­wood, Jack Ni­chol­son in The Witches Of East­wick and Ni­co­las Cage in Moon­struck. She ended the decade with one of her big­gest hits, “If I Could Turn Back Time”, giv­ing the world Bat­tle­ship-thong Cher. She’s long been a fash­ion icon. Cher was the first megas­tar to wear a “naked dress”, decades be­fore J.LO, Ri­hanna and Kim Kar­dashian did.

In fact, we’re cur­rently in the early stages of a new ver­sion of Cher. Did you no­tice how her mid-2018 Mamma Mia! Here

We Go Again cameo segued into a sur­prise ABBA tribute al­bum? Those amuse-bouches have re­cently cul­mi­nated in her new mu­si­cal, The Cher Show.

It’s only when I set foot in her pres­i­den­tial suite at the Sun­set Mar­quis one balmy night and be­gin climb­ing a spi­ral stair­case, that it hits me: Wait, Cher is also an ac­tual hu­man?

But there she is, stand­ing at the top, wear­ing a black blouse, black pants and black boots, with an un­earthly glow em­a­nat­ing from her porce­lain face and plat­inum bob. She’s been in­ter­viewed all day, by many dif­fer­ent peo­ple. I gather that most, if not all, were men, be­cause as I en­ter her line of sight and ex­tend my hand to shake hers, Cher beams a cheeky smile and ex­claims, “A woman!”

Talk­ing to Cher, she’s ex­actly who you ex­pect her to be, and also the op­po­site. She’s the same woman who called David Let­ter­man an ass­hole on the air and, more re­cently, of­fered this cri­tique of po­lit­i­cal lob­by­ist Paul Manafort on Twit­ter: “FYI… Manafort… [gang­ster] John Gotti called… he wants his look back!!” When I ask if she’s ever met Don­ald Trump, she says she doesn’t think so, then adds: “I do re­mem­ber see­ing him once in a place I used to go to and think­ing, ‘God, what an id­iot.’ And all he was do­ing was walk­ing around.”

About the ge­n­e­sis of the mu­si­cal, she ex­plains that a pro­ducer first ap­proached her with the idea more than a decade ago, “but then that script was ter­ri­ble”. It has taken years to de­velop the show, and she is still work­ing with its writ­ers to get the script right. “I’m fussy ‘cause it’s my story,” she says. “I want it to be hon­est and right and funny and sad, like my life.”

While you might guess a per­son­al­ity as strong as Cher would suck the oxy­gen out of any room, her phys­i­cal pres­ence — we are now sit­ting alone on a leather couch next to a grand pi­ano — is quiet, still, calm, even del­i­cate. The word vul­ner­a­ble also comes to mind, yet doesn’t feel quite right, since it’s so of­ten taken to mean “weak”. It’s rather that Cher is open and lis­ten­ing, and thus ex­posed. If in her work she is on out­put, in per­son she is on in­put. Pow­er­ful but not over­pow­er­ing.

Ni­co­las Cage gets at this qual­ity when I ask him to de­scribe her act­ing tal­ent. “Cher is a per­son with a huge heart, and that re­ally comes through not only in her mu­sic but as a screen per­former. She has an ex­tra­or­di­nary blend of strength and vul­ner­a­bil­ity on-cam­era,” he says. Mi­caela Di­a­mond, the 19-yearold ac­tor who plays a young Cher in the new mu­si­cal, used this qual­ity in her in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the star. “I just tried to find her su­per­pow­ers. My favourite is her com­bi­na­tion of power and vul­ner­a­bil­ity. To be so vul­ner­a­ble and yet have the most power in the room, that’s a hard place to stand in. She was born with that.”

There is a unique ir­re­sistibil­ity to Cher; she is both oth­er­worldly and re­lat­able. “My ear­li­est im­pres­sions of her were when I was a fresh­man in high school, and ‘I Got You Babe’ was num­ber one,” re­mem­bers Meryl Streep. “I knew she was also high-school age, but she had such a deep, vel­vet, ma­ture voice. I sounded like Tweety bird at that age. And her hair was like a dark cur­tain that swung and shone, and she had one crooked tooth that made her even more per­fect.”

In an al­ter­nate uni­verse, the world doesn’t meet Cher at all. Her mother, Ge­or­gia Holt, was a 19-year-old as­pir­ing ac­tress. Her fa­ther, John Sark­isian, was a young truck driver. The two met at a dance in LA and mar­ried soon af­ter. By the time Holt re­alised she was preg­nant, she’d left Sark­isian. Holt’s mother gave her daugh­ter a choice: go back to your hus­band, or abort the preg­nancy. Holt chose the lat­ter but then couldn’t go through with it.

Cher­i­lyn Sark­isian was born in El Cen­tro, a bor­der town in the Im­pe­rial Val­ley. “My fa­ther’s fa­ther had a re­frig­er­ated-truck busi­ness, and they were just driv­ing through,” says Cher. Sark­isian was a ne’er-do-well with a gam­bling and heroin habit, and Holt di­vorced him a year af­ter Cher’s birth. Though Cher had a se­ries of step­fa­thers — Holt was mar­ried eight times, to six dif­fer­ent men — she mostly watched her mother sur­vive alone. Cher spent some of her child­hood in an or­phan­age in Penn­syl­va­nia, most of it in Los An­ge­les, and very lit­tle of it with Sark­isian.

Cher grew up poor in close prox­im­ity to Hol­ly­wood, and her mother so­cialised with an il­lus­tri­ous group, in­clud­ing co­me­dian Lenny Bruce and ac­tor Robert Mitchum. Cher vowed to be­come

“I’m fussy ‘cause it’s my story.i want it to be hon­est, funny and sad, like my life”

a star when she saw her first colour movie, at Grau­man’s Chi­nese The­atre. It was Dumbo. “I was in the movie, right along with those ele­phants and crows,” she later wrote in a mem­oir. “That was my first ca­reer am­bi­tion: to be a star in an­i­mated films.”

She was a pre­co­cious teenager. She got her driver’s li­cence as soon as she turned 16 so she could cruise Sun­set Boule­vard in her step­fa­ther Gil­bert’s Sky­lark. One night, while pass­ing pop­u­lar hang­out Sch­wab’s phar­macy, she was crashed into by a white Lin­coln con­vert­ible. “Are you nuts?” she re­mem­bers say­ing to the guy. “Then I looked at his face, and I thought, my god, it’s War­ren Beatty.” Spoiler alert: Cher and Beatty started dat­ing. “But you can’t call it a re­la­tion­ship,” Cher tells me. “It was very War­ren.” Cher didn’t get home un­til well af­ter cur­few that night. As pun­ish­ment, she was barred from see­ing Beatty the fol­low­ing night. Beatty called Holt and ne­go­ti­ated Cher’s re­lease.

This was right around the time that Cher met Sonny Bono. Their first en­counter was at Aldo’s Cof­fee Shop in Hol­ly­wood. “Ev­ery­one just dis­ap­peared,” re­mem­bers Cher. “He was the most un­usual per­son I’d ever seen. He had longish hair, and he had the most beau­ti­ful suit on, and beau­ti­ful long fingers, and Bea­tle boots, but they were Cuban heels.” By then, Cher had dropped out of high school — “I was dyslexic, so school for me was one big night­mare” — and moved into an apart­ment with a few other women. Sonny moved in next door. When Cher lost her apart­ment, she moved in with Sonny.

Sonny was work­ing for Phil Spec­tor, and soon Cher was singing backup in Spec­tor’s ar­range­ments, in­clud­ing the Righ­teous Broth­ers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”. Sonny was gun­ning to pro­duce Cher as a solo act, but Cher didn’t want to be on­stage alone. So they be­gan record­ing and per­form­ing to­gether, first as Cae­sar and Cleo, then as Sonny and Cher.

Sonny once de­scribed them as “the first uni­sex cou­ple”, which pretty well cap­tures their sound and look. Cher says none of it was cal­cu­lated. “When we first started out, I wore a dress and he wore a suit, and then they lost our lug­gage at Cow Palace, and we had to go in our day clothes. That was who we were. Sonny wore that bob­cat [vest], and I wore huge bell-bot­toms,” says Cher. “We didn’t think, ‘Oh, we’re break­ing some taboo’ or ‘We’re avant-garde’ or any of that. We just loved the way we looked.”

They didn’t res­onate at first. “Kids liked it, but adults just hated us,” says Cher. “I mean, re­ally hated us. Fist­fights hate.” When “I Got You Babe” came out, in 1965, they went to Lon­don. “It sounds so dumb, but ev­ery­thing hap­pened so fast,” says Cher. “I didn’t even know where I was. One day we were poor. Two days, three days later, we were fa­mous.” Meryl Streep re­calls, “It was the first time I had ever seen any­body wear sheep­skin in­side out, with the scratchy stuff on your skin. I thought that might be un­pleas­ant. And how do you wash it?”

There was a run of hits, in­clud­ing “The Beat Goes On”. But as the move­ments of the late ’60s picked up — free love, psychedelics — Sonny and Cher, a straight-edge cou­ple, lost their aura of cool. By 1968, they were fac­ing a back­lash. “We broke big bar­ri­ers, but we didn’t do drugs,” says Cher. “And we didn’t change our sound. That was re­ally wrong.” They had their child, Chastity, in 1969. Then they went on the road, per­form­ing in night­clubs — or, as Cher has re­ferred to them, “night­mar­ish clubs”. To en­ter­tain the band dur­ing slow nights, they started talk­ing. With­out mean­ing to, they had turned their ban­ter into a com­edy act.

The Sonny & Cher Com­edy Hour pre­miered on CBS in 1971 and be­came an in­stant hit. Cher was an ob­vi­ous star. “You couldn’t watch her show and not recog­nise her nat­u­ral tal­ent as an ac­tress,” says Streep. “She made ev­ery­body else on TV look like they were try­ing too hard, push­ing. She was so im­me­di­ate, free, and she was canny about land­ing the jokes. Skilled, but it was in­vis­i­ble.”

The mar­i­tal barbs may have been the big­gest draw. They were usu­ally de­liv­ered, dead­pan, by Cher, with Sonny pro­vid­ing the set-up. Sonny: “What, you think you’re liv­ing with a dummy?” Cher: “I never said this was liv­ing.” If that sounds tame by to­day’s stan­dards, con­sider this: when Rolling Stone pro­filed Sonny and Cher in 1973, the writer in­cluded this: “Many of my friends favour the be­lief that af­ter work, Sonny beats the shit out of her with a tyre iron. They had asked me to reaf­firm this.”

There was an­other lure. Cher had brought on Bob Mackie to de­sign her cos­tumes, as many as 13 looks a week. “To be cute and pretty back then, you had to have a turned-up nose and lots of blonde hair,” says Mackie. “But Cher is an amaz­ing-look­ing girl. She can look like any­thing. She loved get­ting dressed up, and noth­ing in­tim­i­dated her. By the end, peo­ple were turn­ing on the show just to see what she was go­ing to wear.” Colours were bold, se­quins were plen­ti­ful, cov­er­age was min­i­mal. “Al­most noth­ing he ever made me did I hate,” says Cher. “The minute I started get­ting beads, I didn’t care what hap­pened.”

As the show took off, the mar­riage tanked. Sonny had more than an eye for other women. Cher be­gan to chafe against the con­straints Sonny put on her. They sep­a­rated in 1974. Some time that year, Cher’s new boyfriend, David Ge­fen, urged her to seek in­for­ma­tion about her busi­ness ar­range­ments with Sonny. When she did, Cher learned that

she was not an owner of Cher En­ter­prises, the com­pany Sonny had founded in her name. Sonny owned 95 per cent of Cher En­ter­prises. Their lawyer owned the other five.

Cher sug­gested to Sonny that they be­come busi­ness part­ners. Sonny wouldn’t do it. In­stead, he warned her that if she left, “Amer­ica will hate you and you won’t have a job.” Cher filed for divorce, claim­ing that Sonny had tricked her into “in­vol­un­tary servi­tude” and that their busi­ness deal­ings amounted to a vi­o­la­tion of the Thir­teenth Amend­ment. When the divorce be­came fi­nal in 1975, Cher walked away with noth­ing. Worse, be­cause Cher En­ter­prises had out­stand­ing con­tracts Cher broke by leav­ing, she owed Sonny mil­lions. That same year, Cher was on the cover of

Time, alone, in the orig­i­nal beaded nude dress Mackie de­signed for her. In some parts of the South, peo­ple ripped off the cover.

But it didn’t de­rail her. She’s had decades of hits and paradigmshift­ing fash­ion mo­ments, plus won an Os­car. If you some­how have not seen the movie Moon­struck, go to Youtube right now and pull up the clip of Cher’s char­ac­ter Loretta Cas­torini watch­ing

La Bo­hème. Watch the scene know­ing this: “There was no-one on­stage. The di­rec­tor was whis­per­ing what was go­ing on, what was hap­pen­ing: ‘And now she’s dy­ing, and now the snow,’ and all that. And I started cry­ing,” says Cher. In Streep’s words,

“Moon­struck was when she showed how com­pletely ef­fort­less her fully-rounded tal­ent was — funny, heart­break­ing, inim­itable — no-one else could’ve done it that way. She owned that part. She jumped out of the screen. It was like we’d been wait­ing for her, and round the cor­ner she came: ‘Yeah, and I can do this, too!’” When Cher ac­cepted her Os­car, on her way to the stage, she tripped, lost an ear­ring, and said, “Shit!” At the podium, she ad­dressed the au­di­ence, in­clud­ing her chil­dren, Chastity and Eli­jah Blue, her son with Gregg All­man; Cage and Streep; and Rob Camil­letti, the bagel baker she still de­scribes as the love of her life.

The av­er­age per­son might need a rest af­ter all this. In any event, the av­er­age per­son def­i­nitely does not then re­lease a mu­sic video in which she strad­dles a can­non aboard the USS Mis­souri in front of thou­sands of sailors. But the re­ally un-av­er­age thing is that Cher is still at it. Just this morn­ing, she went back to Tele­vi­sion City, where she and Sonny once filmed the Com­edy Hour, to be a guest on

The Ellen Show and to pro­mote her new ABBA al­bum, her new Broad­way mu­si­cal, and her

Here We Go Again tour. How on earth do you fit all this into one Broad­way mu­si­cal? How on earth did Cher fit it into one life­time? We haven’t even got­ten to the part where Chastity be­came Chaz five years be­fore Bruce be­came Cait­lyn. If you must know, Cher was scared at first, mostly about the pub­lic’s re­ac­tion and es­pe­cially for Chaz. But this, she weath­ered: “All of a sud­den, this per­son comes in, and it’s fine. That’s the child that you love, just in dif­fer­ent wrap­ping paper.”

And we’ve barely touched on the time she mag­i­cally knew the ro­botic Auto-tune ef­fect would be the next big thing a decade be­fore ev­ery­one else, knew it with such con­vic­tion that she told an ex­ec­u­tive he could change the ef­fect “over my dead fuck­ing body”, and thus un­leashed, at the age of 52, what re­mains her great­est-sell­ing sin­gle to date, pos­ing the ques­tion: “Do you be­lieve in life af­ter love?”

Be­fore I leave, I ask Cher why she thinks fol­low­ing fun and act­ing on in­stinct has, in her case, pro­duced so many piv­otal mo­ments. “It doesn’t al­ways,” she says. “Look, I’ve had huge fail­ures in my life. Huge dips and ‘Oh, you’re over. You’re over.’ This one guy once said, ‘You’re over,’ ev­ery year for I don’t know how many years. And I just said to him, ‘You know what? I will be here when you’re not do­ing what you do any­more.’ I had no idea if I was right or wrong. I was just tired of hear­ing him say it.”

“MY MUM SAID TO ‘YOU KNOW, ME, SWEET­HEART, YOU SHOULD SET­TLE DOWN AND MARRY A RICH MAN.’ I SAID, ‘MUM, I AM A RICH MAN.’”

“ALL OF US IN­VENT OUR­SELVES.

SOME OF US JUST HAVE MORE IMAG­I­NA­TION

THAN OTH­ERS.” IF I HIT “I FEEL LIKE A BUMPER CAR. A WALL, I’M BACK­ING UP AND GO­ING IN AN­OTHER DI­REC­TION. AND I’VE HIT PLENTY OF FUCK­ING I’M WALLS IN MY CA­REER. BUT NOT STOP­PING.”

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