In a Parade exclusive, we talk ups and downs, starts and stops, music, movies, motherhood, ABBA, Broadway, books and boyfriends with pop culture’s prima diva.
BBack in 2002, Cher started what she called her “Farewell Tour.” Sixteen years later, not only has she yet to take her final bow, she’s busier than ever.
At 72, she finds herself in a tsunami of activity that began over the summer with her appearance—as the hip grandmother—in the hit movie Mamma Mia!
Here We Go Again, based on ABBA’s music.That inspired her album Dancing
Queen, which came out in September, featuring covers of ABBA classics. Add a tour; a contract to write her memoir; a new musical based on her life, The Cher
Show, opening Dec. 3 on Broadway; and a starry ceremony in Washington where she’ll receive a Kennedy Center Honor (Dec. 26 on CBS).
It all adds up to a “Cher-a-palooza,” crowning a career that has stopped and started more times than traffic on a rushhour L.A. freeway. A STAR IS BORN
The girl born Cherilyn Sarkisian in El Centro, Calif., had an unstable upbringing. Cher barely knew her father, John Sarkisian, whom her mother, Georgia Holt, divorced when Cher was 10 months old. By the time Cher was 9, her mom had divorced her third husband, with whom she’d had another child. She raised Cher and her half-sister, Georganne, with very little money. By age 16, Cher left school to pursue the showbiz career of which she had always dreamed.
She made those dreams come true, and then some, by scoring a No. 1 single on a Billboard chart in each decade from the 1960s through the 2010s. She won an Oscar (for her 1987 role in Moonstruck), an Emmy (for a 2003 TV special) and a Grammy (for Best Dance Recording in 2000 for “Believe”).
You have some uncanny similarities with ABBA. Critics didn’t take either of you seriously in the ’70s. Now they do. What changed?
If you can last long enough, people take you seriously. It’s also important to change. I’m a much better singer now than I was when I was younger. Also, when I was younger, critics didn’t like some of the ways I presented myself. I was the only woman at the time who had a big show.They didn’t like it because they thought if I was a “real singer” I wouldn’t be doing all those costume changes. But I did my show to suit myself. All the things that people gave me s--t for are the things people are now doing, changing costumes and wearing very little.
In Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, you played the mother of Meryl Streep. Speak-
ing of mothers, what’s the greatest gift your mother gave you, besides life?
My mom gave me encouragement. Internally, I knew from when I was 5 that I was going to be Cher, even though I didn’t know how that would manifest itself, because, at 5, what do you know? First, I wanted to be the Disney character Dumbo. But my mom said, “Babe, you can’t be Dumbo. He’s an elephant.” Then I wanted to be Cinderella. Also, when I was young I had a really hard time. We were poor. I had dyslexia before anybody knew what that was. I’d bring home these awful grades and my mom would say, “That doesn’t make any difference.” I said, “Mom, I can’t even see numbers.”And she said,“When you grow up, you’ll have somebody do math for you.”
Mom Georgia, now 92, encouraged young Cher— and gave her great genes.
You met Sonny when you were just 16. And, of course, he was much older.
I went from my mother straight to Sonny.They both molded me. It was more than a marriage, She had an emotional reunion with former husband and singing partner Sonny Bono on David Letterman’s TV show in 1987. (Bono died in 1998.) more than a partnership. We have a connection, still. If he walked through that door right now, we would be Sonny and Cher in two seconds.
Your life with Sonny, and everything else, will be restaged in Broadway’s The Cher Show.
What will that be like for you?
You want to see the good parts, but you certainly don’t want to see the bad parts. Stuff that happened with Sonny at the end of our marriage, I don’t like to see. When I was watching it, I thought, Why was I so honest?
But if you’re going through the story and you skip over things, what’s the good?
You will also be revisiting your past in your memoir. Why are you doing the book now?
I just made the deal, but I have no time frame. It’s going to take me a while because I have a lot to tell. It’s going to be more difficult than doing the play. I will grit my teeth through the whole thing because I will have to be honest.
Speaking of memoirs, a few years ago Gregg Allman wrote his. You were married to him for nearly four years and you also had a child with him [Elijah Blue]. Did you read his book, My Cross to Bear? I didn’t read it because his kids said don’t. Elijah thought it didn’t come off the way he knew our relationship was.
Gregg, who died of liver cancer last year, wrote that you were very patient with him at a time when he had serious drug problems.
I was patient because I loved him. He was a Southern gentleman, really softspoken. He never swore and, of course, I swear like a sailor. I stayed with him until I knew I couldn’t because I didn’t want the kids to be around it. He was the sweetest man in the world, who happened to do drugs.
A few years ago, Elijah said that you two had become estranged. Has that changed?
That happened, but I’m not so
In Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, Cher (with Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper) helped celebrate the songs of ABBA.
sure that parents and their kids don’t all go through that.
Your child with Sonny, Chaz, talked openly about being transgender 11 years ago. At that time, fewer people spoke
about trans issues. Now it’s part of the mainstream conversation. How do you feel
about that change? Young people don’t care about it. And their parents are letting them be.Thank God for this change, because God knows what would happen otherwise. The young people give me a lot of hope.
In addition to your Oscar for
Moonstruck, what do you think of as your other movie career
highlights? I really liked most of the films I’ve been in.There are flops that I loved, like Mermaids. But Moonstruck is the best because it’s a really amazing cast and everyone got along so well. What do you remember about winning the Best Actress Oscar? I remember thinking, I’ve
not won this, because when Paul Newman opened the envelope, he took a breath. And you don’t need a breath to say “Cher.” And then he said, “Cher.” I went deaf and went up and lost an earring and my cape flew off, and when I got up there I made a ridiculous speech. I didn’t thank any of the people I was supposed to thank. But now it’s fantastic because every night [in my concert] they show a clip of it. So they can’t take that away from me!
How are your relationships
with your many exes? I’m on good terms with most of my ex-boyfriends. Val [Kilmer] just spent time at my house and it was fun just goofing with him. I talk to Robert [Camilletti] all the time. Gene Simmons is one of those guys where, if I met him at a party, I would be happy to see him. He did change from the person he was, though. He took a hard right. Whenever I see Tom [Cruise], I’m happy to see him. And I was talking to Gregory [Allman] until the end and I’m close with his kids. They all spent Christmas with me.
Any interest in a romantic
relationship now? I do, but not right this minute.Things have changed and privacy is worth diamonds. Everyone’s got a camera now, so relationships have to really be on the downlow; otherwise it’s ruined in a minute. I had the best relationship ever with [Robert], and the minute I won the Academy Award, we were just hounded to death and it ruined the relation-
She calls Southern rocker Gregg Allman, husband number two, “the sweetest man in the world, who happened to do drugs.”
ship. You can only take so much infringement, and now that happens right away.
It’s been 20 years since “Believe.” Is that your favorite recording?
It was at the time. But I had records I really loved that went nowhere. I liked “Walking in Memphis.” In general, I’m not a huge Cher fan. I’d rather do the singing than listen to it. You’ve had as many downs as ups in your career. Did you ever think at a low point, it’s over? Oh, there were so many! When I got dropped from my record companies—twice! If you can’t get a record deal, it can’t be more over than that. It’s the idea that you worked your whole life, and then it’s, “We don’t want to waste our time on you.” That’s a big deal for a singer.The fabulous ups I would have chosen, but I wouldn’t have chosen the horrible downs.
Throughout it all, you’ve always been in great physical shape. I never had to worry about a pound until I was 50. I could eat whatever I wanted. But after that, you have to work out.
You have longevity in your genes. My grandmother was 96 when she died. Two days before, we were talking and she stuck her foot out
Oscar night, 1988: So many things went wrong on the way to pick up her trophy, she says.
of the sheets and said, “I need a pedicure!”
Do you think you’ll ever truly retire? Oh, yeah! A friend of mine said,“Why are you doing all this?” I said, “Because someday I won’t be able to.” Katharine Hepburn was already old when I met her, but I remember her being really vital.Then, when I saw her years after that, she wasn’t. She had been the toughest woman. And she finally got too old. That’s going to come and I have more I want to do. I’m not finished. Is there anything about you people don’t know? I think that my personality comes through a lot in my work, my interviews and my choices. But there’s no way people can know everything. I’m a complicated person. So unless you know me, you can’t know me.
What do you watch on TV to relax? I watched Feud [with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in the early 1960s]. It was genius acting. In those days, women had to go through a lot. At a certain age, it was “Stick a fork in you, it’s over.”
That’s not true of women’s careers anymore. Hello! I’m exhibit A for that!
Visit Parade.com/cher to see inside Cher’s original Beverly Hills mansion.
“Sonny and I started with extreme fashion,” says Cher. “We were all wearing gigantic boots and glam.”