TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (0)
Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY
An Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award-winning American pop culture institution, Cher's one-of-a-kind persona made her an inspiration for the working-class woman and a gay icon frequently imitated on the drag runway. From her beginnings in pop music and ultimate title of one of its top-selling female artists of all time, exotic-looking Cher was known for outrageous costumes and her aching, powerful contralto. But her eventual acting success in films like "Silkwood" (1983), "Mask" (1985), "Moonstruck" (1987) and "Mermaids" (1990) revealed a strong connection to the emotional lives of unstable, overwhelmed, reluctant adults. Her four decade-long career was more of a rollercoaster than most in that league, but the comeback queen always emerged on top with her peculiar ability to parlay the conflicted inner life of a shy loner into a headdress-wearing diva strutting and singing for crowds of thousands.Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946, in Southern California's agricultural Imperial Valley. Her father was a truck-driving Armenian immigrant with a gambling habit who split the scene shortly after Cher's birth. Her mother, Georgia, an aspiring actress from Arkansas with a...
An Emmy, Grammy, Golden Globe, and Academy Award-winning American pop culture institution, Cher's one-of-a-kind persona made her an inspiration for the working-class woman and a gay icon frequently imitated on the drag runway. From her beginnings in pop music and ultimate title of one of its top-selling female artists of all time, exotic-looking Cher was known for outrageous costumes and her aching, powerful contralto. But her eventual acting success in films like "Silkwood" (1983), "Mask" (1985), "Moonstruck" (1987) and "Mermaids" (1990) revealed a strong connection to the emotional lives of unstable, overwhelmed, reluctant adults. Her four decade-long career was more of a rollercoaster than most in that league, but the comeback queen always emerged on top with her peculiar ability to parlay the conflicted inner life of a shy loner into a headdress-wearing diva strutting and singing for crowds of thousands.
Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946, in Southern California's agricultural Imperial Valley. Her father was a truck-driving Armenian immigrant with a gambling habit who split the scene shortly after Cher's birth. Her mother, Georgia, an aspiring actress from Arkansas with a dark-featured, Cherokee heritage, was left to raise her infant daughter. Georgia married more than half a dozen times and Cher's poor, peripatetic upbringing resulted in an introverted girl with an active imagination. But a viewing of Disney's "Dumbo" (1941) at Hollywood's famed Grauman's Chinese Theater tempted young Cher to break out of her shell, and she improbably dreamed of becoming a singing and dancing animal. By the time she was a teenager living in California's Central Valley, singing and dancing seemed like the only way out of a small town where undiagnosed dyslexia made school days unbearable.
At the age of 16, Cher quit school and headed to Hollywood, where she worked odd jobs and spent nights immersed in the music scene of the Sunset Strip. Through a mutual friend she met Salvatore "Sonny" Bono, an assistant to "wall of sound" record producer Phil Spector, who offered the runaway a spare bed in his apartment, allaying her fears by assuring her that he "didn't find her attractive in the slightest." The 16-year-old Cher allayed the 27-year-old's fears by assuring him she was 18. Despite his initial comments to her, Bono saw a spark in the intensely frightened oddball teen, and helped land her work as a session singer with Spector hitmakers like The Ronettes and The Righteous Brothers. By the time Cher turned 18 in 1964, she and Bono's friendship had turned into love. The couple were married, and shortly after, Spector gave the new bride her first shot at music stardom with the Bono-penned novelty single, "Ringo, I Love You" (1964), which was released (and flopped) under the name Bonnie Jo Mason.
Cher and Bono had sung together on Spector recordings for some time and finally decided to pair up professionally, first selling themselves as Caesar & Cleo (a play on the pair's Caesar and Cleopatra-like haircuts), before settling on Sonny and Cher. Their first single - 1965's "I Got You Babe" - rocketed to number one in the Billboard charts. The folk-pop duo stood out in the musical landscape for more than just their vocal dynamic - they were received as bohemian folkies (i.e., "weirdos" by the establishment) and singer-songwriters, just as pop music was beginning to shift away from suits and ties and oversprayed bubble hair. With their fringes and fur, Sonny and Cher upheld their youthful new image over the next few years with a string of hits including "What Now My Love" and "The Beat G s On." Cher even scored solo with a version of Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do."
By 1968, the tides had shifted again, and Sonny and Cher found themselves obsolete, thanks to the rise of hard rock, psychedelia, and the drug culture. Despite the bell-bottoms and shaggy hair that suggested counterculture, the couple were openly drug-free, monogamous and suddenly out-of-date. A has-been at 23 years of age, Cher gave birth to daughter Chastity and she and Bono went back to their pre-fame club circuit, performing for small crowds and developing a music and comedy stage act that would eventually attract large enough crowds for Las Vegas. Their new act included their own hits and other popular songs of the day, as well as stage banter that featured Bono as the guileless straight man and Cher as his wisecracking and often insulting other half. In 1971, CBS signed husband and wife to a weekly variety show "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" (CBS, 1971-74), where they were embraced by TV audiences for their song and dance numbers and comedy skits. The program quickly became a smash for the network, with millions tuning in to the insane variety shtick, but mostly to see Cher cut her husband down to size with any number of hilarious put-downs before the couple hauled out daughter Chastity to close the show.
Cher's return to the spotlight ushered in a string of solo hits, including the number ones "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" and "Half-Breed." Her success and elaborate, midriff-baring wardrobe had well surpassed her first round of fame, but Cher eventually felt stifled by her all-encompassing work and family life, and both suffered. The show was cancelled amid extreme tension and she and Bono - the man who had made her a star - split acrimoniously in 1974. With her newfound freedom and confidence, Cher rebounded with a relationship with bisexual music mogul David Geffen, developed her own star-studded variety show "Cher" (CBS, 1975-76), and had a number one hit with "Dark Lady." Amidst all this, she married Southern rocker and known drug addict, Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers in 1975, as well as gave birth to son Elijah Blue in 1976. A year later, the marriage was over, due in no small part to Allman's substance abuse. Proving she had a thing for musicians, she began dating the then perpetually masked KISS rocker, Gene Simmons, much to the delight of the tabloids. With none of her professional ventures panning out, Cher briefly reunited onscreen with her ex-husband for "The Sonny and Cher Show" (CBS, 1976-77), which limped along for a season and a half before its cancellation. The fact that the couple was no longer together and the back-and-forth banter now uncomfortable no doubt had a hand in the show's demise. The often-at-odds couple would not appear together again for a decade.
Besides starring in a few TV variety specials and scoring a disco hit with "Take Me Home," Cher kept a relatively low music profile in preparation for pursuing a career as a serious actress. In fact, by this time in her career, Cher was considered a bit of a joke and has-been yet again. Audiences were skeptical of the dramatic prowess of a woman prone to wearing feathered headdresses and delivering wry, one-liners about her ex-husband's height, but her film role in Robert Altman's "Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" (1981) was well-received and her follow-up, Mike Nichols' "Silkwood" (1983), earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of a blue-collar Oklahoma lesbian and friend of an unwitting labor activist (Meryl Streep). In fact, "Silkwood" had more to do with the 180 degree turn in perception than any project in Cher's long career. Having proven that there was an intriguing natural intensity behind her off-the-cuff flamboyance, Cher was now inundated with offers, taking a starring role in Peter Bogdanovich's "Mask" (1985) where she soared to new emotional heights as the drugged-up, self-centered biker mom to a son with a disfiguring birth defect (Eric Stoltz). It was now official. Cher's acting chops were no fluke.
The year 1987 marked another peak in Cher's newfound career upswing, with no fewer than three films and the top 10 power ballad, "I Found Someone" vaulting up the charts. In the comedy "The Witches of Eastwick," Cher delivered a charming performance as a sensual, man-hungry sculptress, before returning to serious drama with a fine and believable performance as a dedicated public defender battling a near hopeless case in "Suspect." The crowning achievement of the year, however, was her tour de force performance as an Italian-American woman revitalized by unexpected love in "Moonstruck," for which she won a Best Actress Academy Award after losing several nominations for past roles. Her Bob Mackie ensemble - complete with massive Mohawk headdress and typically Cher midriff-baring dress - created almost as much buzz as her actual win.
However, topping any award win in terms of public interest at that time was her then one year relationship with a man almost 20 years her junior, Rob Camilletti. The press and late night comics - who dubbed him "Bagel Boy" - were particularly harsh on the young man, making fun of his youth and former profession, as well as Cher for seemingly "trading down" after dating the likes of Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise. The couple came close to marrying, but the pressure of being a punchline may have proved too much for the proud Camilletti. In 1987, her former and most famous ex made a cameo in her life, when both Sonny Bono and Cher appeared on "Late Night with David Letterman" (NBC, 1982-1993). The cranky host - whom Cher had once famously called an "assh*le" on a previous "Late Night" appearance - implored the legendary couple to reunite in song on his program. Cher was obviously perturbed, but was cajoled into it by audience applause. The ice thawed as the couple sang their trademark song, "I Got You Babe," particularly when both forgot the lines and shared a laugh and a hug. Though neither knew it at the time, it would be their last performance together.
In 1989, the now 40-plus entertainer cranked out the biggest album success of her career and spent much of the next 18 months touring internationally in support of Heart of Stone, which launched domestic and European rock pop hits "If I Could Turn Back Time," and "After All." Continuing to master her mediums of choice, she returned to the big screen in 1990, playing it close to home in "Mermaids" as an offbeat and promiscuous 1960s mother who moves her maladjusted daughters (Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci) from town to town in search of love. The charming film was not a huge mainstream success, but was critically well-received and landed Cher a European hit with a remake of the 1960s classic "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" from the soundtrack. The song was also included on Love Hurts which, at 10 million copies, was one of the biggest selling albums of her career. A worldwide "Love Hurts" tour proved Cher was back at the top yet again, and a relationship with yet another musician, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora proved she was as young and vital as she had been 30 years earlier. Her youthful appearance was a subject of frequent tabloid speculation as her plumped lips and gravity-defying skin suggested extensive plastic surgery. Her growing collection of tattoos also inspired equal amounts of shock and envy.
After several years selling hair products and sugar substitute on TV - a decision that somewhat bruised Cher's hard-won status as a legitimate actress - she returned to the screen as a wealthy wife whose husband wants to kill her in the unsatisfying dark comedy "Faithless" (1996). She also scored a European pop hit with "Walking in Memphis" and made her directing debut with a segment of the HBO abortion-themed anthology, "If These Walls Could Talk," which earned her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Following the death of now Republican Representative Sonny Bono in a skiing accident in 1998, Cher delivered a genuine and moving - and unbeknownst to her, televised - eulogy before taking over executive producer and host roles for "Sonny and Me: Cher Remembers" (1998), a CBS special tribute to her former husband, in which she remarked that her grief was "something she planned to never get over." Despite the two decades of acrimony between the couple, it was only in losing the one man who had shaped her life more than any other, that Cher realized how much love had remained for her ex-husband.
In a musical departure from her steady, moderate success with pop rock ballads, Cher's 1998 album Believe embraced dance tracks and digital vocal effects with astonishing results. She was back at number one in the U.S. charts with the title track, which became one of the best-selling dance tracks of all time and a standard in every gay club around the world. The album sold over 20 million copies, and the 52-year-old Grammy winner hit the road on another international tour, in addition to appearing on VH1's wildly popular "Divas Live 2" and publishing the memoir The First Time in 1998. The following year, a televised "Believe" tour concert from Las Vegas earned an Emmy nomination. Acting remained on the back burner and Cher kept her musical momentum going with 2002's Living Proof and "The Farewell Tour," a multi-media extravaganza covering the incomparable entertainer's career in show business. After three years on the road, the show was redubbed the "Never Can Say Goodbye Tour" and earned an Emmy for a televised Las Vegas concert. At age 60, retirement proved to be nowhere on the horizon for the timeless icon, and in 2008, Cher inked a deal with Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas to perform 200 live shows during the following three years, alternating nights with fellow beloved stage vets Bette Midler and Elton John.
Filmographyclose complete filmography
CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Among the industry women named after Cher are actress Cher Bennett, make-up artist Cher Slater, publicist Cher Patric Cox, set dresser Cher Lafreniere, stuntwoman Cher Meier, production designer Cher Ledwith, production assistant Cher Jung and the fictional heroine of "Clueless".
"I'm insecure about everything, because ... I'm never going to look in the mirror and see this blond, blue-eyed girl. That is my idea of what I'd like to look like." --Cher quoted in Cosmopolitan, November 1990.
"When we design the costumes for her, it has nothing to do with fashion. It has nothing to do with anything but the fact that we are attempting to present to the world this ... creature in her own right" --Bob Mackie, quoted in Vanity Fair, November 1990.
According to her divorce settlement with Sonny Bono, Cher is entitled to 50 percent of the royalties from all the songs they wrote together --From Vanity Fair, November 1990.
On her "Infomercial Diva" phase: "My friend Laurie [her hairdresser since 'Mask'] wanted to have a business like Vidal Sassoon. I didn't know it would be seen that often. There weren't that many infomercials then. It's like serial killers--there used to be only a few." --Cher quoted in Daily News, June 12, 1996.
"Yeah. I absolutely care about it [aging] because in our society there's a penalty for getting older. If our society embraced everybody, young and old, then you wouldn't think about it for a second. But our society embraces the young, so when you start to get old, it's like, 'Am I worthless? What's happened to me?' I still feel pretty kick-ass. I'm pretty vital. I have my truck and my motorcycle." --Cher in People, July 1, 1996.
"The other day, my son Elijah shaved his eyebrows off and dyed the front part of his hair black. I said, 'You know, Elijah, that looks ridiculous. It's so unattractive.' He looked at me and said, 'I don't want to hear this from you. Do you realize how stupid this sounds coming from you?'
"My sister said, 'Well, he's got you there.' And then my mother said, 'Yeah, he's got you there.' And my grandmother was there too." --Cher to Daily News, September 22, 1996.
About her worst experience on a movie set: "I guess Peter Bogdanovich [director of 'Mask'] was the worst. At the time, I was so unsure of myself, and he wasn't very nice. One day he said, 'Just remember, this movie isn't about the woman, it's about a boy. I can cut you out.' I thought, 'I'm going to take that information and just stash it, and get real, real tough.' And I did." --Cher in Rolling Stone, September 19, 1996.
"There's a saying among those who work around Cher. If there's a nuclear war, only two species will survive: the cockroaches and Cher." --From "Cher Resurrected, Again, by a Hit" by Neil Strauss in The New York Times, March 11, 1999.
On her album "Not Commercial", Cher told the Los Angeles Times (September 24, 2000): "It's very un-Cher like. But if people really knew me, it is very Cher. But it's so [expletive] dark. I have to put a sticker on it. I don't want kids buying it. I write like I speak--not exactly like a sailor, but colorful. ...
"I don't have any expectations. I did it for myself, so I'm just sharing it with people who might be interested and don't really care what reviewers think. And if people like it, they like it, and if they don't, that's fine. It's so personal. But I've played it for people and they liked it. Maybe it hits other people's notes."
"If I'd been fucked by my husband as much as I was fucked by Warner Bros., I'd still be married." - Cher quoted in 1988 Premiere October 2, 2002
"If I'd had as much plastic surgery as people say, there'd be another whole person left over! I could send her out to work her butt off onstage every night."-Cher US Weekly November 4, 2002
Companions close complete companion listing
Bibliography close complete biography
Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.Click here to contribute