People do not simply "like" Cher. More than six decades of show business success demonstrate unequivocally that she is, and has always been, far more than "liked." Continually referenced, adored, and examined, Cher belongs in the exclusive pantheon of performers who have not only outlasted all of their peers but have, generation after generation, stubbornly navigated the transient whims of public taste and carved a permanent place for themselves in the hearts and minds of music, television, film, and pop culture enthusiasts worldwide.
Let us not ramble through the usual Cher litany here: the chart-topping records, the multiple hit TV series, the acclaimed acting career, the Academy Award, the endless covers of every magazine from Vanity Fair and Vogue to Time and Newsweek. No. Instead, let us contemplate this extraordinary woman's ongoing status as an empress of popular culture, the incarnation of so many millions of people's dreams and aspirations.
But we'll get to that. Here's the overview for those who may have been chained in a cave for the last six decades.
On May 20, 1946, Cher was born in the peaceful village of El Centro, California, to mother Georgia Holt and father John Sarkisian, with little indication that she would have a remarkable life and career. Despite this, the girl whose birth name was "Cherilyn" believed she was destined for greatness. "I didn't know how or what I would do, but I just knew I wanted to be famous." She wouldn't have to sit around for long.
It's the dawn of the '60s. Shy, winsome 16-year-old Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere meets LA songwriter Sonny Bono, an associate of legendary record producer Phil Spector. Soon, Cher is singing backup on some of Spector's most indelible classics: The Crystal's "Da Doo Ron Ron," The Ronettes' epochal "Be My Baby," The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," and the still-revered Yuletide album A Christmas Gift for You. (Cher's voice is so powerful, even at this youthful point, that she continually finds herself being shunted farther and farther back from the microphone.)
Sonny and Cher become... well, Sonny & Cher, scoring soundtrack-of-the-'60s hits like "Baby Don't Go," "The Beat Goes On," and the #1 smash "I Got You Babe." (Many years later, the good-humored Cher will duet on this last tune with MTV's snotty cartoon duo, Beavis and Butt-Head.) She also notches up solo hits, including the unprecedented-at-the-time divorce lament "You Better Sit Down Kids" and the million-selling "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" (the latter later covered by Frank Sinatra!).
Sonny & Cher launch a wise-cracking TV show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. Bob Mackie does Cher's way-over-the-top costumes; regulars include the young Steve Martin and Teri Garr; guests range from The Jackson 5 to Ronald Reagan. The show is a big 1971-to-1974 hit. During the show's run, Cher charts three #1s on her own: "Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves," "Half-Breed," and "Dark Lady," and becomes the female artist with the most number-one singles in US history at the time with four.
When The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour goes off the air and the couple parts ways, both personally and professionally, Cher returns to television in her own variety series entitled, what else—Cher. Cher's solo hits continue with her whole disco-bop comeback album Take Me Home (1979) and her first Las Vegas residency at the Circus Maximus at Caesars Palace from 1979 to 1982.
Cher does Broadway in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and then signs up for director Robert Altman's film version of the play. She makes her big breakthrough in Mike Nichols' 1983 nuke-scare thriller Silkwood (for which she's nominated for an Academy Award).
Following the similarly acclaimed Mask (Best Actress Award, Cannes Film Festival), she finally wins an Oscar in 1988 for her ultra-lovable performance in the great romantic comedy Moonstruck. She jousts with Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick and stars as a footloose mom in the 1990 comedy Mermaids, which spins off a major European hit single with "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)."
Throughout this period, Cher is also racking up a series of rock hits, including "I Found Someone," "We All Sleep Alone," "Just Like Jesse James," and the shout-along anthem "If I Could Turn Back Time," whose music video features a scantily-clad Cher performing in the battleship USS Missouri (it was the first-ever music video to be banned by MTV). Cher enters the '90s traveling the world with her Heart of Stone Tour and grossing $40 million along the way. Cher's continued renewed success in the recording industry cements her status as both a long-standing hit-maker and a top-draw concert attraction.
By 1991, Cher is—whew!—exhausted. During her 1990 tour, she had multiple bouts of pneumonia, which almost killed her, and now she has no choice but to cut back her working hours. And so she gears down for a side trip into workout videos and infomercials and, in 1994, launches Sanctuary, a line of Gothic-styled home furnishings. People poke fun. But Architectural Digest is so impressed with her swank refurbishing of two homes in Miami and Aspen that the usually snooty magazine features them in two separate issues.
Refreshed and reinvigorated, Cher debuts as a director in 1996 with the hit HBO drama If These Walls Could Talk—the highest-rated original movie in HBO story. And then, two years later, at the ripe "young" age of 52, just at the point when most musicians' careers are supposed to wind down, Cher releases the biggest hit of her entire career—the #1 (in 23 countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, and France) 11-million-copies-sold "Believe" from the album of the same name.
When Cher beats out Britney Spears for Billboard's #1 single of 1999 with "Believe", the magazine's readers have a hard time realizing that's the same Cher who once knocked out The Beatles off the top of the charts with her first hit song back in 1965.
"Believe" introduces Auto-Tune, an audio processor originally intended to disguise or correct off-key inaccuracies in vocal music recordings, as a deliberate creative effect. It is not there to fix mistakes in Cher's iconic voice (as if!) but as an aesthetic tool. The technique becomes known as the "Cher effect" and is soon copied by everyone from Madonna to Daft Punk.
With the extraordinary success of "Believe", Cher defies ageism in pop culture by topping the charts at age 53, sets the entire tone for pop music in the first decades of the new millennium, and single-handedly changes the way music is created and perceived—forever.
While Cher-the-singer reaches unprecedented heights of commercial success with "Believe", Cher-the-actress scores an elegant succès d'estime with the Franco Zeffirelli film Tea with Mussolini (1999), in which the movie star more than holds her own alongside such theatrical grande dames as Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, and Maggie Smith. After a long break from the stage, Cher returns with her spectacular Do You Believe? Tour (120+ performances) and once again thrills adoring audiences worldwide.
But then Cher lowers the boom. At the pinnacle of her success, she announces that she will forever put her touring days behind her. Living Proof: The Farewell Tour (later tongue-in-cheek dubbed the Never Can Say Goodbye Tour) hits the road in June 2002 and doesn't wind up until almost three years later, in April 2005!
Idealized as a showcase of the multiple on and off-stage personas Cher has created during her fifty-year reign (and counting!) as pop music's ultimate chameleon, Cher's Farewell Tour revolutionizes the idea of what a pop star can visually accomplish in a live concert.