Cher. Singular. Original. Iconic.
There’s really no one else quite like her in showbiz today — with her uncanny chutzpah, staggering longevity, diverse cultural impact and attention-demanding unpredictability.
With her Here We Go Again World Tour coming to St. Paul on Saturday, here is why we still love Cher, who turns 73 on Monday.
She’s an underdog. Raised by an impoverished, oft-divorced single mom, Cher was a high school dropout who not only felt untalented and unattractive but suffered from shyness and stage fright. Nevertheless, she carved a legendary career thanks to an undying drive to be famous.
She’s a survivor. Cher emerged from under husband/producer Sonny Bono’s thumb and managed to score Top 10 hits in the next five decades and remain a star attraction on records, television, stage and in movies. That’s an extraordinarily long run despite some dubious detours into full-on rock, Gregg Allman and infomercials.
She’s strong and independent. Sure, Sonny gave her a start, and David Geffen helped extricate her from Sonny’s onerous contract, but Cher has pretty much called her own shots since then. There’s no Svengali. And no logic to her career. Who could have planned it this way?
She makes comebacks. After a memorable solo run in the early ’70s with “Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves” and “Dark Lady,” Cher soon seemed lost in the music world. Finally, in the late ’80s, when her movie career was thriving, she bounced back big time with the MTV-boosted sensations “I Found Someone” and “If I Could Turn Back Time.” Then, after a rather fallow ’90s musically, she rebounded with the massive disco-y “Believe” in ’98. That led to a boffo return to the concert stage, first with a triumphant farewell world tour 2002-05, a successful stint in Las Vegas (’08-11), another sold-out North American trek (’14) and a Vegas engagement (’17-19). Retire? Ha.
She’s plastic yet real. With all that cosmetic surgery, she looks as artificial as the palm trees at the Rainforest Cafe. But, when Cher talks, she seems plain-spoken and down-to-earth. You’ve heard her on Fallon, Ellen and other TV chat shows. But here’s an early example of how real she is: In 1979, I interviewed her by phone to discuss her upcoming TV special, “Cher and Other Fantasies.” Jazzed about the show, she was genuinely interested in what I thought, so she insisted I call her after the program was broadcast. She didn’t care about a follow-up story. She believed in herself and wanted to know if I thought she had turned a corner in her career.
She’s fabulously over-the-top. The revealingly extravagant outfits, the lavishly oversized wigs, the glittery exotic eyeliner. As RuPaul would say, she owns everything. We Cher-ish her garishness.
She’s a movie star. On “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” she demonstrated a deadpan delivery and deft comic timing. But who knew she could be an Oscar-winning actress? Robert Altman gave her a chance in 1982’s “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean” and five years later she scored Oscar gold with “Moonstruck.” She maintains a semiregular presence on the silver screen, from 1990’s “Mermaids” to last year’s “Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again.”
She’s funny. Whether it was Letterman, Leno or “Saturday Night Live,” Cher became a punchline about plastic surgery, infomercials and never-ending farewell tours. But she always gets the last laugh. YouTube either of her TV series with Sonny. Or if you catch the current Broadway musical “The Cher Show,” you’ll learn that when her mom advised her to marry a rich man, Cher responded in typical disarming fashion: “I am a rich man.”
She’s a parent to be admired. Maybe she was too permissive with her children, Chastity and Elijah Blue. But when Chastity came out as a lesbian and later transitioned as a man, Cher ultimately stood by her firstborn, becoming the first well-known parent of a trans person. A gay icon herself, Cher showed us what unconditional love is.
She’s the dancing queen. No, we’re not referring to last year’s album of Abba covers. For the past 25 years, Cher’s music has been a staple in clubs and on the dance charts, with eight No. 1 smashes including 2010’s so-true “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.”
She’s a Twitter goddess. As unpredictable as her career, her must-follow Twitter account is at turns serious, silly, politically outspoken, inscrutable and totally unfiltered. She’ll diss a weedkiller product for reportedly causing cancer and make fun of herself for her “huge headpiece” almost falling off last month in concert. “I LOOKED SO RIDICULOUS (EMOJI). IT WAS LIKE I LOVE LUCY.”
She’s been deified while remaining very much active. Carole King, Gloria Estefan and Frankie Valli also have been the subjects of musical biographies on Broadway. But let’s be honest: None is still actively making records and touring extensively. The force born as Cherilyn Sarkisian continues to make us believe.