Cher (born Cherilyn Sarkisian; May 20, 1946) is an American singer and actress. Commonly referred to by the media as the Goddess of Pop, she has been described as embodying female autonomy in a male-dominated industry. She is known for her distinctive contralto singing voice and for having worked in numerous areas of entertainment, as well as adopting a variety of styles and appearances during her six-decade-long career.
Cher gained popularity in 1965 as one-half of the folk rock husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher after their song “I Got You Babe” reached number one on the American and British charts. By the end of 1967, they had sold 40 million records worldwide and had become, according to Time magazine, rock’s “it” couple. She began her solo career simultaneously, releasing in 1966 her first million-seller song, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”. She became a television personality in the 1970s with her shows The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, watched by over 30 million viewers weekly during its three-year run, and Cher. She emerged as a fashion trendsetter by wearing elaborate outfits on her television shows.
While working on television, Cher established herself as a solo artist with the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves”, “Half-Breed”, and “Dark Lady”. After her divorce from Sonny Bono in 1975, she launched a comeback in 1979 with the disco album Take Me Home and earned $300,000 a week for her 1980–1982 concert residency in Las Vegas.
In 1982, Cher made her Broadway debut in the play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and starred in its film adaptation. She subsequently received critical acclaim for her performances in films such as Silkwood (1983), Mask (1985), The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and Moonstruck (1987), with the latter having earned her the Academy Award for Best Actress. She then revived her musical career by recording the rock-inflected albums Cher (1987), Heart of Stone (1989) and Love Hurts (1991), all of which yielded successful singles such as “I Found Someone”, “If I Could Turn Back Time” and “Love and Understanding”.
Cher reached a new commercial peak in 1998 with the dance-pop album Believe, whose title track became the biggest-selling single of all time by a female artist in the UK. It features the pioneering use of Auto-Tune, also known as the “Cher effect”. Her 2002–2005 Living Proof: The Farewell Tour became one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time, earning $250 million. In 2008, she signed a $180 million deal to headline the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for three years.
Cher has won a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, an Academy Award, three Golden Globe Awards, a Cannes Film Festival Award, and an award from the Kennedy Center Honors and the Council of Fashion Designers of America, among several other honors.
She has sold 100 million records worldwide to date, becoming one of the best-selling music artists in history. She is the only artist to date to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart in six consecutive decades, from the 1960s to the 2010s. Outside of her music and acting, she is noted for her political views, philanthropic endeavors, and social activism, including LGBT rights and HIV/AIDSprevention.
Encouraged by the popularity of Take Me Home, Cher planned to return to rock music in her next album, Prisoner (1979). The album’s cover features Cher draped in chains as a “prisoner of the press”, which caused controversy among feminist groups for her perceived portrayal of a sex slave. She included rock songs, which made the disco release seem unfocused and led to its commercial failure. Prisoner produced the single “Hell on Wheels”, featured on the soundtrack of the film Roller Boogie. The song exploits the late 1970s roller-skating fad and contributed to its popularity.
In 1980, alongside Italian record producer Giorgio Moroder, Cher wrote her last Casablanca disco recording, “Bad Love”, for the film Foxes. She formed the rock band Black Rose that year with her then-lover, guitarist Les Dudek. Although Cher was the lead singer, she did not receive top billing because she wanted to create the impression that all band members were equal. Since she was easily recognized when she performed with the band, she developed a punk look by cutting her trademark long hair. Despite appearances on television, the band failed to earn concert dates. Their album Black Rose received unfavorable reviews; Cher told Rolling Stone, “The critics panned us, and they didn’t attack the record. They attacked me. It was like, ‘How dare Cher sing rock & roll?'”
During Black Rose’s active period, Cher was simultaneously doing a concert residency in Las Vegas, earning $300,000 a week. Its companion television special Cher … A Celebration at Caesars aired on Lifetime in April 1983. Black Rose disbanded in 1981. That year, she released a duet with musician Meat Loaf called “Dead Ringer for Love”, which reached number five on the UK Singles Chart and was later described by AllMusic’s Donald A. Guarisco as “one of the more inspired rock duets of the 1980s”. In 1982, Columbia Records released the album I Paralyze, later deemed by Bego as Cher’s “strongest and most consistent solo album in years” despite its low sales.
With decreasing album sales and a lack of commercially successful singles, Cher decided to further develop her acting career. While she had previously aspired to venture into film, she had only the critically and commercially unsuccessful movies Good Times and Chastity to her credit, and the Hollywood establishment did not take her seriously as an actress. She moved to New York in 1982 to take acting lessons with Lee Strasberg, founder of the Actors Studio, but never enrolled after her plans changed. She auditioned for and was signed by director Robert Altman for the Broadway stage production Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, playing a member of a James Dean fan club holding a 20-year reunion. That year, Altman cast her again in the film adaptation of the same title. Cher credits Altman for launching her acting career: “Without Bob [Robert Altman] I would have never had a film career. Everyone told him not to cast me … I am convinced that Bob was the only one who was brave enough to do it.”
Director Mike Nichols, who had seen Cher onstage in Jimmy Dean, offered her the part of Dolly Pelliker, a plant co-worker and Meryl Streep’s lesbian roommate in the film Silkwood. When it premiered in 1983, audiences questioned Cher’s ability as an actress. She recalls attending a film preview during which the audience laughed when they saw her name in the credits. For her performance, Cher received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture.
In 1985, Cher formed the film production company Isis. Her next film, Mask (1985), reached number two at the box office and was Cher’s first critical and commercial success as a leading actress. For her role as a drug addict biker with a teenage son who has a severe physical deformity, she won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress. During the making of the film, however, she clashed with director Peter Bogdanovich. She attended the 58th Academy Awards in a tarantula-like costume “to show her scorn for the ‘system'”, according to authors James Parish and Michael Pitts. The incident garnered her much publicity.
Cher’s May 1986 guest appearance on talk show Late Night with David Letterman, during which she called Letterman “an asshole”, attracted much media coverage; Letterman later recalled, “It did hurt my feelings. Cher was one of the few people I’ve really wanted to have on the show … I felt like a total fool, especially since I say all kinds of things to people.” She returned to the show in 1987, reuniting with Sonny for the last time before his death to sing an impromptu version of “I Got You Babe”. According to Rolling Stone‘s Andy Greene, “they weren’t exactly the best of friends at this point, but both of them knew it would make for unforgettable television. Had YouTube existed back then, this would have gone insanely viral the next morning.” Rolling Stone listed the performance among “David Letterman’s Top 10 Musical Moments” in 2015.
By 1987, Cher was receiving attention for her controversial lifestyle, including her tattoos, plastic surgeries, exhibitionist fashion sense, and affairs with younger men. She had romantic relationships with actors Val Kilmer, Eric Stoltz, and Tom Cruise, hockey player Ron Duguay, film producer Josh Donen, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and Rob Camilletti, a bagel baker 18-years her junior whom she dated from 1986 to 1989.
Cher starred in three films in 1987. In Suspect, she played a public defender who is both helped and romanced by one of the jurors in the homicide case she is handling. Along with Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, she starred as one of three divorcees involved with a mysterious and wealthy visitor from hell who comes to a small New England town in the comedy horror The Witches of Eastwick. In Norman Jewison’s romantic comedy Moonstruck, she played an Italian widow in love with her fiancé’s younger brother. The two latter films ranked among the top ten highest-grossing films of 1987, at number ten and five, respectively.
The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote Moonstruck “offers further proof that Cher has evolved into the kind of larger-than-life movie star who’s worth watching whatever she does.” For that film, Cher won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. By 1988, Cher had become one of the most bankable actresses of the decade, commanding $1 million per film. That year, she released the fragrance Uninhibited, which earned about $15 million in its first year sales.
In 1987, Cher signed with Geffen Records and revived her musical career with what music critics Johnny Danza and Dean Ferguson describe as “her most impressive string of hits to date”, establishing her as a “serious rock and roller … a crown that she’d worked long and hard to capture”. Michael Bolton, Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora produced her first Geffen album, Cher, which was certified platinum by the RIAA. It features the rock ballad “I Found Someone”, her first U.S. top-ten single in more than eight years.
Cher’s 19th studio album Heart of Stone (1989) was certified triple platinum by the RIAA. The music video for its second single, “If I Could Turn Back Time”, caused controversy due to Cher’s performance on a Navy warship, straddling a cannon, and wearing a leather thong that revealed her tattooed buttocks.The song topped the Australian charts for seven weeks, reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became one of Cher’s most successful singles. Other songs from Heart of Stone to reach the U.S. top ten were “After All”, a duet with Peter Cetera, and “Just Like Jesse James”. At the 1989 People’s Choice Awards, Cher won the Favorite All-Around Female Star Award. She embarked on the Heart of Stone Tour in 1989.Most critics liked the tour’s nostalgic nature and admired Cher’s showmanship. Its parent television special Cher at the Mirage (1991) was filmed during a concert in Las Vegas.
In her first film in three years, Mermaids (1990), Cher paid tribute to her own mother in this story about a woman who moves her two daughters from town to town at the end of a love affair. She clashed with the film’s first two directors, Lasse Hallström and Frank Oz, who were replaced by Richard Benjamin. Believing Cher would be the star attraction, the producers allowed her creative control for the film. Mermaids was a moderate box office success and received mixed reviews. One of the two songs Cher recorded for the film’s soundtrack, “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)”, topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks.
Cher’s final studio album for Geffen Records, Love Hurts (1991), stayed at number one in the UK for six weeks and produced the UK top-ten single “Love and Understanding”. The album was certified gold by the RIAA. In later years, Cher commented that her Geffen label “hit years” had been especially significant to her, “because I was getting to do songs that I really loved … songs that really represented me, and they were popular!” She released the exercise book Forever Fit in 1991, followed by the 1992 fitness videos and she embarked on the Love Hurts Tour during 1992. That year, the UK-only compilation album Greatest Hits: 1965–1992 peaked at number one in the country for seven weeks. It features three new songs: “Oh No Not My Baby”, “Whenever You’re Near”, and “Many Rivers to Cross”.
Cher has employed various musical styles, including folk rock, pop rock, power ballads, disco, new wave music, rock music, punk rock, arena rock, and hip hop; she said she has done this to “remain relevant and do work that strikes a chord”. Her music has mainly dealt with themes of heartbreak, independence, and self-empowerment for women; by doing so, she became “a brokenhearted symbol of a strong but decidedly single woman”, according to Out magazine’s Judy Wieder. Goldmine magazine’s Phill Marder credited Cher’s “nearly flawless” song selection as what made her a notorious rock singer; while several of her early songs were penned by or sung with Sonny Bono, most of her solo successes, which outnumbered Sonny and Cher’s successes, were composed by independent songwriters, selected by Cher. Not.com.mercial (2000), Cher’s first album mostly written by herself, presents a “1970s singer-songwriter feel” that proves “Cher adept in the role of storyteller”, according to AllMusic’s Jose F. Promis.
Time magazine’s Cady Lang described Cher as a “cultural phenomenon [who] has forever changed the way we see celebrity fashion.” Cher emerged as a fashion trendsetter in the 1960s, popularizing “hippie fashion with bell-bottoms, bandanas, and Cherokee-inspired tunics”. She began working as a model in 1967 for photographer Richard Avedon after then-Vogue magazine editor Diana Vreeland discovered her at a party for Jacqueline Kennedy that year. Avedon took the controversial photo of Cher in a beaded and feathered nude gown for the cover of Timemagazine in 1975. Through her 1970s television shows, she became a sex symbol with her inventive and revealing Bob Mackie-designed outfits, and fought the network censors to bare her navel. Although Cher has been erroneously attributed to being the first woman to expose her navel on television, she was the most prominent to do so since the establishment of the American Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters in 1951, which prompted network censors to ban navel exposure on U.S. television.People dubbed Cher the “pioneer of the belly beautiful”. In 1972, after she was featured on the annual “Best Dressed Women” lists, Mackie stated: “There hasn’t been a girl like Cher since Dietrich and Garbo. She’s a high-fashion star who appeals to people of all ages.”
80s Studio Albums
- I Paralyze (1982)
- Cher (1987)
- Heart of Stone (1989)
- Love Hurts (1991)
- Cher in Concert (1979–1982)
- Heart of Stone Tour (1989–1990)
- Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
- Silkwood (1983)
- Mask (1985)
- Suspect (1987)
- The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
- Moonstruck (1987)