August 2003
By Steven M. Housman

Cher’s Endless Tour Goes Out With A Bang Bang!

Approximately eighteen months ago, superstar Cher joined the very impressive company of divas Tina Turner and Barbra Streisand when she announced that this endless but fabulous tour would be her last. It’s appropriately titled “The Living Proof Farewell Tour,” and if you’ve been fortunate enough to witness a Cher “extravaganza”, you know that this “farewell” is quite spectacular. The 57 year-old performer recently said, "I love the actual performance of touring. I hate everything else. I hate different hotel rooms every night. I hate going on the bus or the plane. I hate not knowing where I'm waking up." Cher continues, “after the last tour in ’99 I was wrecked. But we did 128 shows so this is it.” This may be it for her touring, but before she says “farewell,” let’s take a look back at the extraordinary career of this remarkable entertainer. And where better to start than at the very beginning of her professional life in the spotlight.

Cherilyn Sarkasian La Pierre started performing professionally when she dropped out of high school in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles at age 16. At 17, she got work as a back-up singer for legendary record producer Phil Spector who was responsible for such hits as “Be My Baby,” “He’s A Rebel” and “Da Doo Ron Ron” plus dozens of others. At the same time she met her future partner and husband, 27 year-old Sonny Bono at a radio station who was coincidentally working as Spector’s gopher. One day in 1964 at a recording session where Cher always felt most comfortable being in the background, one of Spector’s singer’s didn’t show up for a session and he asked the timid (if you can believe it) Cherilyn to step in. After literally freaking out about taking the lead, Cher was coaxed by Bono to go out there and show them what she had. There was one hitch. The shy Cher would only agree to it if Sonny took the platform with her so she could look to him for support without focusing on the intimidating Phil Spector. Spector was immediately taken by Cher’s voice and sound and asked her to record a single. She agreed. The single was “I Love You Ringo” and Cher was billed under an alias-named “Bonnie Jo Mason.” The single flopped but Spector knew she “had something” and recorded other singles under her real name of Cherliyn. When those singles failed to get any exposure, Sonny had the idea of recording himself with Cher as a duo with Cher doing most of the vocals and he would do some back-up. Sonny may have had many great talents, but his vocals were more of an acquired taste. They recorded under the name of “Caesar & Cleo” and the single was “Baby Don’t Go” which Bono wrote. The single actually got some airplay on local LA stations but that’s as far as it went. Bono, now more determined than ever started writing more material. It wasn’t until he completed “I Got You Babe” in 1965 when he woke Cher up in the middle of the night to hear his new song, and Cher said, “I don’t think this is one of your better songs” and went back to sleep. At this same time, Cher had moved in with Sonny who was under the impression that Cher was “of legal age.” Where did he get that impression? From Cher of course, who was desperate to have a place to live after running away from home. In 1964, most people were under the assumption that the duo was married, but the truth is they were not legally wed until 1969. In ’64, they held what they called their own “private ceremony” but it was never legally documented. Cut to the chase. Cher agreed to record “I Got You Babe” while at the same time she recorded another single. This time she recorded a song by a “new kid,” the innovative poetically brilliant Bob Dylan and this is where it all started to fall into place. Interestingly enough, after the success of “I Got You Babe,” “Baby Don’t Go” was re-released and went to No.8 one month later.

Do you believe it’s been exactly 38 years since Cher first hit the Billboard charts with her first solo recording? As a matter of fact, it’s 38 years to the date. On July 3rd, 1965, the then 19 year-old ingenue made her debut on the Billboard Hot 100 with the Bob Dylan classic “All I Really Want To Do” and took it to No.15. One week later, July 10, 1965 the mega-smash “I Got You Babe” with her partner Sonny Bono invaded the airwaves and went to No.1 for three consecutive weeks. “Caesar & Cleo” now billed as Sonny & Cher were successfully launched. Believe it or not, out of the 20 songs that the duo would eventually chart, “I Got You Babe” would be their only single to reach the top of the chart. They came close several more times with sporadic hits such as “The Beat Goes On” reaching No.6 in 1967, “All I Ever Need Is You” peaking at No.7 in 1971, and “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” topping out at No.8 in 1972. Their last Top 40 single as a duo would be “When You Say Love” which was adapted from a Budweiser jingle and charted 31 years ago peaking at No.32. Their last charted single altogether was “Mama Was A Rock And Roll Singer, Papa Used To Write All Her Songs Part 1” when it landed and stalled at No.77 in the spring of 1973. Cher’s solo career was hot and cold as well. Following the success of “All I Really Want To Do” in 1965, Cher peaked at No.2 in 1966 with the Sonny Bono penned and produced “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and the role reversed “You Better Sit Down Kids” that peaked at No.9 in early 1968. As we all know, their careers were hardly over. At this time, Cher had aspirations of becoming a “movie star” and Bono was convinced he was just the man could do it. After borrowing heavily, Bono financed the 1966 film Good Times that sank faster than you could say Titanic. After that, the 1968 film fiasco Chastity was released which bottomed-out even faster. In March of 1969, Cher gave birth to their daughter Chastity named after the movie they loved but the public did not. Now they were in dire straits. The duo was forced to take their act on the road. In the summer of 1971, Fred Silverman, the then head of CBS had heard their act (which was now being played in seedy nightclubs around the country) was creating a buzz. He asked them to do a summer variety show based on their nightclub act. Silverman figured he’d have nothing to lose, he said, “nobody watched TV in the summer.” Bono was thrilled and Cher knew they needed the money after owing millions in back taxes. Their careers were about to take another turn. This time it would be skyward. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour debuted in June 1971 and went through the roof. It was the surprise hit of the summer. Suddenly, the duo that was flat broke just weeks before were finding more popularity and money than they could’ve ever imagined. The public loved them. All the while the show was a hit, Cher started turning out mega-hits of her own such as “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “The Way of Love,” “Half-Breed” and “Dark Lady.” Several Top 40 hits followed. But it wasn’t until the fall of 1971 when Cher had her first of four No.1 solo hits with “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.” Incredibly enough, that song was first titled “Gypsies and White Trash”! I wonder what number that title would have made it to? My guess is the same place. After all, it was the fun bubble gum melody and Cher’s ever-famous vibrato that made that song such a hit. She was now television and radio’s reigning queen. Unfortunately by 1973, Cher was growing increasingly tired of the show and by Sonny’s supposed tyrannical behavior. In 1974, while the show was at the top of the ratings, Cher decided to call it quits. The series and the marriage were over. Sonny and CBS were devastated, but Cher felt the need to move on. A now more confidant Cher started playing Vegas to enormous weekly salaries but her recording career started to wane. It was at this time she met and fell in love with Gregg Allman of the famed Allman Brothers Band. The tabloids went crazy. I guess it’s fair to say that this was the time when Cher would begin to be the cover story that to this day has yet to end. On the very day Cher’s divorce was final from Sonny, she wed Allman. Later that year, the marriage produced one son, Elijah Blue. Gregg’s addiction to drugs and his role as an absentee father plagued the stormy marriage. Cher’s career as a recording artist was waning. She and Gregg recorded an album that went nowhere and her record company MCA dropped her. In 1976, Cher decided to return to variety television, though moderately successful, it was lacking the “magic” of Sonny & Cher. Sonny also returned, but his series failed much more rapidly. In 1977, the estranged couple decided to give it another go on television. This time as a friendly divorced couple. The public didn’t buy it and the show lost the battle in the ratings war.

In 1979, after 4 years of marriage to Allman that Cher once described as “hardly seeing the man,” Cheriliyn Sarkasian Bono Allman filed for divorce, legally dropped all her surnames, signed with a new record label, Casablanca, and set out to revive her career. And revive she did. The album and title single was “Take Me Home” and took her home to old familiar territory of the Top Ten. The single hit No.8 and was Cher’s first smash hit since “Dark Lady” five years prior. The times had changed. It was disco time and Cher moved in to another genre without the blink of an eyelash. In 1980, Cher was aching to record rock and roll and that’s just what she did. She formed the group Black Rose being the female lead singer in the vein of supergroup Blondie with a grittier edge. The album failed to make the Billboard 200 album chart but Cher was now focusing on her acting career. She moved the kids from Beverly Hills to New York City to appear in the stage production of Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. She won rave reviews. Shortly afterward famed filmmaker Robert Altman asked her to reprise the role for the film version co-starring Sandy Dennis, Karen Black and Kathy Bates. It was an immediate cult classic. Cher had won over a small but newer audience with her portrayal as “fast-girl” in a slow-town. She was then asked by director Mike Nichols to play opposite Meryl Streep (THE “actress”) and Kurt Russell in his film Silkwood where she would play a room mate to the couple and lesbian lover of actress Diana (Mommy Dearest) Scarwid. She received an Academy Award nomination. At this same time, she also turned to Columbia Records to make the 1982 album “I Paralyze.” The album didn’t make the Billboard 200 and the first single “Rudy” didn’t even dent the chart. Still, Cher was content. She was realizing her dreams of being a movie star. Her next film project was Mask where her performance was so good it became common knowledge that she would be nominated as the drug-taking biker chick mother to Eric Stoltz. Obviously, the members of the Academy had other notions. Cher didn’t receive the nomination that most felt she was robbed of. Not to be defeated, Cher decided to keep on acting but felt it was also time to revive her recording career. It had been over five years since her last record release and over eight years since the Billboard charts had printed her name.

1987 proved to be a remarkable year for Cher. She co-starred in the films The Witches of Eastwick along side Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson. She also won over audiences with the courtroom suspense Suspect. In November 1987, Geffen Records released the album simply titled Cher. The first single released was her first Top 10 single in almost nine years entitled “I Found Someone.” The week after the album’s release, the film Moonstruck opened to packed houses across the country. In the same month the second single “We All Sleep Alone” was on it’s way to Top 20 status, Cher won an Academy Award for her role as the bookish Italian Brooklyn-ite “Loretta” from the film Moonstruck. It was accepted enthusiastically by Cher to a rousing standing ovation. In her acceptance speech, the 41 year-old Cher said, “I don’t think this makes me someone, but I think I’m on my way.” The former 17 year-old back-up singer, the former half of one of entertainment’s most famous couple, the tacky-dressed sequined Vegas singer was now on top of the world. Not only was she the toast of Hollywood, but her self-titled album just passed the platinum mark. Like Schwarzennager once said, “I’ll be back,” and she was.

In March 1989, Cher started the year off dueting with Peter Cetera with the smash ballad “After All” from the movie Chances Are. The song went to No.6 on the Hot 100 and No.1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. Four months later she returned with the Geffen album Heart of Stone, which spawned the biggest hit single of her career in years. The song was “If I Could Turn Back Time” which peaked at No.3, and the video was so racy (at the time) it wasn’t allowed to air on MTV until after 9PM. Cher was on another roll. The album produced three Top 20 singles including “Just like Jesse James” and the title cut “Heart of Stone” which went to No’s 8 and 20 respectively.

1990, the film Mermaids was released to mixed reviews. Cher played “Mrs. Flax,” a somewhat flaky single mother set in early 1960’s New England. She played mother to Winona Ryder and a very young Christina Ricci. Also in the film she co-starred with Bob Hoskins who played her lover. The movie was a moderate success, but she hit Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100 again with a remake of the classic Betty Everett single “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss).” After the success of the 80’s Cher was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr and slowed her career down. Way down. After releasing the 1991 album Love Hurts, Cher was asked by infomercial hair queen (at the time) Lori Davis to participate in her ads. It was a move that almost ruined her career in one-fell swoop. Cher was appearing in these hair ads wearing wigs and delivering such insipid lines as “so what you’re saying is my hair is not dry because there’s no alcohol in it. There’s no alcohol? Is it alcohol that makes my hair so crispy, crunchy and potato chipy?” It was such a joke that actress Christina Applegate did such a fabulous impersonation of the Oscar-winner on Saturday Night Live making Cher look as ridiculous as the real deal infomercial. If that wasn’t enough, Cher then decided to sponsor the artificial sweetener Equal. The commercial was so hokey that to this day, everytime I see a package of the sweetener I can’t help but impersonate the line she delivered when using it. “Some people like regular sugar, some choose the pink stuff (pointing to the Sweet and Low), I choose the blue one.” Then with the lips that had far too much collagen before the shoot, she tilts her head. People were starting to wonder why she was committing professional suicide. In the mid nineties, Cher returned in a flop film Faithful co-starring Chaz Palmintiri and Ryan O’Neal. It seemed this as if this cat had used up her nine lives.

1996 brought the Reprise album It’s A Man’s World. Though the album reached No.64 and remained on the Billboard 200 for 10 weeks it failed miserably with it’s first three singles including “One By One” which peaked at No.52. Cher did have a standout achievement making her directorial debut in the three-sectioned HBO drama If These Walls Could Talk about abortion in the present day. It was a collaborated effort done with finesse and included Sissy Spacek, Demi Moore and Anne Heche spanning from the 1950’s to the 90’s.The following year the film Tea With Mussolini directed by Franco Zeffirelli and co-starring Judi Dench and Joan Plowright was released to mixed reviews but still didn’t generate enough heat to revive Cher’s career.

In January 1998, Sonny Bono was killed in a freak skiing accident while Cher was residing in London. It was Chastity who made the call to her mother and Cher literally fell apart. She returned to the States to attend Congressman Sonny Bono’s funeral in Palm Springs, CA and was asked to deliver the eulogy by Sonny’s wife Mary Bono. In her speech, she told of touching moments of Sonny’s life and of the life they shared. She was lapsing in and out of laughter and desperately trying not to get hysterical with grief. It was one of the most sad and moving moments I had ever witnessed because we, the public, were let in for the first time to the real vulnerability and human being that is Cher. Cher had said it was the “hardest thing I ever had to do.”

Later that year a career miracle occurred….again. On November 28th, 1998 the album Believe hit the charts at a very low number but the single and video slowly started to catch on. By March 1999, the single “Believe” climbed to No.1 in the US for 4 consecutive weeks and No.1 in over a dozen countries around the globe becoming the biggest selling single of the 53 year-old performer’s career and one of the best selling songs of 1999. Cher had broken several records. Among them, she became the oldest female with a No.1 song, and the singer with the longest gap between No.1 singles. It was exactly 25 years and 1 week between “Dark Lady” and “Believe.” The album also rose to No.4, the highest charting and largest selling album of her career going quadruple platinum domestically. Once again, she was back and she hasn’t let up since. That same year she performed an amazing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl and went on tour breaking attendance records through the end of 1999. Not only were her fans of thirty plus years buying the album, she was getting the kids and the current MTV generation jumping on her band wagon. The single “Believe” is still the most downloaded song on the Internet spending over 200 weeks on Billboard’s Digital TouchTunes Top 10 chart.

Fast forward to the present. Her recent CD, The Very Best Of Cher its entering its sixth month in the Top 20 on Billboard 200 sales chart, and this past week, Cher has released her Living Proof Tour Live CD along with a companion DVD with rare out-takes including a re-edit of “If I Could Turn Back Time 2003” video along with several other “goodies” that make for a truly entertaining compilation.. So, if you need “Living Proof” of this legend one last time, I suggest that you go and see her if she is still booking in your town. Otherwise, pick up the new DVD and see what all the talk is about. This is her farewell. This is The Way of Love. This is the way of Cher.

…And the beat goes on.

© 2003 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.