Cher: If You Believeby Mark Bego
Pop phenomenon Cher has had one of the most surprising and long-lasting careers in American entertainment. Her run of hits and comebacks have continued to defy expectations, right up to her Grammy Award-winning song "Believe" and subsequent tour and HBO special. Cher's string of successes includes dozens of hit songs from the '60s onward, two top-10 rated
Pop phenomenon Cher has had one of the most surprising and long-lasting careers in American entertainment. Her run of hits and comebacks have continued to defy expectations, right up to her Grammy Award-winning song "Believe" and subsequent tour and HBO special. Cher's string of successes includes dozens of hit songs from the '60s onward, two top-10 rated television shows, a critically acclaimed appearance on Broadway, and a succession of award-winning films roles, the latest being in Tea with Mussolini. In this brand new book pop music authority Mark Bego tackles all the recent developments including her well-documented grief after ex-husband Sonny Bono's tragic death. Cher: If You Believe also includes the most complete discography ever of her career as well as a "boyfriend-ography"!
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Read an Excerpt
IF YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER LIFE
It is 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, June 16, 1999, and it is 106 degrees Fahrenheitin Phoenix, Arizona. In underground parking lots automobiles are sohot that stickers and decorative chrome pieces are melting loose. Aboveground, as the sun begins its descent into the western sky, one can literallysee waves of heat radiating up from the pavement in the downtownarea. In spite of the excruciating heat, thousands of people are walkingwith determination, heading down the sidewalks toward one particularblock, oblivious to the temperature. No matter how hot it feels outdoors,the inside of the air-conditioned America West Arena that they are headingtoward is truly the hottest place on the planet tonight. Becausetonight is the night Cher opens her sold-out "Believe" world tour.
This evening, America West Arena is in a virtual Cher time warp.Audience members are dressed in outfits representing every era ofCher's career. Several women are wearing bell-bottomed pants and sandalslike the ones Cher made famous in the 1960s. One girl sports a brightpurple shag wig, like the one Cher wore to Madonna's wedding in 1985.Another woman parades around with a headpiece of long strands of plastictubing, like the one Cher wore in her "Believe" video. Men, women,and children of all ages have purchased and are wearing Cher "Believe"T-shirts. It is a gathering of Cher believers of all ages. Some are older,some are middle-aged, and some are decades too young to have evenbeen born when the song "I Got You Babe" topped the chartson bothsides of the Atlantic.
Tonight there is an air of excitement and sheer anticipation. After thetwo opening acts are finished with their musical sets, the members of thestanding room-only crowd are at the edges of their seats. Tickets disappearedalmost instantly at $60 and $75 apiece, and local scalpers werecharging up to $600 per seat. "What is she going to wear?" "How will shesound?" "Which of her hits is she going to sing?" These were questionsthat were repeated throughout the crowd.
In true Cher fashion, the stage set is very gothic-looking. Rising abouttwenty feet above the huge stage, two nonsymmetrical staircases leaddownward toward the stage floor. The stairways are encircled by fenceposts topped with fleurs-de-lis linked with a guardrail of chain. The cycloramabackdrop is painted to look like it is made of stone. It's as thoughtonight's crowd is gathered in the secret cave of a mountain goddess,awaiting an audience with this deity.
On stage, musicians and technicians are scurrying about, checkinglights, amps, and instruments. Finally, at 9:43 p.m. the house lights aredimmed. As the opening notes of a synthesizer-dominated song begin, itsounds more like The X-Files TV show theme than any recognizable Cherhit. It is hard to tell what song it is, especially through the resounding dinof cheers, screams, clapping, and whistling that the audience is emitting.While huge video projection screens flash images of Cher's past, present,and future, therefrom the central and highest point of the stagewherethe two staircases join, something is rising up from the floor of thebalcony walkway that is formed there. Hark, it is the pop goddess herselfCherin all of her outrageous opening night glory.
The music is pulsing, the lights are flashing, and Cher is singing herheart out, but for the first few minutes of her performance it is impossibleto hear a word she is singing, because the entire audience as one ison its feet, clapping and cheering at the top of its lungs. They have cometo see the legendary pop goddess, and her flashy entrance delivers all thatwe had hoped foropulence, spectacle, and the ever-radiant Cher.
Like a high priestess of some sort of video fantasy come to life, themusic world's most enduring rock diva begins singing her impassionedversion of U2's song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."Although this isn't a song she has ever recorded before, it is a fittingchoice for her. As in the lyrics of the song, Cher too has spent the lastfour decades in the public eye, morphing from one persona to another,like a restless seeker on a never-ending quest.
She is wearing her first of eight elaborate and over-the-top costumesthat Bob Mackie has designed for this grand world concert tour. Knownfor wearing wigs ever since she was the star of The Sonny & Cher ComedyHour in the 1970s, her tresses are to be changed with each and everycostume change. For the opening number she is wearing a curly waist-lengthred wig atop her head, held in place by an elaborate beaded headbandwith side wings that hang at the side of her face.
Clad in a copper and bronze spangled outfit of crisscrossing beadedstrips, a waist-cinching bustier, and slave bracelets, Cher looks like aByzantine warrior woman, poised to conquer. And conquer she did.
After the wild cheering dies down after her opening number, Cherappears poised and in total command as she announces to her SROlegion of worshipers, "We've got a lot of territory to cover.... I'm gonnado songs I haven't done since the seventies." As promised, her1999-2000 concert tour not only highlights her million-selling 1980s and1990s hits, but for the first time in ages she is also to sing several of thesongs from her past that she hasn't performed live in years: Number 1hits like "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves" and "Half Breed," to her million-sellingdisco smash "Take Me Home," through her 1980s rockers like "IfI Could Turn Back Time" and "We All Sleep Alone," right up to the1990s sound of "Believe." It is by far the most lavish concert tourmounted in years, and only Cher could pull it off with such style, flash,and sense of spectacle.
Since her hit-making career has literally spanned thirty-five years ofmusical memories, tonight she is prepared to touch on them allfromthe very beginning of her career to "Believe" and beyond. She is the onlypop or rock performer to have had Top Ten hits in the 1960s, 1970s,1980s, AND 1990s. Tonight is a celebration for all who believein Cher.
* * *
No one in the history of show business has had a career of the magnitudeand scope of Cher's. She has been a teenage pop star, a television hostess,a fashion magazine model, a rock star, a pop singer, a Broadwayactress, an Academy Award-winning movie star, a disco sensation, andthe subject of a mountain of press coverage. Her fans have followed heras one half of the pre-hippie duo Sonny & Cher, through her headline-grabbingdivorce from Sonny, her disastrous marriage to drugged-outsinger Gregg Allman, right up through her 1980s affair with the notorious"Bagel Boy" who was half her age.
We have watched her start fashion trendslike bell-bottomedpantstransform herself into a glamorous TV mannequin, and blossomas a serious film actress of legendary proportions. We have seen herthrough breast lifts, face peels, dental braces, puffed-up collagen-enhancedlips, talon-like finger nails, and enough plastic surgery andmakeup to morph herself into a totally different person.
Outspoken since she was a young teenager, Cher can be called a lot ofthings. However, "helpless victim" has never been on that list. She is nocreampuff when it comes to speaking her mind. She has publicly calledSonny Bono "a tyrant," David Letterman "an asshole," and Madonna "acunt." Few could have gotten away with the things she has said.
Possessing a fabulous bodysurgically altered as it may beCher hasnever turned the other cheek, but she has often shown her other cheeks.She has been banned by MTV, fought with TV censors, and "mooned"her fans with her tattooed derriere. Easy to get along with when you areher ally, she follows her own instincts and makes her own mistakes. Shehas often feuded with her film directors and thumbed her nose at anyconvention that displeases her.
As a singing star, her recording career has had five distinctively differentphases. First, she was the in-tune half of the pop/rock duo Sonny& Cher, racking up million-selling hits like "The Beat Goes On" with herlive-in lover/first husband Sonny Bono. Simultaneously, she had her owndistinctively different solo career as a folk/rock balladeer, coveringBob Dylan songs like "All I Really Want to Do" in the 1960s. Her thirdincarnation found her singing melodramatic story-songs like "DarkLady" and "The Way of Love" in the 1970s. She was reborn at the end ofthat decade as a roller disco queen with dance hits including "Take MeHome" and "Hell on Wheels." In the 1980s and early 1990s sheembraced hard rock, producing three platinum albums and singingpower ballads like "If I Could Turn Back Time" and "We All SleepAlone." She astonished the world in 1998 and 1999 by staging the biggestcareer "comeback" since Tina Turner's 1984 resurrection, recasting herselfas a dance music/techno-pop performer warbling the biggest hit ofher entire career, "Believe."
She made three films in the 1960s with Sonny Bono, a short appearancein the surfing flick Wild on the Beach, followed by Good Times andChastity. However, she longed to be taken seriously as a film actress. Atthe height of her musical fame, she literally turned her back on Las Vegasshowrooms to establish herself as a movie star. Her films Mask, Mermaids,Suspect, and The Witches of Eastwick gave her the kind of screencareer most actresses can only dream of obtaining.
Although she had proven her talent via TV ratings, million-selling hits,entertaining films, and creative record albums, she waited a long time forthe kind of respect that she longed to receive from her peers. It came toher in an overwhelming fashion, when she won an Academy Award forher dazzling performance in the 1987 film Moonstruck. Andfinallyinthe year 2000, she won her first Grammy Award for her milestoneglobal hit "Believe."
Likewise, she has managed to regain the momentum of her once-dazzlingfilm career. Longing for more creative control, she made her film-directingdebut with the 1996 HBO hit If These Walls Could Talk. In1999 she received glowing reviews as one of the stars of Franco Zeffirelli'sprestigious box-office hit Tea with Mussolini.
Meanwhile, her personal life has been a roller-coaster ride of tabloidnewspaper headlines. Her divorce from Sonny and her irrational affairwith heroin addict Gregg Allman all but eclipsed her mid-1970s televisionwork. She was stricken with the debilitating Epstein-Barr virus in1989, and nearly mined her own film career by starring in a tacky 1990stelevision infomercial selling overpriced designer shampoo. Usually liberal-mindedCher was devastated when tabloid newspapers "outed" herdaughter, Chastity, as a lesbian in the early 1990s.
By the middle of the 1990s her show business career was in shambles.Her 1996 film Faithful opened at theaters "dead on arrival." That sameyear, her album It's a Man's World scarcely made a dent on the Americanrecord charts. When her ex-husband Sonny Bono was killed in atragic 1998 skiing accident, friends and fans alike wondered if that emotionalloss would mark the end of her creative career as well.
She had no intention of producing a 1990s dance disc when she wentinto the studio to record the Believe album. She reportedly argued toothand nail with the producers behind the project. Although she had a Number1 hit in 1996 in England, singing "Love Can Build a Bridge" withChrissie Hynde and Neneh Cherry, the rest of the world seemed to havewritten her off as a glamorous star of the past. When the song "Believe"became a Number 1 hit around the world in 1998-1999, she came back,bigger, better, and more excitingly revitalized than ever before. HerBelieve album was certified either Gold, Platinum, or Multiple Platinumin thirty-nine different countries. It was as though the entire planet welcomedCher back with open arms.
Cher is one of those rare individuals whose personal life, reputation,fame, and image often come to mind more readily than do thoughts ofany of her accomplishments. She's stillin her fiftiesthat overgrownteenager who delights in flying in the face of convention like a pesky hornet.Who will ever forget the barely there Mohawk nightmare outfit shewore to the 1985 Academy Awards telecast, specifically designed to say"fuck you very much" for ignoring her acting in the movie Mask.
She is consistent only in her vast inconsistency, and she is a mass ofinternal and external contradictions. She's the serious actress who stillbalances her life as a rock and pop star. One moment she is the perpetualfemale Peter Pan who loves to dress down in jeans and claim that theworld can simply take her the way she is. And the next moment she willturn around and make a grand entrance in a $5,000 beaded gown, a $500manicure, and countless thousands of dollars of reconstructive bodysurgery.
She once proclaimed, "People regarded me as a clothes hanger morethan an entertainer" (3). Yet, she has constantly allowed her wardrobe tomake a statement for her.
From the mid-1970s one of the most collectable toys on the planet wasthe "Cher Doll." The new version of the Cher doll from Mattel causedanother huge toy-store sensation when it debuted in 2001. But let's facethe fact Cher IS the world's favorite real-life Barbie doll. We all delightin seeing what on earth it is that she is going to wear in public next. Shestands only five feet, seven inches tall, yet in the eyes of the media and ofthe public, she is a larger-than-life giantess.
Sitting next to Cher on a sofa and having a conversation with her, onehas to constantly remind one's self that this woman with the blasé attitude,saying "fuck this" and "fuck that," is the entertainment world's mostfamous spoiled-child-turned-goddess. The fact that she is so real, sodown-to-earth in manner, and so at ease with herself is one of the reasonsthat she has endured the passing fads and fancies and emerged moreundeniably beautiful than ever before. If we never had any memory ofthe Cher of the early 1970s, with her crooked teeth, not-so-perfect nose,and naturally pretty features, we would still find the Cher of the 2000sbeautiful. However, since the metamorphosis of Cher has been such apublic onethrough nose peels, reported butt lifts, dental braces, dentalcaps, and seemingly countless nips and tucksit is difficult not tothink of her image in the past. Like a sleek cat, Cher has had at least ninelives by now.
This is what Cher's five decades as an international media star havebeen all aboutspectacle. For her, the element of surprise is virtually"everything." Cher is not the most classically beautiful or most talentedactress in Hollywood, nor is she the most gifted vocalist on record, butshe is a celebrity of true "superstar" status.
She's the wisecracking pop princess whose success seems to be based asmuch on her unpredictability as upon her talents. Just when you think thatshe has done it all, sung it all, or accomplished it all, Cher recreates herselfand takes on a whole new persona. She's an acknowledged pillar of self-determination,and her career has had both strength and longevity. As thereigning mannequin of the "me" generation, she has worn many labels, butshe can only be described with one name that says it all: "Cher!"
As the consummate Renaissance woman, Cher calls her own shots,and she is in total control of her own destiny. She's forceful and direct,and she speaks her mind. In 1978, sick of being tagged with the surnamesof her father, stepfather, and ex-husbands, Cherilyn Sarkisian La PiereBono Allman legally shortened her name to just one word, Cher. To herit marked her independence from every one of the men in her life. In the1980s she went through a succession of younger men, including actorsVal Kilmer and Tom Cruise and ABC-TV executive Josh Donen. Andthen there was her famed affair with Robert Camilletti, the "Bagel Boy"who was only twenty-two when forty-year-old Cher started dating him.She also had her rock and roll boyfriend phases with Gene Simmons ofKISS, Les Dudek, and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi.
She is not a women's rights proponent by petitioning and picketing,but she is a "people's rights" symbol, simply by standing up and speakingher mind and saying what she feels. As she independently proclaimed,"This is my lifeand I get to do everything I want to do. I don't reallycare what anybody thinks" (4).
According to her, "I'm a good performer, not a great performer. Idon't know what I have, but I know I've got something, and I think peoplelike me. I know I make mistakes, and I will continue to make mistakes,but I don't care if people agree with what I do. If I ever had achance to be somebody better or prettier or whatever, I wouldn't wantit. I love being me" (5).
"I don't answer to anyone except myself," she insists.
I can be very independent if necessary, and most of the time, I am. Basically, I think I'm a lot more moral than most people. I don't do drugs and I don't drinkI've spoken out against them over and over againand I think you must have a meaningful relationship with somebody, even if it's your dog. I don't think I really care if what I'm doing makes sense to everybody else. If it makes sense to me, that's all that's important (6).
Simultaneously, her ex-partner, Sonny Bono, had a post-Cher life thatwas as event-filled as that of the diva-in-the-making he had once married.He had found stardom with Cher, dressed as a Bohemian hippie in bobcatfur vests in the 1960s, yet by the 1990s he had transformed himselfinto a conservative Republican congressman in Washington, D.C. Hehad gone from singer to restaurateur to successful actor in Hairspray tobecome the mayor of Palm Springs, and finally to the halls of Congress.Although they had reunited once in 1988 on network television, Sonnyand Cher's once-inseparable friendship was strained at best. While Cherat first reluctantly embraced their daughter's lesbianism, it was Sonnywho easily accepted the news. Although since the 1970s they had beenestranged and combative with each other, Sonny's life and Cher's life willforever remain interwoven.
And yet, with all that is known about Cher, there are so many unansweredquestions. What was the truth about Cher sleeping with WarrenBeatty when she was a teenager? What happened the night Cher savedthe life of a drugged-out rock star at a Hollywood party? To what endsdid she attempt to get Gregg Allman off of drugs? What role did JackieKennedy play in turning Cher into a Vogue magazine fashion model?How did Cher react when her daughter Chastity was "outed" by thetabloid newspapers, and then publicly "came out"? How did Cher feelwhen she heard the news of Sonny Bono's deathhaving spokenscathingly of him for years? Why have Cher and Sonny Bono's widow,Mary Bono, gone from "sisters in sorrow" to bitter enemies? Thebreakup of Sonny & Cher, who left whom? And, who was having the mostextramarital affairs at the time of their top-rated television show? Whatis the truth about Sonny Bono being on prescription drugs at the time ofhis fatal skiing accident? Exactly what plastic surgery has Cher had doneto herself in a constant race against time and aging? What are Cher's insecurities?What is behind the obsession with her looks? What was the reasonbehind Cher's affair with openly gay record-company executiveDavid Geffen? Did she hope she could make him go straight? In the1980s, when Cher would have done anything to become a serious moviestar, to what ends did she have to go? Which movie directors did Cherlove, and which ones did she hate? Is she a pain in the ass to work with?What drove Cher to appear in those dreadful infomercials in the 1990s,the ones that nearly ruined her career? Cher made her brilliant return tomovies in 1999 in Tea With Mussolini. What was her big gripe with directorFranco Zeffirelli? Was Cher's eulogy at Sonny Bono's funeral fromher heart, or was it just a brilliant opportunity for her to gain publicity?What went into Cher's un-"Believe"-able 1990s comeback? This biographywill help to explain these mysteries, and the appeal of this one-of-a-kindpop icon.
For Cher, the story of her life, and of her brilliant career, has justbegun. She has experienced vast heights of achievement and livedthrough low points of creative inactivity, but through it all she hasremained true to only one person, herself. She is a triumphant survivorin a cutthroat business. She is a clever woman who can be defined by onlyone word: Cher!
Excerpted from Cher by MARK BEGO. Copyright © 2001 by Mark Bego. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Mark Bego is the author of 40 books including Cooper Square Press's Madonna: Blond Ambition and Vince Gill. He lives in Tucson, AZ.
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I love cher and i am only 9 years of age