Biography of Cher

Cher
Photo by SGrantz / WireImage

Cher ( born May 20, 1946 ) is a singer and actress whose successful career has spanned more than 50 years. She is among the few people that have won Emmy, Grammy, and Academy Awards. Her worldwide record sales have exceeded 100 million, and she has reached #1 on at least one Billboard chart every decade from the 1960s through the 2010s.

Early Years

Born Cherilyn Sarkisian, Cher's father was a truck driver and her mother was a model and bit-part actress.

Her parents divorced when she was just ten months old. Later, her mother remarried and gave birth to a second daughter. That relationship ended when Cher was nine. Her mother remarried several more times, and the family frequently moved around the country.

Dropping out of school at age 16, Cher moved to Los Angeles with a friend. She took acting classes and worked to earn money to support herself. Cher met Sonny Bono in 1962 when he was an aspiring songwriter and promotions manager for producer Phil Spector. She accepted Sonny's offer to work as his housekeeper. In return, he introduced her to Phil Spector. Cher  appeared on multiple recordings as a backup singer including the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'." Phil Spector also produced Cher's first record, an unsuccessful single titled "Ringo, I Love You" and released under the name Bonnie Jo Mason in 1964.

Toward the end of 1964, Cher signed a recording contract with Liberty Records, and Sonny Bono worked as her producer. Released on the label's Imperial imprint, her cover of Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want To Do," the first credited to the name Cher, hit the top 20 on the U.S. pop singles chart.

Personal Life

Cher and Sonny Bono conducted their own marriage ceremony in late 1964.

She encouraged him to perform with her as a duo because it helped ease her stage fright. Amid professional difficulties in the late 1960s, Sonny began dating other women, and the relationship began to disintegrate. In an attempt to win Cher back, Sonny officially married her, and their child Chastity Bono was born March 4, 1969.

In the early 1970s, in the wake of their success as television stars, the marriage of Sonny and Cher suffered again. In 1974, Sonny filed for separation, and Cher countered with divorce proceedings. Their divorce was finalized in June 1975. Four days later she married rock musician Greg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band with whom she had Elijah Blue was born in July 1976. Cher and Greg Allman divorced in 1979. At the time, she was living with Kiss leader Gene Simmons. 

In 1978, Cherilyn Sarkisian La Piere Bono Allman officially changed her name to the mononym, Cher. She readily adopted the image of a single mother with two children working hard to support herself and her family. Although she was romantically linked with a wide range of younger men in the 1980s including Val Kilmer, Tom Cruise, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and 22-year-old bagel baker Rob Camilletti, Cher has not remarried.

Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident in 1998, and Cher delivered a eulogy at his funeral. She called him, "the most unforgettable character" she had met. In tribute to him, she hosted a CBS TV special titled Sonny & Me: Cher Remembers in May 1998.

Music Career

For the latter part of the 1960s, following her initial solo success, Cher balanced solo hits like "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" with her Sonny and Cher successes "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." However, by the end of the decade, the commercial fortunes of the duo and Cher as a solo artist both faded.

In 1971, Cher launched the first of her many comebacks. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour debuted on TV in August 1971, and Cher followed it with her first #1 pop hit single "Gypsys (sic), Tramps & Thieves." In the course of three years, she released four top 10 pop hits, and three of them went all the way to #1.

 

After another fade in popularity with rock music experiments in the late 1970s, Cher jumped on the disco bandwagon and returned to the top 10 with "Take Me Home." Her comeback was short-lived, and her ill-fated rock group Black Rose failed to chart with their self-titled album.

Cher spent much of the early 1980s cultivating her acting career. In the latter part of the decade, she signed to Geffen Records to launch a massive third comeback. Beginning with 1987's "I Found Someone," Cher's new blend of pop and rock brought her four more top 10 pop hits including 1989's "If I Could Turn Back Time," one of her concert favorites.

To the surprise of many, Cher had one more major music comeback up her sleeve after fading from the spotlight for most of the 1990s. The dance single "Believe" was welcomed as one of the top achievements of her career and soared all the way to #1. It was a major hit around the world and introduced the technology auto-tune to mainstream pop music. The song began a string of regular hits on Billboard's dance chart that extended across the next 15 years.

In 2002, Cher launched a farewell concert tour. She was not retiring from recording and acting, but she was planning to retire from the grind of touring from city to city. Originally scheduled as 49 shows, the tour was extended multiple times. When it came to an end in 2005, Cher's farewell tour encompassed 326 performances and was one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time earning $250 million. She followed it with a three-year Las Vegas residency that earned a reported $60 million a year from 2008 through 2011.

 

More than a decade after her first farewell tour, Cher hit the road again in 2014 on the Dressed To Kill tour. After 49 sold-out performances, it was brought to an end due to a kidney infection. Cher began a new Las Vegas residency in early 2017.

Film Career

Cher long wanted to be a successful film actress before she moved to New York in 1982, took acting lessons, and was hired for the Broadway production Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean. She was then offered a part in the film Silkwood,  which received resounding praise from critics. For her performance in the film, Cher earned a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.

1987 was a landmark year for Cher's acting career. She starred in three movies including Suspect, The Witches of Eastwick, and Moonstruck. The latter was a commercial and critical smash earning Cher an Academy Award for Best Actress. She was suddenly one of the most in-demand film actresses of the 1980s earning $1 million a film.

Cher's subsequent film success has been spotty. Her 1990 film Mermaids earned some commercial success. In 2010 she made a highly publicized return to movies in Burlesque. Her song from the movie, "You Haven' Seen the Last Of Me," was a #1 dance hit single. 

Legacy

Cher has been celebrated for representing female independence in male-dominated industries. Her choices to perform hard rock music, embrace disco, and wear outlandish outfits are all her own. As the oldest woman to hit #1 on the pop chart when she was 52, Cher also proved that entertainment industry boundaries can be flexible.

Cher continually re-invented her image to follow trends and remain in the spotlight even when commercial success was elusive. In the 1980s she proved her versatility as an entertainer by winning an Academy Award for acting. The New York Times dubbed her the "Queen of the Comeback."

Cher is also considered to be an icon of the gay community. She is celebrated by gay men for her sense of style and her durability in the entertainment spotlight. She is frequently the subject of imitation by drag queens. Cher also embraced the LGBT community when her oldest child came out as gay and later transitioned from female to male as Chaz Bono. 

Top 5 Cher Songs

  • "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" (1966): Written by Sonny Bono, this song became Cher's first top 10 pop hit as a solo artist climbing all the way to #2. In the same year of Cher's version, Nancy Sinatra recorded a cover that has become even better known over time. The Nancy Sinatra version of "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" was used in the opening credits of the hit movie Kill Bill Volume 1 and was sampled in the top 3 UK pop hit "Shot You Down" by the Audio Bullys released in 2005.
  • "Gypsys (sic), Tramps & Thieves" (1971): This story song became Cher's first #1 pop hit. it includes instrumental backing from the legendary Wrecking Crew group of Los Angeles session musicians. The song's success was assisted by being featured in the hit TV show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.
  • "Half-Breed" (1973): Although it was controversial in some quarters with accusations of Cher commercializing her Cherokee heritage, "Half-Breed" was a #1 smash hit. It was her second gold-certified single. The song represents Cher's early-1970s commercial peak.
  • "If I Could Turn Back Time" (1989): At first, Cher disliked this song, written by Diane Warren. Reportedly, Warren got down on her knees and pleaded with Cher to record it. The song became a #3 pop hit, and the accompanying music video with Cher performing on a battleship is considered one of the most iconic of her career.
  • "Believe" (1998): This song reportedly circulated for months at the Warner Bros. record label with nobody wanting it. Finally, a full version of the song was accepted by Cher. Using new auto-tune technology, the distinctive sound of the dance record took Cher to #1 on the pop singles chart for the first time in 24 years. Billboard ranked it as the #1 most successful single of 1999, and it is the biggest hit of Cher's career.