All Cherilyn Sarkisian wanted as a child was to be famous. Her mother, Georgia Holt – a sometime model and actress – encouraged her daughter’s ambition.
Cher left home when she was sixteen and moved in with a girlfriend. She worked at See’s Candy and danced it up on the Sunset Strip. Then one day, Cher saw Sonny Bono – a thin guy with long black hair, Beatles boots and a gold chain.
Sonny, as it happens, was crazy about Melissa, the girl Cher was rooming with. But when Melissa kicked Cher out because she couldn’t pay the rent, Sonny came to her rescue and let her move into his apartment.
Cher lied to her mother and told her she was living with a stewardess. She lied to Sonny and told him she was 19.
They married in 1964 – the same year that Sonny and Cher the pop duo were born.
It was all an accident: Sonny was working as a record promoter for producer Phil Spector, and Cher was just hanging around.
She hadn’t even thought of becoming a singer. One night at the studio one of the backup singers didn’t show up and Cher got the gig.
When I Got You Babe was released in 1965 and went on to sell 4 million copies, Sonny and Cher were it. Their trademark look – bell-bottoms, vests and Eskimo boots – caused quite a sensation.
By 1971 they had their own high-rating television variety show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.
After her ugly – and very public – divorce from Sonny in the mid-70s, Cher’s star waned alarmingly. She briefly returned to the US Top 10 with Take Me Home but ended the decade in high dudgeon with women’s rights groups after appearing chained and semi-naked on the cover of her little-heard LP, Prisoner.
Meanwhile, Cher found herself in a number of relationships with rock stars including Gregg Allman, who she married and divorced (pictured at left), Gene Simmons of KISS and Les Dudek – with whom she formed rock band Black Rose. Neither the relationships nor the band were successful.
Early 80s musical ventures were similarly unsuccessful and, by 1982, the now middle-aged Cher seemed finished.
She then landed a part in an off-Broadway production of Come Back To The Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, also appearing in the subsequent film version.
When 1983s Silkwood brought her a first Oscar nomination, it was clear that a new career was beckoning.
The US Top 10 single I Found Someone was followed by other hits including The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss), a UK #1 in 1991, but even that level of success was eclipsed by Believe – a dance track with startling vocoder voice effects – which topped the charts in 27 countries, including the US and the UK.
Taking a gamble on a new futuristic technology called AutoTune, Believe introduced the then-52-year-old singer to a whole new generation of fans, becoming an indelible anthem for the queer community and earning Cher a permanent place in the canon of empowerment-pop anthems.