In a long career that's well into its fourth decade, Cher has reinvented herself a number of times: as a hippie rock singer, a wisecracking TV comedienne, as a forthright film star, a middle-aged sex symbol, a fitness guru, and most recently a dance-club diva.
Cher dropped out of school and left home at 16, moving to Hollywood to be an actress. In 1963 she sang in sessions for producer Phil Spector and met Sonny Bono. Her musical and romantic partnership with Bono lasted until 1975 [see Sonny and Cher entry]. After their bitter split, Cher hosted her own TV variety show, which lasted one year. She had been having an affair with record producer David Geffen but married guitarist Gregg Allman five days after her divorce from Bono. That 1975 marriage produced a son, Elijah Blue, and an album, the critically reviled Allman and Woman: Two the Hard Way. The couple divorced in 1979. Cher became famous for her relationships with younger rockers, including a late-'70s romance with Kiss' Gene Simmons and an early-'90s relationship with Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora.
In 1979 Cher had her first hit since her breakup with Bono with the disco hit Take Me Home (#25, 1979) and its title track (#8, 1979). In 1980 she formed the hard-rock band Black Rose with her boyfriend Les Dudek (who had previously played with Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs), but critics buried them. Cher returned to playing Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where she has always been popular; her casino stints also led her to the infamous Sun City resort in South Africa.
Cher made her Broadway debut in Robert Altman's Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in 1982. She starred in the movie of the play also, a role that finally broke down the Hollywood doors she had been knocking on for years. (In 1969 she had starred in the ill-fated film entitled Chastity.) In the next decade she landed featured roles in Silkwood, Mask, The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect, Moonstruck, and Mermaids; she won an Oscar for best actress for her performance in Moonstruck.
In 1987 Cher returned to recording and had a gold record with Cher (#32, 1987), which featured the singles "I Found Someone" (#10, 1987) and "We All Sleep Alone" (#14, 1988). Sonny and Cher last performed together singing an impromptu version of "I Got You Babe" on Late Night With David Letterman in February 1988. In 1989 her duet with Peter Cetera from the Chances Are soundtrack, "After All" (#6, 1989), became a hit. Heart of Stone (#10, 1989) went double platinum with the singles "If I Could Turn Back Time" (#3, 1989), "Just Like Jesse James" (#8, 1989), and "Heart of Stone" (#20, 1989). Cher's cover of Betty Everett's "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)" (#33, 1990) was featured in Mermaids. In 1993 Cher recorded "I Got You Babe," her 1965 hit with Sonny, backed by MTV cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-head for The Beavis and Butt-head Experience album.
Always obsessed with her appearance, Cher has released exercise videos, a diet guide, perfume, and a line of skin-care products. (She has denied reports that she has had numerous cosmetic surgical procedures.) Since playing the mother of a physically deformed child in Mask, Cher has been active in a charity benefiting children with craniofacial problems.
In 1996 Cher released It's a Man's World (#64), her first studio album in five years. The single "One by One" (#5, 1996) became a big club hit; one of the song's remixes featured rapper Melle Mel, formerly of the groundbreaking hip-hop crew Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. It's a Man's World employed a half-dozen producers and included songs written by James Brown, Don Henley, the Walker Brothers, Paul Brady, and Trevor Horn, among others.
On January 8, 1998, Cher's former husband and singing partner, Sonny Bono, then a Republican congressman from California, died in a skiing accident at Lake Tahoe. Cher delivered a tearful eulogy at Bono's funeral. Her autobiography, The First Time (with Jeff Coplon), got surprisingly little attention. Cher's subsequent album, Believe (#7, 1998), went platinum. The record's electronically enhanced title track (#1, 1998) was an international dance smash, her biggest hit ever. In 1999 Cher acted alongside Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Judi Dench, and Lady Joan Plowright in Tea With Mussolini, a film directed by Franco Zeffirelli.
This biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).