CHER!! 75!! REALLY!!
She is unlike any female pop star in the pantheon — the MOST enduring, the MOST satisfying, the one who REALLY gives you your money’s worth. In her work Cher is singularly devoted to delivering a joyful experience.
Over the years I had quite a few moments with Cher. I was impressed always by her intelligence, her basic modesty; good humor, sensitivity. Also, an amazing air of … serenity!
I have never seen anybody sit as still as Cher, and yet carry on an extremely animated conversation — high-powered vivacity mixed with the meditative qualities of Zen. I always felt calmer, totally stress-free after talking with Cher, despite the chaos and/or anxiety that surrounds a legend. (I once watched while she prepared herself for a photo shoot; she moved and reacted in a kind of hypnotic slow-motion, causing everyone around her to have mini-breakdowns while they tried to hurry her along. She didn’t hurry, she didn’t worry, and the task that was required of her, she did perfectly, without drama. And then she went home.)
She speaks honestly. She says exactly what she means and means exactly what she says. You never leave her, personally — one on one — or professionally — giving her fans exactly what they want — feeling in any way misled, disappointed. She is not overly friendly — determined to win approval and flattering coverage — nor is she at all aloof. She is the Goldilocks of stars — “just right.”
Of course I dealt with her only as a reporter; I don’t know the real woman with real-life issues. And she is an actress, after all. Still, one cannot come away from her without feeling she is a good person, a loyal friend, and perhaps most famously, the canny guardian of her image. She shapes, re-shapes and maintains that image not so much for vanity or ego (although those things must be there), but because I honestly believe she feels a responsibility to employ her “talent to amuse” for as long as she can, for the people who made her dreams come true — for us.
Today, in celebration of Cher being 75 years young, I reprint, in full, my 2002 interview with this genuinely great star and lovely human being.
P.S. Cher is in planning for, or working on — a Christmas album, a second ABBA album, an autobiography, a film about her life and career.
While you wait, do drench yourself in her “genderless” fragrance, Cher Eau De Couture (“Bold, Spicy, Classic!”). Or pick up a copy of her first Spanish-language song, Chiquitita; proceeds go to UNICEF and the Covid-19 battle. She saves elephants, too!
New York City, 2002.
DF: Okay, this what I want to know — especially after seeing this amazing show — how do you make everything in your career look so effortless, so no sweat. You don’t seem ambitious, but you must be to have lasted so long?
C: Well, you know what? I must be! I must be ambitious because you couldn’t do what I’ve done and not be ambitious. I certainly had a lot of dreams I wanted to come true. But you know what the truth is? Maybe only two or three times in my life I’ve said, “Oh, I need to do that for the money,” or “I’m having a hard time.” Almost everything I do usually starts with, “Oh, that would be fun.” The next thing I know, I’m in the midst of a movie or a record or a tour and I’m kind of, “Whoa, how did this happen?” When I was first with Son, he and I just had this dream of making a record. And we had a dream of being famous. But we didn’t know how it would materialize because we were not what was happening at the time at all … at all … at all. We just happened to catch the wave. And then we did the TV show and that was like an accident too, because there was nobody on TV who looked like us or behaved like us.
DF: So essentially your entire career has been a series of accidents?
C: Well that’s kind of true in one way. But I don’t really believe in accidents. But I did have one strong dream, and that was to win an Academy Award. I wanted to be a good actress. But that is not real ambition, I don’t think. I never wanted to be a mogul or to be “powerful” or anything like that.
DF: You didn’t want to be Barbra Streisand.
C: Not at all. Though I’d still love to direct. One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done was directing “If These Walls Could Talk” for HBO.
DF: Judy Garland once said, “I just want to go out there and give them two hours of pow! What do you get from your audience. Because again, while you are out there clearly having a good time, you don’t seem consumed by it.
C: What I want to do is go out and give them two hours of completely forgetting everything about their life, forgetting any problems them have, just uplifting them and try to give them something they can walk away with, some sort of memory. But nothing heavy. If I do it right, if it’s light enough, it can be like magic, like a sleight of hand. You’ll never know, you won’t see it.
DF: You seem to be all confidence on stage.
C: No. I’m shy — I really am! By the third song I’m usually winding down, calmed down enough to stop thinking about myself and then I’m really prepared to give a really good show. But it takes me a little bit of time.
DF: I am always astonished by the power of your voice. It is so strong. Do you take care of it?
C: Well, I do when I know I’m going to be working. But I’m real lazy. I mean that’s another thing. I’m SO lazy. But when I know I’m going to have to use it, I get in with my vocal coach and I just cram. I do vocal exercises and lift weights at the same time. And then it seems to just squeak through, somehow. But it is a much better voice than when I was younger. The first voice teacher I ever went to was in 1986. Her name was Miss Adrienne Angel, which I thought was such a great name for a vocal coach. And she changed my life around.
DF: Your audiences love you — there is terrific energy from the audience. What’s the secret of your appeal — which I have to say, is very cross-generational.
C: Don’t know.
DF: Cher! Monosyllabic answers are not allowed. Come on!
C: Maybe it’s because I’ve done a lot of things. I mean some people are from the TV years. That’s where it started with them. Some are fans from the beginning, on records. And there are the ones who liked me in movies and then they discovered the singing and TV. I’ve got something for everyone, I guess.
DF: I’ll say! What about that elephant in your show! Was that inspired from the scene in “Auntie Mame” when Rosalind Russell is dictating a letter to Patrick on the back of an elephant?
C: No, no — it was a camel! I know every scene from that movie. It totally influenced me as a child, and that’s what I thought life was all about, and then years later in Hollywood I met Rosalind Russell and she told me I was going to be a great actress! Anyway, the elephant came from a song in my yoga group; the oldest Sanskrit chant. And one day I was singing along in class and one of the other girls said, “Oh, Cher, that would be great if you could put that in your show!” And at first I thought, “Oh, please, she knows nothing about show business,” but then I thought, “Hey, maybe I could do a sort of exotic Balinese section, and then I came up with the idea of me riding the big fake, glittery elephant, chanting.
DF: Well, it was just hilarious and spectacular. You know, I was really touched by the all the footage with Sonny. He was so young. You both were … It was very moving.
C: It is great, isn’t it.
DF: He was so adorable. I mean I didn’t have to live with him or anything, but …
C: No, he was adorable too. But he was such a pain in the ass because you couldn’t tell when he was going to be adorable or when he was going to be a big shit. But he still made me laugh no matter what. He could get around me more than anybody except for Elijah. The two people who can get around me the most in my life … the only two. It’s Elijah and Sonny.
DF: When you split with did you ever feel you career was over or in jeopardy?
C: Well, I didn’t think so, really. But some people did. Look, Son said, “America will hate you for breaking up Sonny and Cher.”
DF: Wow, that’s quite a statement.
C: Yeah. And it gave me a moment’s pause because one part of me said, “What an asshole thing to say,” and the other part thought, “Oh, God. He’s never been wrong about my career.”
DF: But you went on.
C: Yes, I had my own show and it was successful, but it was a lot of responsibility and there was a lot going on in my personal life with Gregory [Gregg Allman, Cher’s second husband]. So Son and I got back together for another Sonny and Cher show but it didn’t work. We were divorced; the jokes didn’t seem funny. I was pregnant with Elijah. People weren’t ready for it. Today I think it would work. But in 1975 TV audiences were not that sophisticated.
DF: You did Oprah a few months ago and you cried when she showed the clip of you giving Sonny’s eulogy.
C: I had never seen it.
LS: Really. That was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I’d written and re-written it and I was not sure I was going to get through it. But I did and I was glad I did, but it wasn’t something where I was going to say, “Oh, let’s see how it turned out.” Who wants to look at something like that? But you know what, I’m glad I was so emotional, for Chastity’s sake. For most of her life it was me complaining about him or him complaining about me. That’s what she knew of us. And even though it was a horrible way, at least she could finally see that there was a great love, and that I honored and respected everything Son did for me.
DF: But everything after you split with him — the hit singles, the Vegas shows, the movies and Oscar, that was all on your own.
C: Yes, but it all sprang from Sonny and Cher and Son created that, he was Sonny and Cher.
DF: Are your kids impressed by the enormity of your success — at least the longevity?
DF: NO?!! Give me a break, not at all? Not even when “Believe” was number one for what — twenty weeks, all over the world?
C: I think Elijah might have been a little impressed last night. He came into my dressing room. You know he is such a weird kid anyway. He came into my dressing room, just blustered into the quick-change room. “Hey, Mom, I’m digging this.” And then, “Well, Mom, could I use your powder?” “Yeah, babe.” He just pushes me aside, and we’re all laughing, you know, because it’s just so Elijah. But then he says, “You know Mom, I was watching that back in the day stuff and it really made me cry. He said, “I just sat there and I was weeping.” And this is like … well, he’s so much a bull in a china shop. We think of him as that guy in “Seinfeld” who used to run through the door?
C: Kramer. Elijah is Kramer. He just busts through everywhere. So for him to say that, I thought, “Well, that’s pretty impressive. But I think, honestly, my kids think of my fame as a pain in their ass.
DF: They had a hard time growing up with Cher as a mom?
C: Well, just the public stuff, which is so pervasive. But they had it good, too.
DF: Were you a good mother?
C: The very best I could be under the circumstances. I was mostly functioning as a single working mom. Could I have been better? Sure. I could also be a better actress or a better singer, or a better person all-around. But I don’t beat myself up. My kids are very special. They’ve both turned out beautifully. I’m very proud of both of them.
DF: Do you miss them as children?
C: Oh, God, yes.
DF: Sometimes people say it’s better once you can deal with them as adults?
C: No, no. I totally miss them as children. Because I had so much fun with then when they were little. It’s hard when they grow up. I mean as adults I respect and love them. But I had a lot more fun when they were teenie. Of course, I still have to deal with them as “Mom.” I’ll always be “Mom.” They call me, “Mom, can I need this, Mom, can you do that?” But I just … we had such a great time when they were kids. I miss the Christmases where they were hiding, or Halloween, or when we would just go off on vacations by ourselves. I mean, when you have kids, everything’s like a picnic. At least that’s how it was for me. I treasure those childhood memories.
DF: Well, now, I’m sure people will be touched by all this, but we’ve got to get into the TOUGH questions — like, how the hell do you look the way you do?! You look 26 onstage and maybe 29 offstage. Where’s the portrait, Ms. Gray?
C: Ha! I do yoga. I do yoga three days a week. And I do weight-lifting three days a week. That’s what I do now. And I have a facial-ist that I go to religiously. I have a great manicurist, too. I try to eat healthy. And let’s not forget I have great wigs that I wear all the time in public, which has saved my own hair. People think my own hair is a wig, it’s in such good condition!
DF: Anything more?
C: Come on, please. If I had as much plastic surgery as they say I’ve had there’d be another whole person left over. I could send her out to work her ass off on stage every night.
DF: I know you’ve addressed this before.
C: And I have been extremely honest on the subject. You know, my audience isn’t holding up signs saying, “Go away, you’ve had too much plastic surgery.” It’s the media who seems obsessed on the subject. I’ve had these cheekbones since I was seventeen. I’ve always had this waist. My show is full of video clips of myself from age 16 till now. Anybody can look at those clips and see how I’ve changed — and how I haven’t. Obviously I’m not hiding anything. And as I’ve said before, it’s nobody’s business but my own.
DF: But Cher, you look so very good, do you ever think you’ve aced yourself out of a career as a mature actress, because nobody is going to say, “The 60 year-old mother, let’s get Cher.” They might say, “The 30 year-old girlfriend?”
C: Listen, I could be that way if I didn’t put on ten pounds of makeup. Look at “Silkwood.” That was pretty stripped down, appearance-wise. I can do that, and I will do that in the future. But when you’re putting on the kind of show I’m putting on right now, you don’t want to come out looking like an old hag. I have to tell you something, too, and this is the absolute truth. I don’t like the way I look. I mean I have never liked the way I look. So, for me, a mirror is only to see if my make-up is on right.
DF: Well, one role you are set to do is “Mame,” right?
C: Right, if I ever get off this tour. They keep adding dates! This is going to be a very long farewell tour. But I want to do “Mame” as sort of my homage to Rosalind Russell, even though she did “Auntie Mame” and that wasn’t the musical version. But it is still the same character and I am so influenced by her … it’s like trying to re-do The Philadelphia Story for somebody who was a huge Katharine Hepburn fan. Oh, and I’m a huge Katharine Hepburn fan, too.
DF: It’s perfect for you. And the songs are perfect for you. You will be an incredible Mame and kids will watch that and be influenced and transported as you were.
C: Well, you know, that’s what someone said. They said, “Either you do it, or no one will ever know how great it was.” [As of today—Cher as Mame has not happened. But I say never say never!]
DF: I love that scene “Tea With Mussolini” where you sing a few bars of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.” I suddenly wanted it to be a movie with Cher singing classics, a musical! Would you ever do an album like that— Porter, Gerswhin, Irving Berlin?
C: I’ve always wanted to do one, taped live at Carnegie Hall, in really great gowns. Just wonderful old ’30’s and ’40’s songs I love that music. But I have this idea that it has to be Carnegie Hall. But there are a number of things on my wish-list. I’d like to do a Christmas album, I want to do a country Western album with all the great country stars.
DF: So, this really is the end of Cher in concert on this large scale?
C: It really is. You know I was thinking that at some point I might want to play a small club, an intimate thing. But I’ll never do this again because truthfully what I’m doing would kick a girl’s ass half my age. [Of course, Cher did do it again. And again, and … etc!]
DF: Speaking of intimate things, Cher …
C: Oh, here comes the really personal shit.
DF: I do what I’m told. You know, I met you once with Rob Cameletti a few years ago. And he was so nice.
C: Isn’t he adorable? The greatest guy in the world.
DF: I always felt that if it hadn’t been for that incident with the paparazzi, the car accident, that you two might have made it, would still be together.
C: Oh, you know what. I’m sure we would have been married!
C: Yes, I adored him. We were actually … Rob and I were talking about this the other day, he’s a pilot now, by the way. We were talking for hours, and he said “Well, you know if I just met you when I was a little bit older.” And I said, “Yeah, but there was something about when we did meet, Robert, it was so special. Special for both of us.” So things happen when they happen. But you can never go back. But it was one of the greatest times in my life. The kids were still young. They were still at home. I’d just started doing movies back to back …
DF: There was footage of the two of you on some VH1 special I watched the other night, at the press conference after the accident, and it was so sad, you both looked so sad.
C: It was horrible and they were really mean to him in jail, right after it happened. But … those are the things that happen.
DF: Anyone in your life now?
C: No. You know, I have to tell you, if it was right now … I’ve been through this where you go on tour and there’s no way it can survive. I’ve lost two boyfriends on the road in times past. So in a way I’m glad I don’t have to be tortured by it. Because nobody wanted to be Mr. Cher. And when you’re on the road, and you don’t have any choice but to focus on the thing you’re doing, and it really has to be all about you, it doesn’t work. Robert was the only person that I ever went with who was not threatened by who I was. And yet it was finally who I was, and what it brought, that somehow killed it.
DF: Do you hold onto past hurts?
C: What do you mean?
DF: Are you a grudge-bearer?
C: No. If someone does something hurtful or stupid I’ll just say, “that was stupid, that was hurtful” and that would pretty much be that. I don’t punish people I want in my life just because they might have disappointed me in some way. I’m sure I’ve disappointed people as well.
DF: Well, what about the press?
C: If I was going to hold a grudge because of every dumb thing that’s been written about me, I’d never leave the house. Actually, I make it a point to never read what’s written about me, good or bad.
DF: That’s healthy.
C: I do spout off, though and there times I maybe should have counted to three before I spoke. But why should I censor myself?
DF: Oh, that’s what I wanted to ask you. I read recently that you are not nearly as candid in your public statements as you could be, because of your career. What do you hold back about?
C: In ways that are important about who I am, I think I’m very forthcoming. But there are certain views I have on certain subjects that are very touchy. I mean I am a very strange combination of very liberal and very conservative but I don’t fit into any party, and I have really terrible things to say about a lot of people, you know, because I get so passionate about politics and stuff like that. So in that way, I don’t dare speak my mind. And for the most part, about my personal life I don’t have very much to hide. Nor could I hide anything.
DF: Not these days.
C: It’s been out there too much. But it’s strange, you could tell the truth from now to shavuas, but people won’t hear it. People believe what they want to believe. And you better come to grips with that if you’re in the public eye. Tell the truth — if you want to — but realize, a lot of people won’t want to hear it because it doesn’t fit the image, or their fantasy.
DF: Speaking of truth vs. illusion, what do you think of reality TV — that genre?
C: I don’t watch much regular programming on TV. I watch a lot of news. I watch C-span. I’m an old movie junkie and could not live without Turner Classic Movies and my DVD collection.
DF: Well, what if they put a camera in your home, or followed you around you, people be bored, amused, or shocked?
C: I think they would be all three. I think they’d be bored, amused and shocked.
DF: What do people misunderstand about you?
C: Everything! Because I’m this mixture of shy and bold, because I’m a celebrity, because I get myself up in outrageous outfits but I also read a lot and know what’s what. You know, people think I’m superficial or dumb or a slut. It’s not that people don’t like me, it’s just that sometimes they see me as …
DF: A dumb, likeable slut?
DF: Does that bother you?
C: Well, that’s right back to people believing what they want or need to believe. I think in general, and by now, I’m pretty much well-regarded. But truthfully, no woman likes to be though of as loose. I never was, and that did hurt. I dated liked a normal person.
DF: The last time I saw you was on the set of your video, which was filmed in New York, and Kevyn Aucoin, the great makeup maestro, was working on you. He died not long after that.
C: Oh, I’m looking at him right now. I have a photo here in my dressing room. I knew he was sick. He was sick the last time I saw him. But we were optimistic about his condition. And then one day Jennifer, my assistant came in while I was working out. She said, “Kevin is dead.” And I said “Jen, that’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever said.” I mean instead of going, “Oh, my God!” my first reaction was that it was ridiculous.” It took me days to … but I never think of him as dead. I know he is, but I just don’t think of him as dead. And I feel his presence at the shows.
DF: He was so kind about everybody. Everybody was really naturally beautiful, as far as Kevyn was concerned.
C: Yes, yes. He would spend like two hours on me and go “”Oh, my God, you have the most beautiful eyes!” And I’d say, Yeah, now I do, you just spent hours putting individual lashes on!” I miss him very much, though as I say … I keep expecting him to show up backstage. And speaking of that, I really have to finish getting ready. You don’t just comb your hair and wash your face and step out on the stage as Cher. There’s just a little make-up which I do myself before each show. It’s a great form of relaxation for me, believe it or not.
DF: Okay, two more. Are you comfortable at this point with the Faustian deal you’ve made—that all stars make? If you could, would you give back some of the fame and success for a measure of privacy and normalcy?
C: Probably not.
DF: You are the only very famous person I’ve ever asked that who has said no!
C: Really? Then they’re lying. I mean the idea seems fabulous. But this has been my life since I was 18. This is normal for me. And I would have to give up what I do, which I enjoy. But I kind of wish I’d been a painter. I wish I’d been a famous painter instead.
DF: A famous painter.
C: Yes, I guess that always has to factor in! We get what we get and we should be happy for our gifts. I have this thing above my mirror and it says, “God wants you to be doing exactly what you’re doing right now.”
DF: All right, darling this is it. You’ve reached and passed milestone birthdays — and you’ve come out bigger and better after each one. What about the future? What about Cher at … 75? What can we expect? Other than you’ll only look 40?
C: 75? Geez! I don’t have any idea. Maybe plays by then, the stage. Or maybe by that time, I’ll just have decided the world’s had quite enough of me. And I’ll be climbing mountains. I have that thing in me. I have that desire to be an old lady climbing mountains and going to Tibet and driving my truck. I could see myself puttering around, exploring.
DF: Do you have a life motto?
C: I don’t know if I have a motto, but I have a belief that everyone’s got to have a dream. And if they reach that, then they’ve got to have another. Because it’s not simply achieving your dreams that counts, it’s making more, and bigger, and better dreams.