This article originally appeared in the December 1988 issue of playboy magazine.
If you stayed home to watch TV one hypothetical evening in April 1988, and somebody told you to catch a certain entertainer with a single name and a photogenic navel, you might have caught these glimpses of her—click!—as a serious actress in three movies (Silkwood, Mask and Suspect) playing on various cable channels—click!—as the campy, vampy video star of her own rock single on MTV—click!—as the Vampirellalike pitchwoman for a line of health spas—click!—and hold—as she takes Best Actress on the Academy Awards show, brandishing her Oscar and smiling a can-you-believe-this-shit grin, and—click!—a bit later, wearing a dress made of several sequins, appearing on Late Night with David Letterman for a reunion sing-along with her former husband and partner.
That’s not counting radio broadcasts, newspapers, tabloids and, it seems, the cover of every magazine in the civilized world, save Field & Stream. Within, she was variously described as being pregnant, minus two ribs to improve her shape or bailing out her boyfriend, whose Ferrari, reportedly, had made straight for a pesky paparazzo. And that was all in a period of a few months. Who was that tattooed lady? We don’t know who Time’s Man or Woman of the Year will be, but our choice—if you count gutsiness, verve and talent—is the often bejeaned, sometimes befeathered, always becoming superstar known as Cher.
It has not always been thus. Thirteen years ago, when playboy interviewed Cher for the first time, she was seen as a one-dimensional “entertainer” on TV. Today, she’s an actress paired with and compared to Meryl Streep.
But whatever her current showbiz fling—be it records, television, Las Vegas, Broadway, motion pictures—the remarkable thing is that she does it well. All along, she has seemed to survive the flying shrapnel of the celebrity war zone, emerging pretty much unscathed. For, in the delicately balanced Hollywood ecosystem, she is one of the hardiest organisms, evolving with near-Darwinian tenacity, each new Cher fitter for survival than the last.
Before she recycled herself into this present shining incarnation—prior to any of the incarnations, for that matter—Cher had taken her share of lumps. Born Cherilyn Sarkesian on May 20, 1946, her childhood years were uncommonly rocky. Her mother was married eight times—three of them to Cher’s father, a heroin addict and frequent resident of the jailhouse. Constantly readjusting herself to the family’s ever-changing emotional and financial states (to this day, she maintains that her childhood poverty ignited her passion for shopping), she eventually escaped the turbulence at the age of 16, when she dropped out of school, simplified her name and hooked up with a man named Sonny Bono, 12 years her senior, who married her and swept her into a career in show business.
For 11 years, Sonny and Cher’s act held the attention of its audience—first the countless bell-bottomed youngsters with a predilection for bubble-gum music, then the millions of middle Americans who enjoyed watching the couple’s marital patter and antics on TV. But in 1975, tired of the act and of the marriage, Cher went her own way. Maintaining her television, recording and club careers, she simultaneously struck up a new bond with the press, which gleefully tracked her every bizarre move—especially her stormy two-year marriage to rock star Gregg Allman.
In 1977—now a two-time divorcee and a showbiz veteran at the ripe age of 31—she headed for New York, leaving behind the pastels of L.A. and a $350,000-per-week Vegas gig. It was as if that kind of success just weren’t enough. So, like a marathon runner, she raced against herself, against time and against her image. Almost immediately, she hit the wall fast and hard, slamming up against the popular perception of her as the tall, silly girl with the low voice.
But Cher persisted, finally catching a second wind with her 1982 stage debut in Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean—a nonmusical funky Broadway offering directed by movie director Robert Altman. She went on to relive the performance on film, and from there, the succession of movie roles was both steady and memorable, each one bearing the inimitable Cher stamp: the lonely lesbian and best friend to Streep in Mike Nichols’ Silkwood (earning her her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress), the biker mother of an anatomical freak in Mask (earning her a 1985 Cannes Citation for Best Actress), one of three lovers to Jack Nicholson’s Devil in The Witches of Eastwick, a prosecutor who has an affair with a juror in Suspect and, most recently, the funny Italian love-struck bookkeeper in Moonstruck, the role that landed her the Oscar.
Although, to some, her Academy Award came as no surprise (odds makers had her winning), the industry’s satisfaction with the choice was plainly apparent, as the audience of stars and showbiz Pooh-Bahs that evening serenaded Cher’s walk to the podium to receive the trophy with loud and unabashed hurrahs.
But while she has attained respectability, Cher can still prime the gossip pumps. Having shared bed and spotlight with the likes of Val (Willow) Kilmer and Gene (KISS) Simmons, she has been living with aspiring actor Robert Camilletti for more than two years. Their May-October (well, maybe May-August) romance has provided excellent grist for the movie-magazine mill. The press and the photographers, who have buzzed about outside wherever Cher’s residence has been for the past 20 years, finally got to Camilletti. He got into a dispute with a photographer, who accused him of trying to run him down in a Ferrari. The police were summoned and reluctantly arrested Camilletti at the insistence of the photographer. The next morning, the newspapers showed a beleaguered Cher bailing her man out of the slammer.
What fascinates the public about Cher is how she can maintain two images without apparent contradiction, as both the award-winning actress and the gaudy peekaboo showgirl. Then again, no serious actress has ever baited the press so blatantly: wearing her next-to-nothing outfits on stage, challenging the public to find the scars from her cosmetic surgery, calling David Letterman an asshole to his face on his own show. Her life has been an exercise in on-the-job training, and she has proved herself, time and time again, to be a quick study.
Her brash M.O.—even her own fragrance is called Uninhibited—has got her this far down the road in better shape than most. Her baby hipster Chastity is now a serious young woman. Elijah (her son by Gregg Allman) is a normal kid. Whatever the game plan, it has worked.
And so, sandwiched between her Academy Award triumph and her annual visit to the south of France, Cher agreed to talk with Eugenie Ross-Leming, with an editorial assist from writer David Standish—the same team that conducted the first Cher Playboy Interview in 1975. Ross-Leming has made her own impression in Hollywood in the interval, first as coproducer and head writer of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and most recently as the cocreator of Scarecrow & Mrs. King.
Ross-Leming reports on the reunion:
“As one would expect, Cher lives in an impressive house with Egyptian themes. Not impressive in Ptolemaic terms, but if you’re anything less than an anointed descendant of Ra, the feeling of being in the Valley of the Kings can be heady: Doors slide open silently at one’s arrival, almost as if by themselves. I remembered the part-Moroccan/part-Cherokee ambience of Cher’s bedroom back in 1975; you had to remove shoes then, too.
"I tried to feel laid back, but mystique will out, and even at her most casual, Cher just isn’t. Yes, she’s funny, often self-effacing, wears ripped-and-ragged jeans (albeit the designer version) and munches on goldfish crackers. But she’s still Cher. And, like other uninamed phenomena—such as hurricanes—she brings a lot of energy to whatever she hits.
"I like her best because, in a world of Anglo princesses—Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange, Candice Bergen, Trigger—she has returned dignity to the underrated dark temptress. It gives hope to those of us of a similar persuasion.”
We’re glad you decided to do this interview. It has been 13 years for both of us. And, lately, a lot of press for you.
Well, there’s been so much distortion of what I’ve said, I was pleased to get a chance to do a strictly question-and-answer format. I’m tired of having my thoughts mulled over by someone else. The articles are all basically bad: They make you seem either better or worse than you are, because they’re someone else’s version of you. I’m sure a lot of people don’t like my lifestyle, or some of the things that I’ve done. Nevertheless, I’ve still gotten a pretty fair shake—if you can get a fair shake from the press.
Let’s jump right in. Your personal life seems to get almost as much attention as your acting or singing. In your first Playboy Interview, you said your reputation as some kind of she-devil was exaggerated, that you were the kind of girl who needed to feel something for a guy before making love. Do you still feel that way?
I think I’ve gotten even worse that way. Basically, I know if I go out to dinner with someone, I could fall in love with him. Because I won’t just go out, date someone. I won’t do it. I have to get to know him first. Mostly people I’ve been introduced to or I’ve known for a while. Like when I met Robert—it was three months after I met him that we first went out together.
Then meeting your new boyfriend, Robert Camilletti, wasn’t a bolt from the blue? You didn’t meet him one night and say, “I must have this”?
No. Someone quoted me as saying, “Have him washed and brought to my tent.” [Laughs] Bullshit. I mean, I laughed at it, but it wasn’t reported tongue in cheek. They weren’t smart enough to do that.
Well, you two have been in the papers a lot. How did you meet him?
I saw him at a night club in Manhattan and I thought he was Sooo handsome, just beautiful, and he just kind of rocked my socks, you know? I’ve never felt a physical impact like that, except maybe when my children were born. But I didn’t speak to him that night. I didn’t really go out with him until three months afterward. Then we went out, and I thought, He’s really a sweet boy—and probably not a good thing to waste my time on.
I felt I was starting to fall into a pattern of being only with younger guys. I thought that was maybe a fault or a weakness, something detrimental in my character. Now I don’t know if it is or not—and I don’t know that I care. But I remember thinking that night, I wonder if I’m starting to believe what people say about me.
That I didn’t want people to think of me as a cradle robber. Also, I have never really appreciated men who change women like cans of soup. They pick up tomato and they put it back, they pick up chicken noodle—but it’s all soup, it just has a different name on it. And I was starting to think, Was that potentially me?
Could it be that you simply think of yourself as the same age as your boyfriend—24 years old?
Oh, I see myself as about 12. And it’s really interesting. My grandmother—what is she, 88? One time, a few years ago, I was looking at her and remembering when she was younger, when I was real little. I remember her wearing cocktail dresses and earrings and gloves, looking real glamorous, even though she wasn’t all that young even then. I asked her, “How old do you feel?” She said, “I haven’t felt different since I was 17. Even when I see this old, wrinkled woman in the mirror, I still think of myself as being about 17. It doesn’t ever really change.”
It frightens me that one day it’s gonna be, like, menopause! That I’m going to wake up and start being crabby and not want to go to Disneyland or do other childlike things that I still like to do now. And yet … I think I have a kind of maturity that comes only with age.
Aren’t there gaps in culture or in experience between you and Camilletti?
Well, Joshua [Donen] was what—ten years younger? He always seemed older, so grown up…. I never looked at him and thought, Oh, if only he could have been around when the Beatles came out! Those things don’t seem very important when I get the kind of nurturing that I never got from Sonny [Bono], or from any other man my age, actually. These younger men have been very loving, very supportive, and that’s what’s really important to me. I don’t need a man to do anything else for me.
Do you think that one appeal of younger men is that you feel safer being open with them? That, being younger and less cynical, they are more of a haven?
You know, I haven’t been with an older man in so long, I wouldn’t even know what it’s like. [Producer] David Geffen was the last older man I was with, and that was 15 years ago. Also, older men don’t like me. They never ask me out—well, there were a couple—one guy who did was married. The other, too. Both married. I don’t know what it is, but they never ever hit on me. I’d think it would be the opposite. If I were a younger man, I’d be more nervous about asking me out. But younger guys don’t seem to be.
Although you’ve been criticized, a lot of women cheer your relationship with a 24-year-old. A woman friend of ours, in her mid-30s, said to tell you that you’d “given us all hope.” Do you feel like a sort of pioneer?
Women ask me about it constantly. I think it’s because men did it for such a long time and women didn’t. Now these things are changing. My mother lived with a man who was a year younger than I was for ten years. Eventually, she left him, and he was devastated. I know a lot of girls now who have boyfriends younger than themselves. As for being a pioneer, I’m really happy to give women the courage to do the thing they might want to do. If they need someone to go before them, I’m happy to help. But I’m certainly not the first one who’s been with younger men, you know. Tallulah Bankhead, Sarah Bernhardt—there’ve been lots of women before me.
How much do you notice the age difference?
The other day, Robert was auditioning for a movie that takes place in 1955, and I said, “Jeez, Rob, you were hardly even born yet, were you?” And he said, “I wasn’t born until 1964.” And I said, “Oh, shit, I was nine in 1955.” I looked at him and said, “God, you’re young! And, Jesus, I’m old!” But it doesn’t come up that often.
As much as anyone out there, you’re a symbol of a certain kind of sexuality. Your clothes and look and even the manner in which you speak about sex have a very deliberate sex appeal. Can you define what it is you project?
I don’t know how to make sex appeal. I know I can do it, but I don’t know what it is. I can go up on stage and create sex appeal, but if you ask me what I’m doing…. It’s like acting. If anybody asks me how I do it, I tell him I don’t know how I do it, I just do it. In real life, I’m not that way at all with men. For me to really put out everything in sex, I really have to trust the person—and that just doesn’t come right away.
But have there been times when the sheer delirium of sex overwhelms you? Sex for sex’s sake?
I’ve never had that, not where I’ve actually had sex. I’ve had that rush with two people. Robert was one, and one other man, when the moment was just there—to be seized or never to be seen again. I took both of them, but not all the way, because, for me, actually having sex is something that I don’t want to do with someone I’ve just met. I need to be in love. So kissing and lying on top of each other or whatever, that seems OK. But having sex with someone you aren’t crazy about … I don’t think I’m grown up enough.
We were thinking more of being suddenly possessed.
I get more possessed as time goes by.
You’ve never had just a one-night fling, then?
I did once. When I was 16 years old, I fucked Warren Beatty. Just like that. Of course, I’m one of a long list. And I did it because my girlfriends were so crazy about him, and so was my mother. I saw Warren, he picked me up and I did it. And what a disappointment! Not that he wasn’t technically good, or couldn’t be good, but I didn’t feel anything. So, for me, I felt, There’s no reason for you to do that again.
Have you ever convinced yourself that you loved someone—to legitimize sexual feelings?
I’ve done that twice. Twice I’ve fucked men without knowing who they were, and they were both disasters. I couldn’t imagine doing that now. I believe that if I can’t wake up with someone in the morning and really want to spend time with him, then I’d rather be alone.
Isn’t it very difficult for someone as famous as you to be trusting and open with a new man? Since you’re a star, a—
Thank you. Since he’s up against a love goddess, isn’t he going to have unreal expectations?
Absolutely. You don’t want to go around with your heart on your sleeve, because a lot of the time, you can get your arm cut off. So it takes me a while. I seem to pick a certain kind of man—very compassionate, very loving, very open, trustworthy kind of men—at least lately. Robert knows me better than anybody ever has.
I got to be tough because I had to be. I don’t go around kicking anybody in the balls; I just go around doing my thing.
How about the other side of that? Are you still the tough lady of renown?
I can still be pretty tough. On some occasions, you just have to be. But for a long time, toughness was all I presented. I also like being able to have the softer side. But I had to be tough in the past, because I felt I was being attacked—the whole time with Gregory [Allman], for instance, and when I was trying to get into the movies. I was getting so little help … and no support. So I got to be really tough, because I had to be. I protect myself if I’m attacked. I don’t go around kicking anybody in the balls; I just go around doing my thing, being prepared for people to be real fabulous to me—or real pricks. Me, I’m a mirror image of whoever I’m dealing with. Mostly, I’m easygoing and easy to get along with. But I don’t take shit.
Which you apparently demonstrated on the set of Mask, where you had some pitched battles with director Peter Bogdanovich. Why didn’t you simply give in to what he wanted, since he was the veteran director and you were the newcomer?
It was hard. At first, I wondered if he was right. But some part of me knew he was wrong. I was scared shitless. I kept saying to myself, Cher, how could you know more than he does? I respect his work, but I didn’t like him, I didn’t respect him as a human being. He didn’t like women, fundamentally. He likes women who are real subservient, who look at him and think he’s the greatest thing that ever happened. We had some good days, too, which really kinda scared me. It’s so much easier if someone can be a pig constantly. Like, the last day we shot was his birthday, and I told him, “God, I’m really glad this is over, because I’m almost ready to like you.” And the more relaxed he got, the more he got off my case. The more we shot, the more he trusted what I was doing.
There were also problems with some of the people making The Witches of Eastwick.
Jerks! Small stuff, like nobody was supposed to take anybody on the set—like any of us really wanted to take anybody to the fucking set! But Susan Sarandon took her daughter, Eva, on and [producer] Jon Peters kicked her off. Then, when we were doing a pretty important scene, he allowed Barbra Streisand to walk through with ten fucking people.
That doesn’t sound like something you’d put up with. You’re known for saying exactly what you think.
Well, every once in a while, I get kind of amazed at myself for the amount of balls I have when I have to stand up for myself. On the set of Witches, I thought the women were treated really, really badly. I didn’t stand up for myself as much as I felt I should have.
One day, I had a fight with Jon Peters, and he said, “You’re angry with me. I’m upset. What do you want me to do? Can I buy you a dress? Or a bracelet?” I just looked at him and said, “What do I look like, a showgirl and you’re Flo Ziegfeld?” The concept was out of my realm of possibility. To be bought off by a bracelet! Unless, of course, it was some unbelievable fucking bracelet. [Laughs] It was all kind of hysterical.
In that case, I never really felt wanted in the movie, so I never felt very powerful. We women were really supporting roles. I also saw the way Jack Nicholson dealt with everyone. Jack was unbelievable.
If I had been Jack, I would have really kicked a lot of ass, because those people were just totally … inappropriate in their behavior.
Can someone who is difficult bring out good work in you?
Sure, but not someone who’s gonna be threatened by what I have to say. [Moonstruck director] Norman Jewison is unbelievable; he’s so cranky, but he was so great. When I took Moonstruck, I told him, “I just want to let you know something: I’m really difficult.” He said, “Oh, yeah, what’s that supposed to mean?” I said, “I don’t know—because I’m really not.”
And together, you pulled off a smash success and you got an Oscar. Things got pretty steamy between you and Nicolas Cage in that one.
I had to kiss Nicky a lot, but what looked meaningful on the screen wasn’t very meaningful in real life. With all that physical comedy and shit, it wasn’t like we had to really be passionate. The truth is, I don’t like kissing people I don’t know.
Did you have any love affairs on the set of any of your movies?
It happened one time. It was a drag, because he was married. I don’t want to mention who. It was a mess. But a short mess. We got romantic, but we didn’t do anything. We denied ourselves so that we could continue to have this really passionate feeling for each other. Most people you come into contact with on a movie set are pretty nice. If you’re in bed with them all day long, kissing them and telling them how much you love them, and you’re both working on a common goal, well, these attachments can happen.
Everybody on a movie set is this really intense family, and it’s hard at the end of the day to say to yourself, It was only pretend, because the better you do it, the more real it has to be. And you do it for months and months and months! I remember one time doing a scene with someone and we were in bed all day long, kissing. And he was getting erections.
So you’re there, doing everything but penetration, and then, at the end of the day, it’s like a cartoon: You put on your hard-hat, punch in your timecard and go, “See you tomorrow, Jake.” It’s hard, because often you’re working with someone who’s really attractive and charismatic.
Now, let’s see: You’ve done only three movies in which there’s been physical romance. You mentioned Cage, then there was—
You’ll have to guess it from that, ‘cause I’m not telling. But the funniest person I worked with was—what’s his name? He was in Suspect and I can’t remember his name.
Dennis. He was so adorable. He knew that it really made me nervous to have to kiss him. So he’d bust my chops and go, “Oh, I fucked that take up. Have to do it again!”
Any actors you want to work with in the future?
Well, I’m developing a couple of things, you know? There are lots of people I want to work with. I love Tom Hanks. I think he’s really talented. I love Tommy Cruise, too. I’d love to work with Jack again. I like Sean Connery.
Are there any actors you have a crush on?
Robert Redford. Meryl told me he was a great kisser. Anyone who’s a great kisser I’m always interested in. Oh, Sylvester Stallone. My big crush in life.
Because of the first Rocky. The only Rocky, in my mind. I saw something so brilliant and so dear and so sensitive, such a fine actor. Well, I spent a couple of hours with Sly one night and he was really adorable, really funny. I don’t think that person exists anymore, unfortunately. I liked a character who was a little bit too heavy and a little too dumb. I have a crush on that Sylvester Stallone. I don’t have a crush on the one who’s out there now.
What has changed?
It happens to all of us. We become perpetrators and victims of the dream.
I stress looking good. I emphasize the physical a lot, but I think it’s pretty much bullshit. Not that I don’t believe people should work out—that’s really important—but I mean looking beautiful and being sexy all the time…. It’s kind of empty. In true life, I’m really down to earth. I don’t really want to be, you know, the love goddess. No, that’s not true. I do like it. But I don’t want to spend my whole life with the Beautiful People.
Then why perpetuate the image? For example, why do you still appear in the Jack La Lanne ads?
This is what happened: I started with Health and Tennis—the owners of Jack La Lanne—because I needed the money. Health and Tennis was kind of a gift from God—they didn’t even want me. They wanted Joan Rivers.
Because she was hot and I wasn’t. But Joan didn’t want to get into a leotard and my acting career wasn’t paying enough to live on, so I got the ads and did them. When my contract expired, I wanted to keep doing them, because the money was great—and because people would say, “I joined Jack La Lanne because of you.” Also, I got to say whatever I wanted. I wrote the last commercials—all of them—myself. So now it pisses me off that Heather Locklear is doing them! [Voice rising] I produced the commercials, I wrote the commercials, it was my concept and I feel invaded, because I didn’t write that commercial from my life experience to have some blonde bimbo of 25 stick her tongue out at the end of it! It meant something to me to talk about how I’ve arrived at this place after everything I’ve been through at the age of 42!
So doing those commercials was a personal campaign.
Yes. And I don’t feel bad about doing them, even though my agent says, “Meryl Streep would never do that.” But I do lots of things that Meryl Streep would never do. If I can keep doing good work, who gives a shit if I set myself on fire in Benedict Canyon? I’m not inviting people to critique my life, just my work.
Let’s talk about the work. You didn’t pursue acting for the stardom; you already had that. What do you get from acting?
It’s the thing I think I do best, so it makes me feel better about myself. Being famous in itself didn’t make me feel anything but inadequate … constantly. In fact, it makes you feel kinda like shit. At least when you get paid for acting, you can turn it into something you can be proud of, instead of just going out and being a mannequin for an hour.
Are you talking about your fame as part of Sonny and Cher?
Yeah. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it, but I really had to go further, because I just couldn’t get the feeling that I wanted to get from it.
So you went solo—which included gigs at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. What was life like there?
Hell. People go to see performers as an afterthought. Las Vegas is a town that has nice people, but to be set up in Caesars Palace—where there are no clocks and I don’t gamble, drink or stay up late—hey, if it hadn’t been for the gym, I’d have lost my mind.
Then why did you do it?
I needed the money. I had both of my kids, I got no money from Gregory and I had to pay Sonny this huge settlement. Plus, I broke Frank Sinatra’s [attendance] record, which no one else has done.
But it was back in New York that things really started to turn around for you. You were cast in the Broadway production of Robert Altman’s Come Back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. What was that like?
Being on stage was a real interesting experience. It’s a lot tougher than acting in movies. Every night, you get a new chance to be great. And if you’re bad, you get the chance immediately to be great the next night. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was so naive. I didn’t get nervous until opening night [on Broadway], and we’d already played a million performances in other towns.
Then I realized it was stupid to be nervous. You’ve got all these actors, they come out, and you know they’re gonna be really good, you’re gonna have a great time, it’s gonna be over, you’re gonna go see your friends—and get paid for it. And people today think they’ve discovered something new in my movies—that I can act!
Does it bother you that people still praise your acting as if it were a big surprise?
I kind of think it’s funny. It works in my favor. Because when they don’t expect it, they keep being surprised that you’re good. I wanted to audition for a play with [New York Shakespeare Festival/Public Theater producer] Joe Papp once, and he said, “How do I know you’re talented from all that shit you did on Tv?” So my talent wasn’t something that was obvious to everyone. It’s bizarre. It doesn’t really affect me, but for a while, I thought, How many things do I have to do before they say, “All right, OK, now we get it”? But then I realized, as long as they keep being surprised, I’ll keep being better than expected.
Isn’t it also that people get confused by your two images—the serious actress and the wild, exotic character?
I think I created such an intense image that people have a hard time getting it out of their minds. If I do a Moonstruck and then go on David Letterman in some black outfit, they can’t put those two women together in the same body…. It’s a little like the way people felt about Jesse Jackson when he started talking.
What do you mean?
People who didn’t like him may not have changed their ideas about him totally, but in this year’s campaign, if they listened to what he had to say, they went, “Aha! He’s not stupid.” Or “He’s not prejudiced.” Or whatever they were positive he was.
I think I just keep coming back for reevaluation by the public. People think that if I dress weird, I must be stupid. If I do some strange things—like spend too much money on clothes—I couldn’t have a thought in my head. Well, I can make occasional stupid choices without being a stupid person.
What about the Cher image? You wear bad girls’ clothes or almost no clothes at all. And there’s the matter of your two tattoos—
More than two—
All right, the woman is riddled with tattoos.
[Laughing] After two, who cares?
Anyway, you do cultivate a certain naughty image through your fashion. On the other hand, you’ve said you don’t have any of the standard vices—no smoking, drinking or doing drugs—which must be hard for some to believe.
Let me tell you something: If I’d wanted to do drugs, I would have done them. I just don’t like them. I think they’re stupid. I have a real distaste for them.
What we’re driving at is that there’s a dichotomy between the skimpily dressed bad girl and the award-winning actress. You won’t be able to do both forever, will you?
I do keep wondering about how much longer I’ll be able to dress the way I want to dress and get away with it. Will I be able to have long hair when I’m 60 and wear it really weird and can I wear miniskirts if my legs are still good? I’d like to be like Jessica Tandy when I get older. Or Luise Rainer, who was so fabulous in The Good Earth. She looks unbelievable. And I also wonder—Michelle [Pfeiffer] and Paulette and I were talking—Will we be able to go to the south of France and bum around when we’re 65, having as much fun as we do now?
Then I just think, Well, fuck it, you know? If I still look good in certain clothes, I don’t want to stop wearing them because I’m not supposed to. Also, I look like my mother and she still dresses kind of like I do. I mean, not as crazy, because she never dressed that crazy, but she still wears her jeans and her cowboy boots, and she’s 61. And my grandmother is fabulous; she still wears jeans and cowboy boots, too. There are so many older women today who are so cool.
Men are not the only ones who get to grow old and be cool anymore. The Madison Avenue ad guys really deserve to have their nuts cut off for promoting that idea. A lot of women still buy into it. You shouldn’t feel useless because you get old, though I guess I can be neurotic about the way I look.
Do you really worry about being attractive?
It’s interesting: If I look in the mirror, I see so many different people—and none of them are people I find attractive. Then, every once in a while, I’ll look in a mirror and think, You look really great! But it doesn’t have much to do with the mirror; I think it has to do with how someone else feels about me.
We thought you were going to say how you feel about yourself.
I think I’m getting really better about that. Since I’ve started acting, I worry less about the way I look, because I know I can rely on my talent. But I also want to look as good as I can, because I don’t want to be too old for roles I want. The most liberating experience I’ve ever had was not to have to look good in Silkwood. At first, it killed me. The worse I looked, the better everybody thought it was.
So you had difficulty relinquishing the beauty-queen side of you for that part?
I would have been OK if Kurt Russell hadn’t said, “Ooh! What the fuck are you supposed to look like?” I went to the bathroom, looked at myself in the mirror and began to cry. After a while, it was like being 12 years old. I had the best time not having to be cute. Or not having to be sexy. Or not having to be anything attractive at all. I liked myself most in Moonstruck when I had gray hair in a bun, because there was no responsibility to look good.
But you did look good—your character transforms herself in Moonstruck.
I think all women like transition movies. I like seeing myself made up to look glamorous, but I had more fun with the other characters, not having the responsibility to look pretty. And I can create myself. It’s some kind of magic, I think. It’s like Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler. You know, they’re not great-looking girls, but there’s some kind of magic that they can perform that transforms their face, their body, whatever, into the thing that is really desirable at the moment.
It’s ironic that you’ve found a sense of freedom playing unglamorous after all the glamor. How do you feel about all the attention to your cosmetic surgery? There have been some pretty wild stories.
Right, and I’m leveling a lawsuit against Paris Match and Bunte magazines. They reported that I have new cheekbones and a new chin and that I had two ribs removed for cosmetic reasons. On TV the other night, I saw a woman who said she was going to have her ribs removed—because I had done it. It made me crazy. It made me frightened.
I think this about plastic surgery: It’s my body. Women should be given a choice, like with abortion. My nose bothered me for a long time; now it’s smaller and I’m happy. If I wanna put my tits on my back, they’re mine.
Well? Can we count your ribs?
These are my cheekbones. This is my chin—I’ve had it my whole life. I’ve always had my rib cage. I’ve always had my ribs. Yeah, I have had my tits done, my nose done and I’ve done my teeth. When I read Paris Match, I thought, Why in the fuck would they say I had a new chin or new cheeks? People could look at pictures from ten years ago and see that that’s not the truth. Don’t these people know that surgery leaves scars, no matter where you do it? Maybe not your nose, but every other kind of surgery.
I think this way about it: It’s my body, and if I want to do it like Michael Jackson, I will. I think that women should be—not encouraged, but given a choice, like with abortion. My nose bothered me for a long time. Now it’s still my same style of nose, only it’s smaller. And it makes me happy. You know, if I want to put my tits on my back, they’re mine.
What made you decide to get plastic surgery in the first place?
It has more to do with my work than my personal life. That’s why I had my nose done. When I saw my nose in Mask, I thought, Jesus fucking Christ. On TV, it had never looked that big. Then, when I saw my teeth—at certain angles, they disappeared. In fact, the cameraman had to use a special camera light just for my teeth. It was just a pain in my ass and I didn’t like it. I thought, I can look better than this.
And now you’re happy with the way you look?
Well, if I were to do anything else, I don’t think I’d look like me. If I were Michael Jackson, I’d be frightened of what I’d made myself look like. I thought he was a lot cuter before, but he’s obviously not afraid of that.
But I guess I always wanted to look in the mirror and see this blonde, blue-eyed girl. So no matter what I may do to my face or my body or my appearance, I’m never gonna be that. And I guess I’ve come to terms with that. But that would be my idea of what I would like to look like—a blue-eyed blonde, not dark. The night of Jesse Jackson’s speech at the Democratic Convention, I had a dream that I was black. When I woke up, I thought, So that’s why it’s been so rough all these years.
Between my life being so difficult at the start and the fact that I was the only dark person in my family—everyone called me the black sheep—I identified with Jesse. I thought as a child that things would be OK if only I were light, like my mother and my sister. Back then, there were no black-haired role models—I missed out on Hedy Lamarr and Ava Gardner; I was plopped into the Sandra Dee and Doris Day era.
So after Jesse Jackson said at the convention, “I know where you’ve been, I know your pain,” I dreamed there was this black guy and he had his arm around me and he was saying, “Look, it’s rough being black.” I knew that. It’s the truth, because when I was blonde, people did treat me differently.
When were you blonde?
For about eight months. I went from red to blonde in steps, so that I had every color in between. And it was weird to see people treat me softer and nicer and sweeter as I got blonder. It’s a bitch being dark. We grow up with all the evil people in stories being dark. And all the heroines are these Cinderella-blonde bimbos.
You think a lot about whether or not you’re attractive, don’t you?
Yeah, I was talking to my therapist about this. I said, “It’s really a joke that my whole life, people thought I was unattractive until now—when I’m getting too old to really be attractive.”
But you’ve received attention for your good looks for a long time, haven’t you?
No. Even when I was on The Sonny and Cher Show, I was interesting, but people never said, “Ooh, she’s really beautiful or really pretty.” Until The Sonny and Cher Show, people really weren’t aware that I was a girl.
But you’ve always had a lot of male attention, haven’t you? How old were you when you lost your virginity?
Fourteen. The first boy I ever slept with—oh, the poor boy. I was really in love with him. He was too old for me. He kept bothering me and bothering me with this shit. I’d never done anything. Just kissed. He wouldn’t be seen out with me because I was too young. But he would come to my house every day and we’d talk and have great times, though God forbid if I was in his house and a group of guys would show up. He’d go, “Yeah, Cher, go on home now, we’ll talk later.” So one day, I just got tired of all that and I said, “OK, let’s do this thing that you’re always wanting to do.”
So we went to bed together and we did it. I said, “OK, is that it?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Now, you go home and don’t ever talk to me again. I don’t ever want you coming over here, and that’s it. OK?” So he left.
Did you find passion the next time around?
My next boyfriend was 35. I was crazy in love with him.
And that time, it was something you wanted to do?
Well, I did and I didn’t. I just wanted to be close with him; that was how adults did it. The idea of being passionate to sleep with him the way I’m passionate to sleep with Robert, no, it absolutely didn’t exist for me. With this guy, I would have really enjoyed just kissing him as much as having sex. I think at 14 and a half years old, you don’t really know what good sex is. This guy was good sex—now I know he was good sex. He was a great guy. He was handsome. He was a best friend of my mother’s. Of the men I’ve known, this guy was a ten. He looked like Tom Selleck, but blond. Six foot four. He made the women crazy. He loved them, he left them.
One day, during the end of the summer, he was painting upstairs. He was coming down the staircase, I was going up, and he grabbed me and kissed me. Then he walked out of the house and didn’t come back for two weeks. When he came back, I was thrilled. I was asleep, and all of a sudden, I was aware of somebody sitting on my bed. He said, “I really shouldn’t be here,” and he went downstairs, where he was staying because someone had thrown a brick through our front window and we were waiting for a new window to come in; he was sleeping downstairs because my mother was terrified. So I followed him. I got into bed with him and I just—he was pretty weird, but I was crazy about him. I was with him for about a year.
Did you ever tell your mother you’d had an affair with her friend?
Later. Not then. She would have killed him.
You’ve said that you were raised mostly by women. How did that affect you?
Well, my mother was married eight times, but, honest to God, there were never any men in the house. Yes, my stepfather Gilbert was a fabulous influence on all of us, but he was there for only two years. Him, and one of my mother’s boyfriends. And my sister’s father. And basically, that was it for men. A lot of my mother’s marriages were when I was too little to remember them. Then it was more boyfriends who didn’t last long.
So men were something that you knew were around but you couldn’t quite figure out what their function was. And you could do without them easily—and most of the women did. All of the women who were my mother’s friends were working women; they all supported their children alone. There was one woman they were all jealous of, because her husband had a great job and he loved his daughter and he supported them. The rest of them were majorly pissed off, because none of them could find a man or they couldn’t keep him paying support when he split or whatever.
Did you ever see your mother relate to a man in a way that gave you some kind of clue as to what was out there?
Not really. I mean, I loved my stepfather. He’s my sister’s father, and he was the person I loved most in my childhood. I thought he was fabulous. But I didn’t understand him. I was crazy about him, but I didn’t get him. He was around off and on from when I was about four till I was nine. They were always breaking up and then going together again. So I grew up thinking of men as these things that you loved against your will. My mother kind of lived a rodeo lifestyle with him. He drank, but he was young, handsome and irresponsible. Great charm. I used to hear about how charming my real father was, but he couldn’t hold a candle to my stepfather.
Did you know your real father?
I met my father when I was 11 and I liked him for about a minute and a half. I think I was hard on him, but he didn’t have any features that I think are important; he had no character. So even though he could be cute and adorable, he had no backbone. I didn’t find him respectable.
Do you think some of that early experience had an effect on your own record with men?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m not a good person to get married to. I just get tired. Or uninterested. About two years of each. If you talked with my doctor, she would say I just get too close—and then I go.
Would she say why you go?
I guess I’d rather leave first. And I have, except for Val [Kilmer]. I remember one of the worst things that ever happened to me. It was a Friday morning, and I was doing the Cher show, and I was pregnant and the only one who knew it. Richard Grant, my press agent, called me up about six o'clock, and he said, “Cher, do you know that Gregory’s divorcing you?” And I said, without pausing, “No, hum a few bars.” That’s the attitude that gets me through stuff.
What prompted you to start seeing a psychiatrist?
Well, I just—it was necessary.
Was it something specific?
Nothing that I can talk about, but something was definitely bothering me. There were other things, but for my whole life, I would wake up and have this fear of not knowing where I was.
Have you figured out where it comes from?
Some years ago, I found out that I’d spent time in an orphanage and I’d lived with foster parents when I was young.
Which you don’t remember?
Well, I was six months old. But there are things in my past that sometimes come up under stressful conditions. It happens more the more stress I get under. Also, when I’m working, I’m always in a hotel room. Waking up in the middle of the night and not knowing where I was—even if I hadn’t gone through what I had—I think would be difficult. It seems ridiculous that I would pick a life where I’m always going to be in a place where I don’t know where I am. But to know that from six months to three years I was not in a family situation, that I was in an orphanage and lived with foster parents, well, it kind of makes more sense to me now. I’m working out why I have that fear. I’m working out problems with my mother, problems with Sonny, just problems that don’t go away.
Your split with Sonny was a tough one. You eventually had to pay him a settlement. Why?
Because he and I had a contract, and the judge said, “This is America; if you sign a contract, you’re liable.” But he didn’t understand. He really didn’t understand that the night I left Sonny, I was about to jump off the balcony. At the last minute, it occurred to me that I could leave Sonny instead of kill myself.
You were really going to kill yourself?
I was literally going to jump off a balcony. Sonny and I had been everyone’s darling couple. I was afraid of what everyone would think. And when I left Sonny, he said, “America will hate you.” I said, “I don’t care.” It had gotten to a terrible point. I weighed 90 pounds and I was literally going to jump. I thought, Cher, why don’t you just leave him instead? I don’t know why you don’t think of things like that sooner. I guess it’s why battered wives don’t think, Just pick up and go. It took a long time to pick up after that.
What’s your relationship with Sonny like now?
There are things about Sonny that I really love, and there are things about him that I really hate. He was like a parent to me. Come to think of it, it’s like having to deal with your mother—so, for me, it’s like going through life having two mothers. He could be really, really fabulous and he could be really, really… bad.
You looked friendly enough when you were on David Letterman together some time ago.
Sonny and I get along really well when we just work together. I trust him completely when it comes to work. I was having a really good time on Letterman. Work is not where our large problems ever came from. I think that I have to get over a lot of deep-down, personal stuff. It’s interesting that I can be not cool about it after such a long time. It’s like your mother. You grow up, and then, all of a sudden, you don’t know how you feel about her. It’s a relationship that influences all your others, but you’re not totally clear about it.
Some of your other relationships have been pretty complicated, too. Around the time of your first interview with us, you were apparently trying to get your husband, Gregg Allman, off drugs. That pretty much wrecked the marriage, didn’t it?
Yeah. Our son, Elijah, was a year old. I realized that it was never going to be any different with his father. And I finally became bored. That sounds capricious or whatever, but I knew I was the one who was trying to put the strength into him. I would leave him and go back, leave him and go back, leave him and go back. Finally, I just said fuck it.
Another famous fling was with Gene Simmons from Kiss. What was he like underneath all that make-up?
He was really sweet. So square and so very Jewish. Very loving and a great friend, and he was fabulous to my kids, but he was kind of too soft for me.
Just very easygoing. I really enjoyed life with him. We’re still friends. He lives down the street. He’s a good man. He’s really good to his mother. I remember we had Passover at his house. We laughed so hard. Elijah was sitting there in his yellow yarmulke. I had never seen Gene in his make-up, and he said—what did he call me?—Puppy. He said, “Puppy, you know, when I’m in my make-up, I have a tendency to be kind of mean and everyone’s afraid of me; so if I’m rude or something like that, it’s just because I’m in this persona.” So I walked in and he had his make-up on and he said something kind of nasty and I just slapped him. We both started laughing. He was a blast to be with.
That sounds like the slap in Moonstruck, when you tell Nicolas Cage, “Snap out of it!”
It was that kind of thing. It was like it was too ridiculous for me. And Gene started laughing.
How did you meet him?
I went to a fund raiser for Jerry Brown and someone told me Gene Simmons was there. I said, “Great, I’d love to meet her. I love her movies.”
I met him and he was talking in this very strange voice and I looked at him and said, “Do you always talk like that or is something the matter with your throat?” He was kind of affronted that I didn’t know anything about Kiss, except that Chas was crazy about them.
That night, he drove me home, and he stopped by his hotel, picked up every bit of Kiss paraphernalia he had so he could show me who they were, and we stayed up talking. Next, he took Katie [Jackson] and me to see the Tubes. That night, Katie and I both thought he was hitting on us and we both kind of thought, What a total asshole. About a week later, he called and told me he was upset that I thought he was hitting on both of us. He said he wasn’t and he couldn’t stop thinking about me. And we talked all night long. In about three days, he said, “God, I think I love you.” I said, “Oh, really?” He said he was taking time off the road and coming to see me. I didn’t know about his sordid past with all these women. He was a different person with me.
He has said that he slept with 2500 women and had an album of Polaroids of them.
Yes, well, he was the worst. But when Gene and I were together, he was perfect. He’s a great guy.
Do you have any regrets about any of your romances?
Yeah, I wish I hadn’t stayed with Sonny quite as long as I did. I wish I hadn’t stayed with Elijah’s father as long as I did. I wish I could have cut my losses sooner. Dead weight is dead weight, and a bad choice is a bad choice.
After all that, do you think you’ll marry again?
There’s a rumor going around that Robert and I are supposed to be getting married. I mean, everyone called me. And my mother called me about the rumor that I’m pregnant. Look at me, for Christ’s sake; do I look pregnant?
The minute someone wants to marry me, I want to go. My marriages were so disastrous, I think I’d rather jump off the Empire State Building.
Do you believe you can make this one last?
Uh-oh! It’s been two years on the first of September…. No, I’m still very much in love with him, so we’ll see what happens. One of the best things is that he doesn’t really want to get married. That’s great, because the minute someone wants to marry me, I want to go. I get really frightened and leave only when people want to go to the next step. My marriages were so disastrous, I think I’d rather jump off the Empire State Building.
Then you’ve talked with Robert about marriage.
Yeah, because of all this tabloid bullshit about us getting married. He has an idealistic view of marriage and said that for him, marriage is forever. For me, forever is probably five or ten years. So he doesn’t want to marry me, which is just perfect for me, because then I don’t have to be worried if he really does want to.
What’s the longest period that you haven’t been with someone?
Seven months is the longest I know of. But the seven months were filled with so much stuff. I was having the best time in my life. It was in New York. I went out with three different men at the same time and didn’t sleep with any of them. On my birthday, after spending the night with one of them, I was walking home—
Didn’t you just say—?
We slept together, but we didn’t have sex. And you know how awful it is to be walking home in your night clothes? I was walking down Columbus Avenue, thinking, All right, this has got to prove to you one thing, Cher. You’re 35 years old today and you don’t know anything more about men than you did years ago, so let’s give them up for a while. And that night, a little later, I met Val! He came walking through the door. I met him and I left immediately. I said, “Well, very nice meeting you, I gotta go.” And I went home. I just felt that I wasn’t ready. Anyway, I guess I haven’t been without men for more than a year. I can get along without a man, but I find so much comfort in them that it makes life so much easier for me. I wouldn’t be with a man just to be with him—I mean, I’ve left situations in which I was not happy. I’m not the kind of woman who goes straight from one man to another, usually. I want free time, time for myself, time to spend with my girlfriends.
Who are your women friends?
My best friend is Paulette; she’s been my best friend my whole life. My other really good friend is Michelle. And Ariadne, and my sister Georgeann, of course. And Susan Sarandon.
When we published your first interview, you hadn’t yet made any movies. You said that actors and actresses don’t have anything upstairs. Have you changed your mind?
I still think a lot of actors are dumb. But I think a lot of them are really cool, too. Let’s face it; at the time, I was also talking about a place where I couldn’t get in, so I may have been jealous. But I still say you don’t have to be smart to act—I mean, look at the outgoing President of the United States.
What about him—in the little time Reagan has left?
I think Reagan was never right for the job. I think that when we substitute charisma for character, we deserve exactly what we’ve had for the past eight years.
Obviously, people are comforted by charisma.
Sure, they want to be taken care of. When Kennedy got shot, first thing I thought was, Who’s going to take care of me now? I was shocked, I cried, but what I thought was, Who’s gonna take care of me?
It was surprising to some that Sonny went into politics, becoming mayor of Palm Springs. Would you have voted for him for mayor if you had lived there?
I think he could probably be a good mayor, because I don’t think much of most politicians.
What do you think about Michael Dukakis?
Unbelievable. I think he’s really honest. He has all the things I really admire in someone. I don’t give a flying fuck if he’s charismatic or not. I was in Massachusetts two years ago and not even aware that he would be running and everybody was crazy about him as governor.
How about Bush?
Bush? You know what I feel? I couldn’t sleep a comfortable night in America if he were President. I would be terrified, I just couldn’t sleep.
I hate the Reagan Administration and everything they stood for. Bush stands for the same thing. I don’t want to have to pay more taxes, but if I have to, I’ll just have to make more money. Somebody’s got to take care of the education of our country. We’ve got to get back to being America.
You were a big Carter supporter, right?
I kind of felt burned about that. I had dinner with him the first night he ever ate in the White House, and this is a man who should have been allowed to do a lot more. But he didn’t, because he was too honest and because he didn’t care about serving the rich. And that’s why I feel Michael Dukakis is probably going to make a better President than anyone else who’s available. He’s a manager, an organizer, and he’s also truthful, like Carter was. He’s stronger than Carter, I think. He knows how politics works, but he’s as honest and truthful as Jimmy Carter was. And Carter had something. The night we sat there at dinner, he told me all the things he wanted to do, but they were all too good. He wanted to actually feed the hungry and house the homeless. All the things we say we want to do but nobody wants to give any money to do them. Are we going to wait until no one in America can read or write? Or before every-fucking-body is walking around in the street? I walked into a women’s shelter down by my house. I wanted to volunteer.
To do what?
Whatever. I said, “Can you tell me what’s in the volunteer program?” The woman just looked at me. She said, “We don’t have any volunteer programs.” “Like nothing? There’s nothing I can do?” “No.” I thought, Well, I guess it’s about time I got into this. It’s like I’ve been busting my ass to make a career, to make a life for myself, but as I go around and I see people who really need a lot of help, I think maybe it’s time I started to split myself between my career and America.
When you aren’t campaigning or acting, what do you do with your leisure time? Do you like to cook, entertain at home?
No, I don’t like entertaining very much. Uh-uh. The stress is hard for me. I still get really nervous about stuff. It’s like when 25 people come over for a barbecue, I’m still, like, in my teenage years, saying, “Oh, my God, what if I didn’t do the egg salad right?” For me, entertaining at home is unbelievable pressure. What if everyone isn’t happy or what if I don’t have the right beach towels? So I don’t really have people to the house.
We used to have these great barbecues. I remember Bruce Willis and I were the only ones who were cleaning up. I was really pissed off at all my friends. I don’t like to go to parties and I don’t like to give them. You know what? My idea of having a great time is sitting home with some people you know really well and playing—what’s that fucking game with the little pie…?
That, or playing cards with Robert or watching TV. Going to the movies is still my favorite thing.
You’re also famous for your shopping sprees. Is the money still fun?
Oh, yeah! [Laughs] I didn’t have to think about that for a second! Money is still great.
Did you really buy 75 pairs of shoes on one spree?
I must say, I haven’t done that since I went to New York. I still overspend on clothes, and I like great vacations. My money goes. I have some investments, but I don’t think I’ll ever be one of the richest women in Hollywood. And also, for five years, I didn’t make any money. The first movie I really made money on was Witches.
What do you think having all that money does to you?
Well, I don’t think I’m ever gonna lose my love for shopping and for wanting good clothes. That has to do with me going to school with rubber bands around my shoes. You just don’t get over that kind of stuff. My kids, because they’re rich, want to have secondhand clothes. They have no compulsion about shopping for new stuff like I do. That’s not their nemesis, but it’s one of mine.
At least now I’m comfortable going around in my jeans and without make-up on. I really don’t give a fuck about it, but I used to. When I was on TV, I thought that’s what I was. I had to look great at all times. Now I don’t. It doesn’t make my life any better or worse when I get photographed not looking great and some asshole in People or Us writes some catty, snide remark.
That, apparently, comes with the fame. Were you prepared for it?
You can’t be. You never think you’re going to be famous. Then you never think you’re gonna be as famous as you are. Then you think you’re not gonna be famous for long. Many others have had a much more difficult time giving up their privacy than I have, but it’s something you don’t know about at first; then, once you’re in it, it’s too late.
I was a poor girl from the Valley. How in the fuck would I know what I was going to do? Sonny had a little more preparation, but it was the preparation of ten years’ worth of failure. So I met him and we became famous. I’m thrilled and delighted. It was what I wanted. But you never know the price. And the price is big time, you know? People will never really know the truth about me unless they hear me say it. And I just can’t go around righting all the wrongs people say about me.
How do you keep all of that from getting to you?
Somehow, it never stops. You have to say, “This is part of it.” If something hurts, it’s always going to hurt you. It’s what it is. It’s … like getting your bikini line waxed—you know it’s always going to hurt, but you know that’s what it is.