Nationality: American. Born: Cherilyn Sarkisian in Southern California, 20 May 1946. Education: Trained for the stage with Jeff Corey. Family: Married 1) Sonny Bono, 1964 (some sources say 1969) (divorced 1974), daughter: Chastity; 2) Gregg Allman, 1975 (divorced), son: Elijah Blue. Career: With husband, as Sonny and Cher, had first U.S. hit, Baby Don't Go, 1965; co-hosted The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour for CBS, 1971–74; had her own TV show, Cher , 1975–76; co-hosted The Sonny and Cher Show , 1976–77; appeared on stage (then on film) in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, 1982; won international success as a film actress, mid-late 1980s. Awards: Best TV Actress—Musical/Comedy Golden Globe, for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, 1971; Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture Golden Globe, for Silkwood, 1983; Best Actress Cannes Film Festival, for Mask , 1985; Best Actress Academy Award, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture—Comedy/Musical Golden Globe, for Moonstruck , 1987. Address: c/o Creative Artists Agency, 9830 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA 90212, U.S.A.
Films as Actress:
Wild on the Beach (Dexter) (as herself)
Good Times (Friedkin) (as herself)
Chastity (De Paola) (title role)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Altman) (as Sissy)
Silkwood (Nichols) (as Dolly Pelliker)
Mask (Bogdanovich) (as Rusty Dennis)
The Witches of Eastwick (Miller) (as Alexandra Medford); Suspect (Yates) (as Kathleen Riley, Public Defender); Moonstruck (Jewison) (as Loretta Castorini)
Mermaids (Benjamin) (as Mrs. Flax)
The Player (Altman) (as herself)
Ready to Wear ( Pret-a-Porter ) (Altman) (as herself)
Faithful (Mazursky) (as Margaret O'Donnell)
Tea With Mussolini (Zeffirelli) (as Elsa); Cher: Live in Concert from Las Vegas (doc) (as herself)
Films as Director:
If These Walls Could Talk (for TV) (co-d, + ro)
By CHER: book—
Cher in Her Own Words , compiled by Nigel Goodall, London, 1992.
By CHER: articles—
Interview with Allan Hunter, in Films and Filming (London), August 1985.
Interview in Time Out (London), 21 October 1987.
Interview with A. Kass, in Films and Filming (London), December 1987.
"Cher: Chez la femme," interview with Harlan Jacobson, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1988.
Interview with Eugenie Ross-Leming and David Standish, in Playboy (Chicago), December 1988.
Interview with Bruce Roberts, in Interview (New York), October 1994.
"Young Men Pick Me. Middle-aged Men Never Ask Me Out," interview with Andrew Duncan in Radio Times (London), 25 November 1995.
"Straight Up," interview with E. Weitzman, in Interview (New York), December 1998.
On CHER: books—
Taraborelli, J. Randy, Cher: A Biography , New York, 1986.
Quirk, Lawrence J., Totally Uninhibited: The Life and Wild Times of Cher , New York, 1991.
St. Michael, Mick, Cher: The Visual Documentary , London, 1993.
On CHER: articles—
Connelly, Christopher, "Uncommon Women," in Premiere (New York), November 1990.
Current Biography 1991 , New York, 1991.
Kudrjavcev, S, "Istvikskie Ved'my," in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), July 1992.
* * *
Cher is an unpredictable woman, a talented entertainer who seems to enjoy sampling various show business venues without getting attached to any one. It might be unfair to categorize her as a movie star, since her active on-screen career has been limited to relatively few films. One is on more secure ground calling Cher a celebrity.
Her emergence as a critically acclaimed screen actress in the 1980s is surprising not only because few would have guessed she could be a talented actress, but also because the roles she has taken are so different from her celebrity image. In most of her films, she plays distinctly unglamourous women, a far cry from the glittery persona associated with her long-standing fame.
For a decade, 1965–74, she was the overtly talented half of the singing duo Sonny and Cher. After several hit singles and a popular television show, the marriage ended and so the act folded. Cher continued her singing career and had a number of hits ("Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," "Half Breed," "Dark Lady ") which alluded to a difficult and impoverished upbringing as the daughter of a part Cherokee Indian mother who was married eight times. Aside from buying her records, the public craved information about her love affairs with younger men, her provocative—and quite tacky—scanty clothing, and her face and figure. The tabloids were quick to supply any and all information they could run down or make up. She cashed in on her celebrity in the late 1970s with a solo act in Las Vegas for which she was paid $300,000 per week.
Few performers have made the leap from Las Vegas to art cinema, but Cher managed to do just that when she took the role of Sissy, a good-natured but hard-drinking and rough-talking waitress, in Robert Altman's screen version of the stage play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean , whose plot involves the 1975 reunion of the James Dean Fan Club, a group of forlorn women who share the events of their unfulfilled lives. The genesis of her film career came the year before the film was made when she moved to New York City to seek work in the theater, and Altman hired her for the play's Broadway run.
Mike Nichols was so impressed with Cher's stage performance as Sissy that he cast her in Silkwood as the blue-collar, frumpy lesbian roommate of Karen Silkwood (Meryl Streep). This was a much more mainstream movie than Jimmy Dean , and Cher's praised performance led to her being cast as unglamourous leads in other Hollywood films. All of a sudden, baby boomers who had grown to maturity alongside Cher were realizing that Sonny was not the only member of the duo with brains. Scratch Cher's sequined exterior, and you find an intelligent and insightful actress.
She next starred in Mask as a drug-addicted, foul-mouthed motorcycle mama who is a loving mother to a son suffering from craniodiaphyseal dysplasia, a disease that causes enlargement of the head and disfigurement of the facial features. It was the sort of down-and-dirty role that many stars would refuse. Cher relished the part and became friendly with real-life disease victim Rusty Dennis, and has since raised funds to support victims of this disease. Cher fought with director Peter Bogdanovich throughout the production, insisting on playing the character in her own instinctual way. For her determined efforts, she wound up winning the 1985 Cannes Film Festival Best Actress Award.
In the late 1980s, Cher continued to record hit tunes and appear in a variety of films. The Witches of Eastwick is an entertaining black comedy about three New England sex-starved females who conjure up a charming devil of a man (Jack Nicholson). She also played a public defender in Suspect , a film which did little to further her career. But in Moonstruck , Cher found an outstanding opportunity in the plain-Jane role of Loretta Castorini, who is 37 going on 50. Loretta dresses like a frump. Her frizzy black hair has more than a touch of gray. A widow of seven years, she is a dutiful daughter who lives with her very ethnic Italian-American parents in a very ethnic Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn. She has been dating Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), a respectable but boring fellow. When Johnny proposes marriage, she readily accepts. But Loretta has yet to meet Johnny's estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), who causes her to bloom like the cherry blossoms in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on a sunny spring afternoon. Loretta's catharsis is the thrust of Moonstruck ; by the time she played Loretta, Cher had developed into a solid screen actress. Her performance in the film ranks with her roles in Silkwood and Mask as her best work to date on celluloid, but this time she earned a Best Actress Academy Award.
Mermaids allowed Cher to play a sexy single mom to Winona Ryder, and was a solid comedy hit. She put in a fine performance (and had enough creative leverage to have director Frank Oz replaced by Richard Benjamin), but the role was not in the same league as Moonstruck . The following decade found her mostly absent from the screen. She starred in exercise videos that showed off the fabulous body she claims comes from workouts rather than nips and tucks, and occasionally appeared on infomercials. Aside from cameo appearances as herself in The Player and Ready to Wear , Cher took roles in only two theatrical features: Faithful , a well-intentioned drama in which she plays an unhappy wife whose husband hires a hit man to murder her; and Tea With Mussolini , cast as a wealthy American in 1930s Italy who becomes involved with a group of eccentric British expatriate women. In the film, Cher plays opposite several of the world's top actresses, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, and Joan Plowright. Yet she practically steals the film with her vibrant presence and screen confidence.
Perhaps Cher's most notable 1990s credit is the three-part made-for-television feature If These Walls Could Talk , a serious-minded drama which explores the issues of unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Cher not only takes an acting role in the film, but also co-directs (with Nancy Savoca).
—H. M. Glancy, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg