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Cher, On Love And Life Circa 2003: From The BUST Archives

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To celebrate BUST’s 25thanniversary, we’re bringing some of our favorite cover stories online. Here’s our interview with Cher from our Summer 2003 issue.

What can one say about Cher that hasn’t already been said? For the past 40 years, she has revealed herself in every medium known to man. From LPs to 8-track tapes to CDs, from TV to film to DVD, from tabloid fodder to Oscar-winning actress to purveyor of faux-medieval, biker-chick home furnishings—Cher has truly done it all. “THE ONLY TRUE DIVA” read the sign held aloft during her televised farewell concert, a concert that proved once and for all that no one makes a more good-humored spectacle of herself than Cher. It is precisely this good humor that has won her an international legion of fans and has her back on the top of the charts with a greatest hits album.

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Although she continues to defy the aging process by any cosmetic and surgical means necessary (“Take that, you bitches!” she exhorts the naysayers in her show), the one thing that will never be nipped or tucked is Cher’s innate likeability. Even under all those glitzy layers of Vegas excess—from the Byzantine, space-age costumes to the sequined eyeliner to the phantasmagoric wigs—Cher can’t hide that soft, chewy Earth Mother center that makes you want to nuzzle in for a hug. 

Cher is the cool mom you always wanted, the hip sister who let you borrow her fabulous fashions, the groovy teacher who had you looking forward to school, the fun camp counselor who made you love campiness.  Cher is here to tell us all that it’s all right, life’s a gas, don’t take it all so seriously. If Cher can prance around the stage dressed like an Ali Baba princess AWOL from an intergalactic bus-and-truck tour of Godspell, or as a sexy Aztec rooster clad in a Bob Mackie sequined unitard, andwalk away with her head held high, then all things are possible. Before Britney, J. Lo, and even Madonna, there was Cher. And, in all probability, after Britney, J. Lo, and even Madonna, there will be Cher. Take that, you bitches!

Hi Cher, it’s Ann Magnuson.

God, I love you! Making Mr. Right is one of my favorite movies!

You’re kidding me?!

No, I loved it. I can quote things from it.

Oh my gosh! Well, I actually wanted to ask you about this movie that you’re in [Stuck on You]. It’s a Farrelly brothers film, right?

Yeah, it’s so crazy. It’s really funny. It has Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear, and they are conjoined twins. And one of them is a short-order cook, and the other one is an actor. 

And they end up being in a TV show that you are the star of, right?

Yeah. I play this woman called Honey, and the show is called Honey and the Bees. And then I also play myself.

That sounds like fun.

It’s terrible, I hate it! You have no idea how difficult it is to play yourself. And not only am I playing myself, but I am playing this really bitchy, horrible, mean version of myself.

Oh God, I am always complaining that the only parts they want me to play are bitchy, horrible, mean women. That is really the way it goes around here [in Hollywood]—a strong, opinionated, powerful woman equals grotesque drag queen.

Well, yeah, isn’t it the way? I once said—and I really believe it—if you’re really nice, people will walk all over you, and if you stand up for yourself they will call you a bitch. So you lose both ways. But at least the last way you get it right.

Do you feel that you’ve gotten it right?

No, I never feel that I am getting it right. I just keep trying to get it right. Sometimes I feel it’s like two steps forward, three steps back. Like when you think you got it nailed, and then you realize that you don’t. It’s kind of a work in progress all the time for me. Everything, all of it—life, career, whatever. 

What do you think is the secret to longevity in show business?

First, I think it’s luck. Secondly, I think it’s not quitting. I feel like I am a bumper car. I hit a car and I back up and I go in another direction. So, sometimes when I haven’t done well in one thing, I just go back and do something else.

What do you do to keep the energy to go on tour, and be in movies, and keep all of this going? 

Well, I have to tell you, I am kinda running out of gas.  I’ve done well until lately, but now I’m starting to feel it. I made the album, and then I went on a tour of Europe and America, and then we started rehearsing [for the movie] in May, and I’ve been working since June. And I’m pretty tired. I took this movie just because I thought it would be so great and I thought, no problem, I’ll just slot it in on my break [from touring]. But the work’s kicking my ass.

So, is this truly the farewell tour?

Yeah. [Laughs]

You’re not going to pull a Streisand?

No. I mean maybe I would sing in a club or something like that, but I’m never going to do this again.

"I just love being able to change everything, not for any other reason except I get bored and I think it’s fun. And, hair color or clothing—it’s shit, it’s not interesting, it’s not important. It’s just another way of expressing yourself."

What are your fans like?

Well, they’re always interesting. There are a lot of gay guys. But you know, it’s so weird, there is one question I could never answer, and that is why gay men like me. I have lots of ideas, but there is no real reason. ‘Cause gay men either like you and love you, or they just couldn’t be bothered.

And that’s why we love them.

Yeah. I like that.

Well you know, there is kind of an honesty to that.

I think gay men responded to me because I was kind of an outsider, no matter what business I went into, I was always an outsider. And I think they could kind of relate to that. Even when I was in the mainstream, I was swimming up it.

Do you have a lot of gay male friends?

Oh God, yes! Gazillions. And there are lots of gay artists in all fields of our business. 

When did you first become aware of the special aura surrounding gay men? 

You know, when I was really young my mom had two friends that were hairdressers and I used to think those guys were just the coolest guys I ever knew. They were just so much more fun than all the other men I had been exposed to. They just made a huge, huge impact on me—they were just great. They were so flamboyant and just having the best time. They were having a gay old time. [Laughs]

I wonder why that is. This is a gross generalization, but it seems to me that gay men get more joy out of life than most straight men.

I think that they are more flamboyant—and I don’t mean that in a negative way, I mean it in the most positive way. They will just try things that are risky—you know, they’ll try feathers, or they’ll try painting a wall striped.  They will just go for it.

What have you learned from the gay men in your life?

Oh gosh, I had a really good sense of humor before, but all of my gay friends have such great senses of humor and they love to laugh, and I think that is something that I have learned. All my gay friends have got unbelievable senses of humor.

You were quoted in Cosmo back in 1990 as saying, “I’m insecure about everything because I’m never going to look in the mirror and see this blond, blue-eyed girl. That is my ideal of what I’d like to look like.” Do you still feel that way?

Well, no. When I was growing up I was really impressionable, and it seemed that all the people in Hollywood were Sandra Dee, Doris Day types and I couldn’t relate to them at all. Truth is, I never liked what I saw in the mirror and I never will. I just love being able to change everything, not for any other reason except I get bored and I think it’s fun. And, hair color or clothing—it’s shit, it’s not interesting, it’s not important. It’s just another way of expressing yourself.

Did you really have a rib removed?

No! I don’t think you can do that, all right? And you certainly couldn’t do that and wear a crop top. So come on.

Sorry.

Oh, that’s OK. It’s just that one in particular I think is so dumb. Once I saw a show on TV where a woman was going to have her ribs removed because [she thought] I did it. And I just thought, what doctor would do this? Your ribs are supposed to protect your organs. Hello! And I actually called the show and said, “How do you think that I could have had ribs removed and still wear no clothes? Don’t you think I would have had to hide something?”

Right. You know, I’ve been to some of the Hollywood wardrobe departments, and there was one that had some of your clothes from the Sonny and Cher show. And I couldn’t zip them up, they were so tiny.

Oh, I was so small then; I mean, I was infinitesimal, ya know.

Did you ever eat?

I was just really small. I couldn’t keep weight on, because I was working constantly—dancing and singing and then going out on the road. I was a maniac for work. I learned that from Sonny. Somebody once said, “If Sonny was going from the Valley to Hollywood, he would take a gig in Mulholland to break up the trip.” So I was always thin; I was always too thin.

Which of your outfits have been your favorites?

I’ve had so many favorite outfits. The dress that I wore on the cover of Time magazine was always one of my favorites. And then there was this Indian costume that Bob [Mackie] made. It was a loincloth that went down to the ground and it was all open on the side. I loved it.

I remember that one. Was that for "Half Breed"?

Yup.

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You dressed in Elvis drag for a VH1 Divas special. How did that feel? And did you ever meet Elvis?

No. He asked me to come up to Las Vegas once, but I was too nervous. I had that wig for 22 years—it was my Bernardo wig, from once when I did all the characters from West Side Story. It’s the thing that I am most proud of that I ever did on TV: it was in a special called Cher...Special. So I kept the Bernardo wig, and when we were going to do [the VH1 number], I didn’t tell anybody—when I walked out there it was a surprise to everybody. You know, you try things; what’s the worst that can happen?

I think that’s why gay men enjoy what you do. Gay men like certain kinds of women. I guess they like women who aren’t afraid to be out there, to be risky, to be over the top. I think that’s probably why I always dated younger men—they seem more like gay men in that they are not as threatened and don’t feel the need to dominate you. 

Right. I think that is one of the reasons why I dated older men when I was younger, and younger men when I was older. It just seems to work out. I think that maybe I am immature, that there is some part of my personality that is really immature, and I love doing silly things that are not really sophisticated, so for me it worked out well.

You once said, “I wish I could never ever grow old.” Do you still feel that way? Are there any benefits?

There are no benefits to getting old, deary. 

I’m feeling it, believe you me.

You have no idea. You just better burn the candle at both ends now.

Oh, I did that already.

Well, keep burning.

Obviously, getting older is more difficult for women than it is for men.

Absolutely. Everything is more difficult for women than men.

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Get inspired by some of our favorite interviews, featuring Dolly Parton, Solange, Tina Fey, Jessica Williams, Kathleen Hanna, Laverne Cox, the Broad City gals, and more! Plus, keep up with the latest from BUST.

In 1998, Ms. magazine named you a feminist hero. Do you think of yourself that way?

No. I never did anything really important for the cause as it was. I live my life the way I want to, which used to be considered a masculine trait, but now it is not. When I started doing it, it wasn’t so popular. But the later in time we get, the less radical it seems. Once I left Sonny, I just did what I wanted. Didn’t ask anybody any questions. 

I was thinking about the vast array of victim songs that you recorded in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and I was wondering if Sonny pushed them on you. 

I don’t know if I would have picked those songs, truthfully. At that point I was doingThe Sonny and Cher Show and I was recording the album at the same time. And the guy who was the producer—Snuffy Garret—he chose the songs, and I went in and did them. Then they started to be big hits, so, you know, I just kept recording. At that time I was living with David [Geffen], and he had Joni Mitchell on his label. Joni was making Court and Spark, and I was making Dark Lady, and I remember that I was kinda embarrassed.

So you actually lived with David Geffen. That was for real?

Yeah, we were actually supposed to get married but I ran out at the last minute. 

Oh really. Why?

I loved him, I mean, I was crazy about him, we had the best time together. But he’s very...overwhelming. And I had already been overwhelmed for 11 years.

Do you believe in love after love? 

You mean life after love? Yes I do. Oh, you mean love after love. I believe there is love all the time. Look, I heard about a woman who is 105 years old, and when they asked her what she wanted to do she said she wanted to date. And there were five guys that came to apply and they were in their 80s and 90s and they went out ballroom dancing on her birthday in New Jersey. So yeah, I do.

Are you dating now?

No, but thank God I’m not, because being on the road this long would’ve killed any romance.

I got married six months ago, and I was wondering if you had any marriage tips.

[Laughs] You know, don’t sweat the small stuff. My mother told me, “If it doesn’t matter in five years, then it doesn’t matter.” 

When you do date, what do you look for in a man?

They have to have a really good sense of humor and be smart without being mean.

Yeah, that is always a tricky one, isn’t it? I can’t believe it, but in the old days, I used to actually tell people, “Oh, he has a mean streak. I like that.”

I dated a whole bunch of those bad boys, and then when I sorted it out, they were just bad boys. But that was like a big deal for me for a while, and also, you know, bad boys were pretty attractive. Elijah’s father [Greg Allman] was one of the great bad boys of the ‘70s.

 

"I live my life the way I want to, which used to be considered a masculine trait, but now it is not. When I started doing it, it wasn’t so popular. But the later in time we get, the less radical it seems."

What is Elijah Blue up to these days?

Elijah Blue has a band called Deadsy. They’re on Dreamworks and they’re working on their second album.

What’s his look now?

I wanna tell you something: that child definitely marches to a different flautist. He is so fuckin’ off the wall. He’s very normal right now, you know, short hair, its natural color. But he always does bizarre things to his clothes. He wears, like, khakis and then sews patches on them, or puts weird things on them. He’s so smart, too, that it’s frightening. My [son, Chaz], is so much more grounded than he is. [2018 editor’s note: Chaz had not yet come out at the time of this interview, we’ve corrected his name and pronouns here.]

Do you think [he’s] more like Sonny?

[He] has a lot of his qualities. [He] is very kind. You know, he could be really kind. He could be a shit too, but he had a pretty sweet nature.

You once said that you never believed that Sonny was really a Republican.

I still don’t. When we were young he was a flaming liberal. He went to the 1968 convention in Chicago, had a plank in the platform. He came home and said, “I met this guy, McGovern, he’s unbelievable.”

Your Cherokee heritage is well known, but your Armenian background is less so. 

‘Cause you know what? Nobody knows any Armenians. I mean, maybe now they do, but when I was younger, even if I said it, nobody even knew what I was talking about. They had no idea where Armenia was

My manager is Armenian, and I know Eric Bogosian. 

I don’t know Eric Bogosian, but I know he is an Armenian. Anyone whose name ends in “i-a-n” is an Armenian. I’ve been to Armenia—I’m probably one of the few Armenians who have been to Armenia.

What is it like there?

God, it was pretty rough, but the people were fabulous. I was so amazed. People had no money, but everyone was walking around dressed nicely. Even if they were in old clothes, they were walking around smart. You would go down the street and people would be cooking lambs over an open fire in the street and selling it. I stood on a statue of Lenin that people had pushed over onto the ground and had shot bullet holes in. It was very exciting. I went over there with a humanitarian mission to bring medical and other supplies there.

What year was that?

Shit, I am really bad on years. ‘89? In that ballpark.

Do you spend much time alone, and what do you do during your downtime?

I spend a lot of time alone. I read, I watch old movies.

Do you have favorite authors? 

I never read until I was older because I was dyslexic, so it was hard for me, but the first books I ever read were Pearl S. Buck books and I loved them. I’m kind of a voracious reader now. Like, I’m reading Stupid White Men and I just got Pigs at the Trough, and Longitudes and Attitudes. I don’t like fiction very much, but I loved Interview With the Vampire and A Cry to Heaven, and those were both by Anne Rice.  

What movies do you like to watch? Are there any that you never get bored with?

I never get bored with any of the Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn movies. I never get bored with the Fred Astaire/Gin­ger Rogers movies. I never get bored with The Thin Man. I am a huge old movie buff. I could go on and on for hours just on that one subject. 

Well, thanks. I hope we get to meet face to face someday.

Me too. Do you live in New York?

Part of the time. But right now I’m in Los Angeles.

I loved [New York] during the ‘70s and the ‘80s, God, I had so much fun.

Oh yeah. I got there in ’78.

Well then you got the good part of it. 

To me it started going downhill in ’87, ’88...

Yeah, I moved out. I lived at Fourth and Broadway before it got all gentrified, and it was so great because there’d be some fabulous news shop next to some old trashy liquor store with guys staggering out of it. It was great! By the way, is your hair still red? 

Yes.

OK, I want to ask you this: why do redheads wear red? 

I never wear red.

In the movie you did. 

Oh yeah, I don’t know why they did that.

I just could never figure that out, because it seemed like an odd combination to me. You wore really red lipstick and you wore red clothes a lot. Or maybe it was just one outfit you wore...

One was red and I had a red car. Maybe just because it looks good on film.

Oh, OK. See, I know that movie!

Oh God, I’m so flattered! Well, um, I will talk to you later I hope!

OK! 

Have fun with all this stuff. It sure sounds exciting. 

Story by Ann Magnuson // Photography by Michael Lavine 

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This article originally appeared in our Summer 2003 issue. Subscribe today!

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