What did keep the lanky, deep-voiced singer's interest, though, was the
short, charming, goofy crooner 11 years her senior who was initially her
roommate, but soon became her lover and, in 1964, her husband. Sonny and Cher
each had found limited solo success, and their first attempt at working
together (touring bowling alleys and skating rinks as "Caesar and Cleo")
brought little acclaim.
But in 1965, Sonny wrote a simple tribute to '60s-style love, and with "I Got
You Babe," Sonny and Cher made it big. For the next two years, they ruled the
rock scene, with hits like "Baby Don't Go" and "The Beat Goes On." But by the
end of the decade, their music had lost its audience, and two failed attempts
at moviemaking left them deeply in debt. There was one bright spot for the
duo, though - the birth of daughter Chastity in 1969.
Sonny and Cher began playing Las Vegas and touring, though their romance
frayed and their tensions played out onstage. But the audience loved it, so
Cher's put-downs and Sonny's bumbling became trademarks. At the same time,
Cher became something of an icon to the burgeoning feminist movement because
of her independence, forthrightness, and shattering of the narrow sexist
definition of female beauty.
Their act caught Hollywood's attention, and in January 1972 their own
comedy-variety TV series debuted on US tv. The show was all camp - from outrageous Bob
Mackie costumes to banter filled with sexual innuendo. Sonny and Cher began
recording again, and their music career was on the upswing just as their
marriage could no longer hold itself together.
One cause of their breakup was Cher's affairs, including with record producer
David Geffen (who came out as gay two decades later) and southern rock
guitarist Greg Allman (whom she married five days after her 1975 split from
Though divorced, Sonny and Cher nonetheless found their television careers
remained wedded. Cher's solo variety show (which had something of a gay
sensibility - its debut featured Bette Midler and Elton John) overwhelmed
her, and having failed in his own solo show, Sonny accepted his ex-wife's
invitation to create a new Sonny and Cher series.
That incarnation lasted for two seasons, including a very awkward period in
which Cher was pregnant with Allman's baby.
Without abandoning entertainment (he played a theme park owner in the 1988
campy cult film Hairspray with Divine), post-Sonny-and-Cher Sonny made a bigger mark in
the world of politics. A successful Palm Springs restaurateur, he was elected
mayor of that Californian city in 1988.
Despite having campaigned as a friend of the resort city's visible gay
community, the Republican was widely criticized for slighting gays and
lesbians personally and legislatively as mayor. In the 1994 Republican
landslide, he was elected to Congress, where he consistently voted against
the gay community's interests. He died in a skiing accident in 1998, and his
wife, Mary, was elected to fill his seat.
Meanwhile, Cher pursued her acting career, playing a lesbian in 1983's
Silkwood. She was nominated for an Oscar for that performance, then went on
to win an Academy Award for Best Actress in Moonstruck (1987).
Despite the respectability bestowed by an Oscar statuette, Cher's personal
and professional life fascinated gossip-hounds. She had several
well-publicized romances (including one with a bagel seller two decades her
junior), underwent numerous plastic surgeries, and starred in infomercials
and fitness videos.
Cher's music career found new life with upbeat tunes like "One By One" and
"Believe" that were embraced by audiences worldwide, but especially by gay
men. Her icon status solidified as a VH-1 "Diva," Cher regularly recognizes
the "fabulous gentlemen" who flock to her concerts and have consistently
boosted her career.
Perhaps the queerest product of the Sonny and Cher partnership, though, was
their lesbian daughter Chastity. She was featured prominently on her parents'
TV show, dressed in outfits resembling Cher's, though the tomboyish Chastity
eventually insisted that some of her outfits resemble Sonny's. While a
teenager, she was seduced by a lesbian friend of her mother's, whom she
considered a "great lover." Though finding out about her daughter's sexuality
initially took a toll on Cher, the megastar soon was soon quite supportive.
In 1990, Chastity was outed by the tabloids, an experience she later said
deterred her from coming out publicly, which she eventually did in a 1995
cover story for US gay news magazine The Advocate. She was quickly adopted
by major national gay and lesbian organizations, serving as a spokesperson for
the US Human Rights Commission and an activist for
GLAAD- The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. She left the latter job under
a storm of controversy over remarks she made that implied that the Ellen
show was becoming too gay.
Cher is currently in the middle of a marathon Farewell Tour of the US. At the start
she said "I want to do something like the last one, but hopefully different and better."
Many dates have been sold out, and there are so far unconfirmed reports that she'll be
coming to Europe sometime in 2003.
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