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    First Published: January 2003
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With Cher's Believe just voted as one one of the Top 10 songs of all time by the global audience of the BBC World Service, and her UK fans desparate to know whether she'll be coming to the UK as part of her 2003 Farewell Tour, OutUK correspondent Paula Martinac looks back at the glittering career of one of our favourite divas.
The gay community's vibe has resonated with many celebrities, but perhaps no prominent straight couple has found its career as deeply intertwined with gays and lesbians as Salvatore Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierre - better known as Sonny and Cher.

The story that the two met in a lesbian bar is probably apocryphal, though Cher has acknowledged erotic relationships with women in her youth, liaisons that, she later recalled, weren't "something that kept my interest."

Cher's Greatest Hits
Cher's The Greatest Hits album (1999) is the ultimate collection of hits from the start of her career to the present.

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 Sonny).

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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