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Exclusive: Cher Talks Failures, Fear, and Why She Keeps Performing

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On a Saturday night in Atlantic City, a few thousand fans pack the Event Center at the Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa. Officially sold out, tickets for the night are being scalped at upwards of $600. Following a video montage of her greatest moments caught on film, a blank canvas drops from the ceiling to reveal the Goddess of Pop suspended in the air. After an energetic performance of “Woman’s World,” the 72-year-old delivers a lengthy monologue elaborating on the experience of growing older in the entertainment industry. She ends with a quippy question: “What’s your granny doing tonight?”

Cher is the longest-reigning diva in show business, and the only one to have a number-one record in each of the last six decades. Her talent is also attested by a Best Actress Oscar, three Golden Globes, an Emmy, and a Grammy.
 

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Machado Cicala/ Courtesy of Cher

“I’ve been ‘on my way out’ every year for 53 years,” Cher says in an enthusiastic interview, held during a time when she has more to promote than most celebrities in their twenties.

By the end of this year, the icon will have brought us an appropriately outsized, film-stealing cameo in the sequel to Mamma Mia!; a new album comprised of electronic, updated ABBA covers; a Broadway musical based on her life; and a Kennedy Center Honor. Cher isn’t just still here: she’s everywhere.

And yet, she can also diverge from talking about her well-documented successes to discussing the across-the-map failures that have made her who she is. Like that time her debut solo show in Las Vegas was panned by critics in the mid-’70s. “I got eviscerated,” she says. “There were reviews like, ‘No talent, what is she doing?’ ‘It’s the worst show in history.’ ‘Why didn’t she just come out and sing a song and stop changing, and putting on wigs?’ ‘She won’t be here next year.’ Then, that night I had to go out and do a show.”

Mamma Mia 1 Cred Courtesy Universal Pictures

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

There was also the time she went to a theater to watch the trailer for her 1984 film Silkwood for the first time. “We went in, and we were so excited,” she remembers. “The trailer comes on and everybody’s going through it and it’s so fabulous. It said ‘Meryl Streep’ and everybody applauded. It said ‘Kurt Russell’ and everybody applauded. It said ‘Cher’ and everybody started laughing — the entire theater. It was a strange experience because in one way it was just heartbreaking beyond belief, but in another way I thought, ‘My God, this is such a visceral experience,’ because they all did it. I mean, this is something that’s a true feeling. So I called up Mike [Nichols], because I bit a hole in my cheek, and he said, ‘Well, they might be laughing in the beginning, but they won’t be laughing at the end.’”

These and other hurdles went to shape the indomitable woman, who’s still standing — and commanding a stage. And of course, there have been other transformative, life-altering experiences that far transcend the critiques, like the transition of hers and Sonny Bono’s child. Cher says the journey of her son, Chaz Bono, is one that radically shaped her.

Cher Live Cred Andrew Macpherson

Courtesy of Cher

“I learned that I was a lot more frightened than I thought I was,” she says, “and that I was not as trusting of the universe as I could have been because what I thought was, ‘I’m losing this person — who will I get? Who will replace this person that I love so much?’ And I think it’s probably a concern of mothers because all of a sudden... On one hand I know that if I woke up tomorrow as a man, I would just stick needles in my eyes, and do anything to change it, and that was the thing that made me think it doesn’t make any difference how frightened I am because this is the only thing that’s important. And Chaz is so much happier. I didn’t lose anybody.”

An actor, Bono has been busy auditioning during a moment when Hollywood is struggling with the accurate portrayal of trans stories, awarding a grossly disproportionate number of roles to cisgender actors in an industry where trans actors still struggle to find work.

“I don’t think it should be a thing,” Cher says of the industry’s exclusion of trans talent. “I don’t think that women not getting the same money for the same job should be a thing. I’m confounded that certain things actually exist. That’s not the way you judge an actor.”

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Machado Cicala/ Courtesy of Cher

As Cher knows, it’s in large part the youth who are shifting this paradigm, both with their activism and their nonchalant views on gender and sexuality.

“The thing I love about kids today is they’re so open [about queerness or gender identity],” she says. “It’s like, ‘Whatever. Okay, pass me the hot sauce.’ They’re just not worried about what they are. And their friends aren’t worried about what they are either. That’s so freeing.”

Press Photo Credit Machado Cicala

Machado Cicala/ Courtesy of Cher

Countless things have compelled the free-spirited Cher to keep performing, to keep getting onstage, to keep making her voice heard — an outspoken voice that, whether cheered on by crowds or rabidly retweeted, is so appreciated right now. But sometimes it’s simple. “My life’s mission is to make people forget their problems,” she says. “When I go onstage, I think I’ve got this thing, it’s gonna come through me, it’s gonna go to the audience, and they’re gonna forget anything that bothers them for these 90 minutes. It’s supposed to take you out of yourself. That’s my job.”

Today, Cher isn’t an easy woman to pin down — in regard to her multifaceted talents and her mere availability. It’s a world away from the one that often tried to tell her she’d never do the things she was determined to do, and her perseverance is precisely the fuel that drives her widely varying, ardently lip-synching fans. “Sometimes people mistake being passionate for being uncool, and that’s their problem,” she states with finality.  “Fuck ’em.”

What’s your granny doing tonight?

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