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The World According to a Legend by Kaya Morgan

Cher once told Barbara Walters that she'd like to be remembered as "somebody who succeeded at everything she attempted — despite not being terribly talented." We beg to differ. Just on longevity alone, it's hard to recall a time when Cher wasn't around. She's been a pop star, a TV star, a stage star and an Oscar-winning movie star with reported earnings of $73 million in 2002. Spanning almost four decades in the music industry with hit songs in the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's, many of us have grown up with Cher, able to recall her transformation from a fur-vested hippie into a high-glam fashion diva known for her provocative outfits. Yet, a whole new generation of fans now considers her their discovery.

Formerly known as Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierre Bono Allman, she was born a month premature to scratching poverty in the isolated California desert community of El Centro in 1946. She was the exotic product of John Sarkisian, a handsome Armenian truck driver, whom she never knew, and a struggling actress, Georgia Holt, a striking woman with sharp, part-Cherokee features. Struggling to stay afloat, Holt briefly placed Cher in a Catholic nunnery, visiting her daily. The family barely squeezed by on mom's occasional movie roles and less-frequent singing gigs but despite the hard times, Cher delighted in seeing her mom perform on stage. So it was not totally unexpected when at 16, while struggling with dyslexia in school, the precocious student dropped out and moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

By 17, her talent, even at an early age, landed her a job as a background singer for famed songwriter-record producer Phil Spector, and she soon made the most important connection of her life. In 1963, a chance encounter at the renowned Aldo's Coffee Shop, where all the celebrities used to hang out, brought her face to face with destiny when she met Sonny Bono, a hustling record company promo-man in the burgeoning music scene of the early 60's. He immediately spotted her talent and unique, raven-haired appeal in the land of blondes. The two quickly became friends and eventually moved in together, despite the 11-year age difference between them. Although they started out as platonic roommates, sleeping in twin beds, deep down, Cher knew it was something more. Sonny worked his TV and music gigs while Cher ran the audition circuit and kept the house. Finally, when Cher's mother caught on to the arrangement, the pair openly proclaimed their love, and things really began to heat up.

No question, the chemistry between them was magical. They played off each other like the best of Hollywood teams. By the time the Bono-penned song, "I Got You, Babe," hit the charts in 1965, the pair was considered America's darlings, and the song became the anthem for hippie lovebirds everywhere. The duo followed with "Baby Don't Go," and the 1967 hit, "The Beat Goes On," marrying in 1969, having daughter Chastity, then disappearing into the 60's pop culture.

Being relegated to nothing more than a Las Vegas lounge act, CBS stepped into the picture and made Sonny and Cher an offer they couldn't refuse — a one-hour, kitschy television variety show — The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, that became filled with barbed banter and quick repartee. The couple was back on top, working the chemistry that had initially attracted their fans in the first place. Cher returned to the pop charts, but their troubled married life soon brought the marriage, and their successful show to an end. In an odd sort of way, the split between them speaks of their generation in a way more powerful than anything they did together. Bono, who always saw showbiz as a business, moved to Palm Springs, opened a restaurant, became a Republican, mayor and a congressman. Cher went the opposite way, marrying a substance-abuse, rock star, divorcing after only nine days, and by the time the ink was dry on the papers, with a new son, Elijah.

Cher buried herself in her work, and repeatedly hit gold or platinum jackpots including the album Cher (1987), Heart of Stone (1989), and Love Hurts (1991). Her acting career received a huge boost when she appeared in the Broadway and film versions of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982), earned a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for Silkwood (1983), and won a Best Actress Academy Award for Moonstruck (1987).

Then a series of personal and professional challenges contributed to a downward spiral that lasted almost three years. Cher suffered from an undiagnosed case of chronic fatigue syndrome, continually battling with symptoms of the flu, strep throat and pneumonia. While son, Elijah quit school to start a band, daughter Chastity announced she was a lesbian, causing a series of rifts between them. Too exhausted physically and emotionally to deal with the demands of making films, she passed on coveted roles in Thelma & Louise and The War of the Roses. To make matters worse, she agreed to do an infomercial as a favor to a friend. Nothing could have backfired worse. She quickly became known as the Infomercial Queen, pitching hair care products, and becoming the butt of latenight TV jokes.

She knew that coming back meant breaking new ground. So she made another strong statement when co-executive director, Demi Moore, asked her to appear in the HBO dramatic TV movie, If These Walls Could Talk. She agreed only if she could direct one of the movie's three parts. That proved to be the right career move. Cher was back on track and once again in the spotlight. Of course, her next focus was on her music, with Grammy Award winning, Believe (1999), three Emmy Award nominations for her HBO performance, Cher: Live In Concert (2000) and now, her latest hit release, Living Proof (2002).

Although her list of credits seems to go on indefinitely, people might be surprised to find that, contrary to the rumormill, Cher considers herself somewhat of a recluse, cocooning in her palatial Malibu estate — a homebody who values what we all value — friends, family, hanging out, playing board games at home and lounging in her sweats, albeit they are designer. The artist jokingly admits that about the only thing she can't make work is marriage, but says she has had "a wonderful time with all the wrong guys" while waiting to meet Mr. Right, having been romantically linked to Tom Cruise, David Geffen, Gene Simmons, and Val Kilmer.

Cher has proven herself time and time again to be a serious artist. Her Farewell Tour, one of the best shows ever, and latest album, Living Proof, is a testament to that fact. But she also represents a phenomenon of her generation — the desire to remain young and a refusal to age with grace. She's reinvented herself almost faster than the speed of sound during an amazing career with repeated flashes of incredible brilliance. At 57, long past the age of involuntary retirement for female pop stars, she continues to unearth fresh opportunities, despite a history of setbacks. If it's true that history repeats itself, we certainly haven't seen the last of this fascinating performer.

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