Cher

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Nearly 35 years after Cher emerged with I Got You Babe, her 1998 dance tune Believe shot to number one. It was the latest in many ups and downs in Cher's four decades in show biz, but the singer handles it all in style. "Some years I'm the coolest thing that ever happened," she says, "the next year everyone's so over me."

The chameleon-like star was born Cherilyn Sarkisian La Pierre in El Centro, California, on May 20, 1946. Her father, John Sarkisian, who left the family home when she was a little girl, was a truck driver who married and divorced her mother twice. Cher's part-Cherokee mum Georgia Holt was married six times her fifth husband, Gilbert La Pierre, adopted Cher.

When she was 16 years old the striking brunette ran away from home and met the man who would change her life in a California coffee shop. Sonny Bono was an assistant to famed record producer Phil Spector, and helped her get a job as a studio backup singer. After recording the single I Love You, Ringo, as Bonnie Jo Mason in 1964, she married Sonny, and took on yet another stage name when they formed the musical duo Caesar and Cleo. The newlyweds recorded their breakthrough hit, I Got You Babe, as Sonny and Cher, topping the charts for the first time in 1965.

In 1971, with hits such as The Beat Goes On under their belts, the two crossed over to TV with the hugely successful Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour. Though their on-screen chemistry the lanky beauty making deadpan quips at the expense of her diminutive moustached partner made for great TV, behind the scenes, things fell apart. In 1975, the couple, parents to then six-year-old Chastity, divorced, and their hit programme fizzled as well.

Cher continued the show solo, but she was not alone in her private life, having married rocker Greg Allman in mid-1975. Though the two separated after nine days of marriage, they reconciled and had a little boy, Elijah Blue, in 1976.

The same year, after her variety show flopped, Cher and Sonny were reunited on TV with a new incarnation of their programme. Third time unlucky, in 1977 the formula flopped along with Cher and Greg's marriage.

In the Eighties, the pop culture icon once again reinvented herself, trying her hand at acting. She garnered fair reviews her role in Come Back To The Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and was soon cast alongside Meryl Streep in 1983's Silkwood. Preview audiences were said to have giggled when her name appeared in the opening credits, but Cher had the last laugh, earning an Oscar nomination for the role.

Over the next few years, Cher experienced a rejuvenation of her career not seen since her hit TV show days. Impressive film follow-ups Mask and Witches Of Eastwick were accompanied by a musical comeback with the hit single If I Could Turn Back Time. (The singer's see-through bodystocking outfit helped make it the first video banned by MTV.) She then picked up a best actress Oscar for 1987's Moonstruck wearing a barely there Bob Mackie creation complete with headdress. "Women dress for women first and men second," she said later. "I dress for myself first."

In addition to a three-year relationship with 20-something baker-turned-DJ Rob Camiletti in the Eighties, Cher also dated a fascinating line-up of eligible men including Gene Simmons of Kiss, actor Val Kilmer and Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora. "A girl can wait for the right man to come along," she reasons, "but in the meantime that still doesn't mean she can't have a wonderful time with all the wrong ones."

In 1998, she received devastating news her first love Sonny, by that time a US representative, had been killed in a skiing accident. The world watched as Cher made a heartfelt tribute to the late politician at his funeral, which was covered on live TV.

But that low came along with a high, the success of Believe that year, marking yet another career comeback. She continued to enjoy success in 2002, embarking on a farewell tour which became the fourth-highest grossing concert tour of the year. With 14 costume changes and a set spanning the last four decades, the high-energy shows proved the star planned to go out with a bang.

"I really want to be able to get up there in my size 27 jeans and dance around the stage, and look good, you know?" she says. "I'm trying to keep the package viable." And as for the cosmetic retouching she's had? "If I'd had as much plastic surgery as people say, there'd be another whole person left over," she remarks. "I could send her out to work her butt off on stage every night."
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