The Stunning Transformation Of Cher

Cherilyn Sarkisian, who is better known as the mononymous superstar Cher, burst onto the scene as a young woman in the 1960s and has lived a life in the spotlight ever since. 

Cher always knew she wanted to be a star. In 2018, she admitted to The New York Times, "I set out to be famous!" And she accomplished just that. Throughout the years, she's filled many roles: singer, dancer, actor, mom, fashion icon, activist — the list goes on and on. And although she is now in her 70s, she shows no signs of slowing down.


Nevertheless, Cher's beginnings were not quite so glamorous, and she has reinvented herself several times over the course of her decades-long career. From the groovy days of the 1960s and '70s to her '90s pop comeback and a transition to the big screen, here is how Cher got to where she is today.

Cher had a difficult childhood

Cher was born in El Centro, California, in 1946. Her mother, Georgia Holt, was a model, singer, and actress, and her father was a truck driver. They divorced when Cher was a baby, and her family life was unstable. As the singer told The Guardian, she didn't meet her dad until she was 11 years old, and that he "had some larceny in him. He had a criminal past." Her mom tried her best to be supportive but struggled. The Guardian reported that she sometimes hit her daughter, and Biography noted that she had to temporarily place Cher in an orphanage while trying to make ends meet.


Cher also struggled with dyslexia as a child. In her autobiography, "The First Time," she wrote, "I couldn't read quickly enough to get all my homework done and for me, math was like trying to understand Sanskrit" (via Understood). When she told her mom that she couldn't even make out the numbers, her mother would respond, "When you grow up, you're going to have somebody else to do numbers for you" (per The Guardian).

But Cher had plans for herself: She wanted to be a star. "I decided that I just wanted to be famous — maybe not with a specific talent, like Judy Garland or Dorothy McGuire, but as a personality," she wrote in her autobiography (via The Ringer).

She became a success with her husband Sonny Bono

At the age of 16, Cher dropped out of high school and left behind her difficult childhood in the San Fernando Valley. In search of fame, she headed straight for Los Angeles. There, in a coffee shop, she met 27-year-old Sonny Bono, who would go on to become her husband and singing partner. "It wasn't quite a crush yet," she wrote in her autobiography of meeting her future partner (via The Ringer). "It was more like hero worship."


Despite the large age gap, they eventually fell for each other and married in 1964. In 1965, the singing duo Sonny and Cher released the hit song "I Got You Babe." The famous pair also branched out into television with the 1971 debut of their popular show, "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," which garnered several an Emmy and led to Cher winning a Golden Globe.

Interestingly, the show evolved from their lounge act, which they embarked on as a result of owing money to the IRS, per Salon. They also continued putting out songs together, several of which topped the charts.

Cher established herself as a solo artist

Though Cher first came onto the scene as one-half of a musical duo alongside her husband Sonny Bono, she made a name for herself in her own right. She got her start in the music business in famed music producer Phil Spector's studio — she even sang backup for the Ronettes' hit song, "Be My Baby" (per The Ringer).


Her first solo single was a Spector-produced song about the Beatles called "I Love You, Ringo," aka the most '60s thing that could possibly exist. The song was released under the pseudonym Bonnie Jo Mason, a name Cher soon abandoned, and didn't get much radio play because DJs heard her deep voice and assumed she was a man, according to The Ringer.

Her true solo debut came in the form of the 1965 album "All I Really Want to Do," which included a cover of the Bob Dylan song of the same name. The record made it to the No. 16 spot on the Billboard 200, per American Songwriter. Cher would go on to release chart-toppers throughout the '70s, '80s, and '90s as a solo act.

Cher became a mom in 1969

Cher became a mother in 1969 with the birth of her first child, Chaz Bono. In an interview with Robin McGraw, Dr. Phil's wife, Cher said that she had "always, always wanted to be a mother." She also noted how difficult it was to raise a child as famous parents, recalling that she and husband Sonny Bono had taken Chaz on the road with them when he was only six weeks old and had started working on their TV show when he was only two. Chaz would also often make appearances on "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," per Biography.


She noted that her career was definitely a burden on both her children (she would go on to have another son with her second husband, Gregory Allman). She told SheKnows, "It's a hard thing to be the child of someone who's famous, and I think they did really, really well."

She divorced Sonny Bono in 1974

After a tumultuous relationship, Cher filed for divorce from Sonny Bono in 1974. "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" ended its run soon after. With their divorce came some revelations: Approximately 95% of the corporation formed around Cher's career, Cher Enterprises, was owned by Bono, and their lawyer held the other 5%, per Biography. "We worked side by side for 11 years and I ended up with nothing. I worked really hard for that money, and it never occurred to me that he would take it," she told The Guardian.


She had also signed a contract stipulating that she couldn't work without Sonny's involvement, which restricted the projects she could take on. She told Vanity Fair that her ex-husband had sometimes "[treated her] more like the golden goose than like his wife," and also revealed that he'd been a very controlling partner in both their professional and personal lives.

Cher finally negotiated her way out of the agreement with the help of David Geffen, a music executive who was also her romantic partner for a while. From there, she was able to start working again: She put out a disco song called "Take Me Home," and began to appear in plays and movies, pursuing an acting career in earnest. Free from Sonny Bono's control, Cher truly came into her own.


She remarried a few days after her first divorce was finalized

Cher's divorce from Sonny Bono was finalized on June 26, 1975 (per Biography). Four days later, Cher embarked on her second marriage, saying "I do" with Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. Allman struggled with substance abuse, however, and the marriage went south soon after it started. Cher initially filed for divorce 10 days later, but Allman convinced her to give it another shot, per The Mirror. The couple released an album together and even went on tour, but neither was received well by either star's fanbase.


Despite their issues, Cher and Allman did have one child together: Elijah Blue Allman, born July 10, 1976. The birth of her second child caused Cher to reevaluate the relationship. "You know, I loved him," Cher told Vanity Fair of Allman, "but I didn't really want Elijah around him alone. It's hard finding a drug addict who is also going to be a father." Cher and Allman divorced for real in 1979, and Cher did not remarry after.

She gained a reputation for being a daring fashion icon

In addition to her musical chops and acting talent, Cher is known for her extravagant fashion choices. Costume designer Bob Mackie first became her stylist and close friend while she was working on "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," and he would continue to be an important figure in her life long after her partnership with Sonny Bono ended (per The Ringer). "It was never too little, it was never too much bling," she told Vogue of her collaboration with Mackie. "I was always thrilled with everything he gave me."


Her choices were often risqué — Vogue noted that Cher was the first person to bare her navel on television. Women's Wear Daily compiled some of her bold looks throughout the years, which have included sequins, headpieces, and cutouts. Outfits of note include the sheer two-piece outfit she wore to the 1973 Oscars, a peacock-inspired getup for her birthday in 1975, and the giant feathered headpiece she rocked at the 1986 Oscars.

Cher's bedazzled, over-the-top looks never seem to overpower her, though. "She's a chameleon, but you never lose her," Mackie told Vanity Fair. "You put a blond wig on her and you still see Cher."

Cher began acting on Broadway and in films in the '80s

From her career in music and television, Cher made her way onto the big screen and the stage in the 1980s. Her acting career started in '82 with a Broadway run in "Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean," which was later adapted into a movie in which she also starred and earned a Golden Globe nomination (via The Hollywood Reporter). A couple of years later, she starred in "Silkwood," which earned Cher her first Oscar nom. In 1988, she finally took home the coveted prize for "Moonstruck," in which she starred opposite Nicolas Cage.


She's appeared in lots of other movies, including "The Witches of Eastwick," "Mermaids," "Tea with Mussolini," and most recently, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again." She's also lent her distinctive voice to multiple projects throughout the years, including a couple of Scooby-Doo episodes — once in 1972, and again in 2021 (via IMDb).

Her music career continued to flourish through the decades

Though she was finding immense success on the silver screen, Cher never abandoned her musical roots. She released a few popular songs in the '70s, including 1971's "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves," 1973's "Half Breed," and 1979's "Take Me Home." Though she took a break from recording music while she was pursuing acting in the first part of the '80s, she came back strong towards the end of the decade with hits like "I Found Someone" (1987), "If I Could Turn Back Time" (1989), "Just Like Jesse James" (1990), and "The Shoop Shoop Song," which was featured on the soundtrack of her 1990 movie, "Mermaids."


Cher won her first Grammy in 2000 for her dance-pop hit "Believe." However, she'd been nominated before, both for her solo work and her duets with Sonny Bono. According to The Ringer, she was 52 years old when the song was at its peak, making her the oldest female artist to hold the top spot on the Billboard chart — and no one's beaten that record since. If that's not a reason to believe in life after love, we don't know what is.

She's put in the work to improve her relationship with her kids

In 2009, Cher's oldest child, Chaz Bono, came out as trans. While she says it was a difficult adjustment at first, she now has a better understanding of her son. "I didn't handle [Chaz's coming out] all that well in the beginning," she admitted to SheKnows. "It took me a minute. Because you've been with a child for 40 years, and then all of a sudden ... but you know what? Chaz was so happy!"


In fact, she offered SheKnows a way for parents of transgender kids to better relate to their children's experiences: "It's like, if I woke up in the morning, and I wasn't me anymore and I didn't feel like me and I couldn't be me, I would just be beyond grief stricken. And that's what I have to tell a mother or father: You are who you are, but how would you feel if you were someone else and you couldn't be that someone else?" Though she admits to initially struggling with her son's identity, she told PrideSource that she and Chaz "get along better than ever."

Her relationship with her younger son, Elijah Blue Allman, has also reportedly suffered rifts, but the two have become closer over time. "My relationship with my kids is great right now," she told Billboard in 2017. At the time, Allman was even living with his mom in her Malibu mansion.


She came back to the big screen in 2010

After a long break from acting, Cher returned to the big screen for 2010's "Burlesque," which she starred in alongside Christina Aguilera and Stanley Tucci. It took a lot of effort to persuade Cher, who hadn't taken a lead role in a movie in over 10 years, to accept the part of Tess, the proprietor of the LA nightclub where the film takes place.


Clint Culpepper, the president of Screen Gems, the production company responsible for "Burlesque," recalled convincing Cher to sign on to the project by explaining how much Aguilera, who'd already signed on, wanted to work with the pop icon. According to Vanity Fair, he remembers telling Cher, "She adores you. She only wants to make it with you. This is a chick that would drink your bathwater."

When meeting for the first time, he says Aguilera introduced herself to Cher by saying, "Hi. I'm the one that would drink your bathwater." Tucci also admitted to being starstruck by his iconic castmate.

She continues to entertain well into her 70s

Since her 2010 return to the big screen, Cher has continued performing on the screen and stage — even after her 70th birthday in 2016. In 2018, she performed in another movie musical, "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again." Working on that film inspired her to release an entire album of Abba covers called "Dancing Queen," which was also released in 2018.


That same year, "The Cher Show," a musical inspired by her life and music which she co-produced, debuted on Broadway. The show revolved around three versions of Cher: her younger self, her pop-star self, and her mature self. She told The New York Times, "It took years and years to develop this show. But I think it's a great idea because I've lived for so long that I really have been distinct personalities."

Amid all these career moves, she was also doing her Vegas residency, which was later put on hold due to the pandemic. In December 2020, she told The Guardian she hopes to return in the future. When it comes to her ability to put on a good performance at her age, she said, "I've worked my whole life to keep my strength in my body. There are 20-year-old girls who can't do what I do."


Cher is passionate about the causes she believes in

Cher has always been outspoken and involved in the social causes she believes in. During the height of her "Sonny and Cher" fame, she was very publicly anti-drug, as her father had struggled with substance abuse. During the height of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, she donated "thousands of bottles of water," according to The Hollywood Reporter. After several years of criticizing former President Donald Trump, she campaigned for President Joe Biden in 2020. She's also since taken two other issues under her wing: freeing animals in captivity and providing COVID-19 support.


The Guardian reported that she worked to free an elephant named Kavan after finding out he was living in terrible conditions. She and a friend co-founded the charity Free the Wild to help Kavan and other animals like him.

She also provided immense COVID-19 relief through the CherCares Pandemic Resource and Response Fund. Through that initiative, the superstar provided a mobile medical unit in New York City that offered free vaccinations and testing, per 1010 WINS. Since Cher's entertainment career hasn't slowed down, it's safe to say her activism won't either. The only question is which cause the multi-hyphenate will dedicate herself to next.

She's known for speaking her mind on social media

These days, Cher is well known for her Twitter presence, where she often shares her (sometimes disorganized) thoughts in all caps. When one Twitter user commented on her frequently-capitalized posts to ask why she was always yelling, she replied, "IM NOT YELLING ... IM CHER." Iconic, no?


Cher says Twitter allows her to keep up with what's happening in the world. "Kids on my Twitter tell me about everything. They tell me about things that are bothering them, and they see if it bothers me," she told Vanity Fair. She actually found out about Kavan, the elephant she helped free through Twitter, per The Guardian.

Though she's undoubtedly hilarious online, she's not afraid to get political. During the 2016 election cycle and former president Donald Trump's administration, the star had to take steps to rein in her tweets. "Since Trump was elected, I have to hide my telephone, because I'm so outraged," she told Billboard during Trump's presidency. Luckily, she never hid it long enough to deprive her followers of her impassioned takes. But whether she's criticizing politicians or advocating for Paddington Bear to win the Oscar for Best Actor, we hope she never stops tweeting.