Sooner or later she's got to cut it out.
After all, she's 32 now, and without the hair and the makeup her rather irregular beauty is more irregular than beautiful. Her 3-year-old son Elijah Blue Allman is strutting around the hotel room and her 10-year-old daughter Chastity Bono is down the hall.
Sooner or later, Cher will stop being 17 - when the whole world is reduced to boys and clothes and girlfriends, and life's metaphysics waver between a whimper and a giggle.
Sooner or later, she will stop saying, in all seriousness, "I just do what I do and that's the way I do it," and "I've had this pair of boots for seven years and if I ever lost them it would just be the biggest tragedy in my life." Sooner or later, Cher is going to start talking Grownup.
Forget it. This, after all, is Cher, or as the little old ladies from Trenton were calling her in the casino downstairs, the Cher - television's tent-show queen, purveyor of the gilded, the gossamer and the glamorous. Cher of Sonny and Cher, Cher of Gregg Allman and Cher, Cher of the peekaboo breasts and bellybutton, and the glistening flesh shivering in silver spangles. Cher of the Time cover, the It Girl of the '70s, Cher just going with the flow of the tide and the trends and on top of it all, really, ready to rollerskate the night away. Reality? It's not in the script.
At home, Cher's world is the bright cocoon of Beverly Hills. There, she made Monday nights famous for a while by renting out a roller-skating rink so all the celebrities could come play with her. "Famous people don't mind looking silly as long as they're with each other. It's a big drag falling on your a-- and stuff when other people are around asking you for your autograph and taking your picture," she says.
On the road, Cher's world is confined to the stage and to the dark red art deco walls of her seemingly endless suite in the Resorts International Hotel: the 11:30 p.m. performances before packed crowds, the mornings spent sleeping away the night before, the huge bouquets of slightly wilted flowers, the huge troupe of nurses and secretaries and assistants, the naked blonde friend Angela with the British accent standing in the door, the distant rumble of the Rolling Stones record coming from yet another part of the suite. And, of course, her son, Elijah Blue.
Elijah Blue, recently turned 3, is wearing his little blue T-shirt and his little Pierre Cardin blue jeans and his little gold pierced earring. Elijah Blue is jumping off the ottoman over and over again, while his very un-Cher-like nurse, fat and short and blonde, coos, "They think you're wonderful, Elijah B., they think you're wonderful". Actually Elijah is only the opening act in the everlasting exercise in the unimpeded fantasy that is Cher.
She comes into the room in iridescent purple jogging pants and black tank top and proceeds to pull on her purple leg warmers in preparation for racquetball with Angela the Blonde (who has progressed to a little white towel) at the Jewish Community Center. Double-take time - this skinny person with the short, scraggly hair and the washed-out eyes, this wan and worn person with the nasal voice is the same woman who for all these years has been spreading her life before us in the fan mags like oleomargarine on Wonder Bread?
She sighs. There have been so many interviews for so many years and it's really work to do them, she wants you to know that, even if there is just the tiniest admission that a Cher without publicity is like a Cher without oxygen.
"Well," she says reluctantly, "I guess it doesn't sound very believable of me if I said that I would really rather have my privacy, but you know, the whole publicity thing just kinda snowballed and then it got out of control.I mean there were the rotten days with Sonny and then it got worse with Gregory and pretty soon everyone who read about us is saying, "Listen, we don't care what you're doing, and we're not interested in hearing about it anymore.' But it wasn't like Gregory and I were running to the papers every day and saying, 'Look, look, this is the next terrible thing that happened to us,' but that's what people thought. And they got bored and when they get bored, forget it. I mean if they like you, then it doesn't matter if you screw up or if they get angry, but if you don't give them interesting stuff, forget it. Like I mean, I don't give a s--- what kind of shampoo Farrah Fawcett Majors is using. I mean, really."
And really, there isn't much in her life that everyone doesn't already know about:
Little Armenian-American Cher Sarkisian, who traded in her star-struck girlhood at 16 when she met Sonny. They became famous. The fan mags clucked - was Cher too dependent on Sonny? (Could she make it on her own? What would happen when young love and bell bottoms went out of style?)
No problem. It was Sonny and Cher and Chastity growing up on television while Mom put Dad down and not even a divorce got in the way of their making a mint out of it.And then on to Allman and the magazines moaned - his drinking! His drugs! Poor Cher! What will happen?
What happened of course was the marriage to Gregg three days after the divorce form Sonny, Cher's suit for divorce from Gregg nine days after that, the reunion, Gregg's suit for divorce from Cher, the reunion, the legal separation, and in the meantime, Elijah. The album covers tell it all, from "Gregg Allman and Woman" with a serpentine Cher wrapped around him like a vine, to "Take Me Home," with disco Cher alone in her golden breastplates and horned helmet.
It's all there in her show that's coming to the Kennedy Center today. There are tapings of her mother's voice ("She always did want to be naked"). In between the female impersonators and the dancers dressed in ambisexual punk and the band and Cher's nine costume changes ("There's very little left to me to show you guys"), there are film clips and slides to take the audience through it all one more time. She even sings a song about the Allmans, pater and fils, "that will give you guys the inside scoop on the whole thing." Cher's life, after all, has always been her art and her act and if you don't care about her clothes and her men, then forget it. Really.
The phone rings politely in the background. Angela reappears, this time in racquetball attire. "Oh, Cher, it's Geney and he's in the Roanoke Airport and he needs you for just one minute to come talk to him."
"Geney" is Gene Simmons, a member of the rock extravaganza Kiss. He's on tour, too. Cher comes back smiling. Is she in love? "Oh, I don't know, I used to think I wasn't but now I don't know."
Is it serious? "All my relationships are serious, I don't f--- around."
Okay, well what about the show? A bored pout. "Oh, it's okay, I didn't really want to do anything you know but they said I should, it's like I better do something alone quick or I never will. So I'm doing what my audience likes me do. I mean I can't go on doing this forever, it would look really dumb for a 45-year-old woman to be out there doing what I do."
But no, Cher is not worried about getting older, she is not worried about what to do with hereself when she could walk naked down Wilshire Boulevard and get nothing but arrested. "I worried about that for awhile but Janey really helped me out on that."
"Fonda. She said that her career didn't really even take off until she was 30, and I'm working on this movie now so that's probably what I'll get into."
Cher is also thinking about designing a line of fashion sports clothes. She's still "really interested in stuff that's new." Things are really coming together. She doesn't feel that need to get married anymore, and she's learning to like being on her own.
"I've gone through a lot of changes. I didn't want to be alone ever and then after Gregory when I was alone, it wasn't that bad. It wouldn't be that difficult. Of course, if it hadn't been for Katie, I don't know what I would have done."
"Kate Jackson. When I met her she was in weird place with a man, too, so she would just go off and do all this stuff alone, by herself. I couldn't believe it. I mean I would never go anywhere alone ever. I mean I would walk into a place and everyone would go wow, but walking in with katie it was like that double. So we just ended up having alot of fun together, and now we're really good friends."
Cher and katier go rollerskating and play a lot of racquetball together. Cher likes all sorts of sports. "I'm really physical. I really need that stuff for my head." She also needs it now to keep her weight down, she says, it's not like the old days when she could eat whatever she wanted but that' all right. Cher is prepared to go a lot further than that.
She has already, for instance, had plastic surgery on her breasts three times. "My breasts got really big after each of my children and I couldn't stand the idea of having to wear a bra. So I had the extra skin taken out after each pregnancy and then once again."
Cher does not understand the big deal about plastic surgery or the argument that so relentless a preoccupation with one's body might seem a little obsessive. "I think it's dumb. I mean when I need to get anything done, I certainly mean to get it. I just want to look as I can always. It just makes me feel better about myself."
Rumors that she has had other plastic surgery, for her cheekbones, for instance just make Cher laugh.
"Oh, I know. Raquel and I were talking after exercise class one day and . . ."
Raquel? Never mind.
"Anyway you know what everyone says about her, they make it sound like she was totally reconstructed. Well, I know something about plastic surgery and I could just tell it wasn't true. I mean, once something gets into the press, it's just there, you just can't change people's minds."
Nor would she want to most of the time, because it's the person that makes it all possible, and so if she and Katie and Janey and Raquel have to the record, that's what keeps it all together for these bright spangled buoys scramble every now and then, work hard at the movie or the road show or bobbing on the ever-changing seas of what's hot and what's not.
For them life sounds like a perpetual teen club. Hey, Sonny's moving soon into a house just down the road from Cher's, and everyone's together, forever trendy, forever young. It's a comfort in its way, becuase late '70s fame is so disparate, so different from the happy '60s.
Cher knows. "It was so much fun being popular in the '60s.We were so young then. It was fun. It was a culture. Sonny and I would walk in with our bell-bottoms and our big furry jackets and they wouldn't even let us into some of the hotels."
Now at course there is very little that Cher can't wear. "Now everyone's into different things and a whole new generation has come along."
But Cher has survived in her fashion and is asked the reason why. "Talent," she says, "doesn't make you popular. People make you popular. They make you what they want you to be. It's their dreams and fantasies that they pour into you."
And what does that say about Americans? If Cher is a sexual totem for the '70s, then we have rested our confusion in vacant exhibitionism and have settled quietly for a heavy-lidded imitation of desire.
And what, Cher is asked, does she want from the future? "There's nothing I want." For a moment, she looks startled, as if doubt had just dived into the gaudy little pool of her life. "I have no reason," she says regally, "to want anything."
She recovers. It's time to go. And Cher saunters off, a maternal mirror image of the way Elijah had sauntered in, still amused by the memories of his birthday party the night before when he rode his orand new green bicycle up and down and hotel halls in the middle of the night, Elijah had a question.
"Is the party over?" he asked his nurse.
"Yes," she said, "it is."
Elijah took it well. CAPTION: Picture