Cher (//; born Cherilyn Sarkisian; May 20, 1946) is an American singer and actress. Described as embodying female autonomy in a male-dominated industry, she is known for her distinctive contralto singing voice and for having worked in numerous areas of entertainment, as well as adopting a variety of styles and appearances during her five-decade-long career, which has led to her being nicknamed the Goddess of Pop.
Cher gained popularity in 1965 as one-half of the folk rock husband-wife duo Sonny & Cher after their song "I Got You Babe" reached number one on the American and British charts. She began her solo career simultaneously, releasing in 1966 her first million-seller song, "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)". She became a television personality in the 1970s with her shows The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, watched by over 30 million viewers weekly during its three-year run, and Cher. She emerged as a fashion trendsetter by wearing elaborate outfits on her television shows. While working on television, she established herself as a solo artist with the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves", "Half-Breed", and "Dark Lady". After her divorce from Sonny Bono in 1975, Cher launched a comeback in 1979 with the disco-oriented album Take Me Home and earned $300,000 a week for her 1980–82 residency show in Las Vegas.
In 1982, Cher made her Broadway debut in the play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean and starred in the film adaptation of the same title. She subsequently earned critical acclaim for her performances in films such as Silkwood (1983), Mask (1985), and Moonstruck (1987), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She then revived her musical career by recording the rock-inflected albums Cher (1987), Heart of Stone (1989), and Love Hurts (1991), all of which yielded several successful singles. She reached a new commercial peak in 1998 with the album Believe, whose title track became the biggest-selling single of all time by a female artist in the UK; it features the pioneering use of Auto-Tune, also known as the "Cher effect". Her 2002–05 Living Proof: The Farewell Tour became one of the highest-grossing concert tours of all time, earning $250 million. In 2008, she signed a $180 million deal to headline the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for three years. After seven years of absence, she returned to film in the 2010 musical Burlesque. Cher's first studio album in 12 years, Closer to the Truth (2013), became her highest-charting solo album in the U.S. to date at number three.
Cher has won an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, a special CFDA Fashion Award, three Golden Globe Awards, and a Cannes Film Festival Award, among several other honors. Throughout her career, she has sold 200 million records worldwide. She is the only artist to date to have a number-one single on a Billboard chart in each decade from the 1960s to the 2010s. Outside of her music and acting, she is noted for her political views, philanthropic endeavors and social activism, including LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.
Life and career
1946–61: Early life
Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian in El Centro, California, on May 20, 1946. Her father, John Sarkisian, was an Armenian-American truck driver with drug and gambling problems, and her mother, Jackie Jean Crouch, was an occasional model and bit-part actress who claimed Irish, English, German and Cherokee ancestry. Cher's father was rarely home when she was an infant, and her parents divorced when Cher was ten months old. Her mother later married actor John Southall, by whom she had a daughter, Georganne Southall, Cher's half-sister.
Now living in Los Angeles, Cher's mother began acting while working as a waitress. She changed her name to Georgia Holt and played minor roles in films and on television. Holt also secured acting parts for her daughters as extras on television shows like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Her mother's relationship with Southall ended when Cher was nine years old, but she considers him her father and remembers him as a "good-natured man who turned belligerent when he drank too much". Holt remarried and divorced several more times, and she moved her family around the country (including New York, Texas, and California). They often had little money, and Cher remembers using rubber bands to hold her shoes together. At one point, her mother left Cher at an orphanage for several weeks. Although they met every day, both found the experience traumatic.
When Cher was in fifth grade, she produced a performance of the musical Oklahoma! for her teacher and class. She organized a group of girls, directing and choreographing their dance routines. Unable to convince boys to participate, she acted the male roles and sang their songs. By age nine, she had developed an unusually low voice. Fascinated by film stars, Cher's role model was Audrey Hepburn, particularly due to her role in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's. Cher began to take after the unconventional outfits and behavior of Hepburn's character. She was disappointed by the absence of dark-haired Hollywood actresses whom she could emulate then. She had wanted to be famous since childhood but felt unattractive and untalented, later commenting, "I couldn't think of anything that I could do ... I didn't think I'd be a singer or dancer. I just thought, well, I'll be famous. That was my goal."
In 1961, Holt married bank manager Gilbert LaPiere, who adopted Cher (under the name Cheryl LaPiere) and her half-sister Georganne, and enrolled them at Montclair College Preparatory School, a private school in Encino, whose students were mostly from affluent families. The school's upper-class environment presented a challenge for Cher; biographer Connie Berman wrote, "[she] stood out from the others in both her striking appearance and outgoing personality." A former classmate commented, "I'll never forget seeing Cher for the first time. She was so special ... She was like a movie star, right then and there ... She said she was going to be a movie star and we knew she would." Despite not being an excellent student, Cher was intelligent and creative, according to Berman. She earned high grades, excelling in French and English classes. As an adult, she discovered that she had dyslexia. Cher achieved notoriety for her unconventional behavior: she performed songs for students during the lunch hours and surprised peers when she wore a midriff-baring top, being the first young woman in her social circle to do so. She later recalled, "I was never really in school. I was always thinking about when I was grown up and famous."
1962–65: Solo career breakthrough
At age 16, Cher dropped out of school, left her mother's house, and moved with a friend into Los Angeles, where she took acting classes and worked to support herself. She danced in small clubs along Hollywood's Sunset Strip, introducing herself to performers, managers, and agents. According to biographer Connie Berman, "[Cher] did not hesitate to approach anyone she thought could help her get a break, make a new contact, or get an audition." Cher met performer Sonny Bono in November 1962 when he was working for record producer Phil Spector. Cher's friend moved out, and Cher accepted Sonny's offer to be his housekeeper. Sonny introduced Cher to Spector, who used her as a backup singer on many recordings, including the Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'". Spector produced her first single, the commercially unsuccessful "Ringo, I Love You", which Cher recorded under the name Bonnie Jo Mason.
Cher and Sonny became close friends, eventual lovers, and performed their own unofficial wedding ceremony in a hotel room in Tijuana, Mexico, on October 27, 1964. Although Sonny had wanted to launch Cher as a solo artist, she encouraged him to perform with her because she suffered from stage fright, and so he began joining her onstage, singing the harmonies. Cher disguised her nervousness by looking at Sonny; she later commented that she sang to the people through him. In late 1964, they emerged as a duo called Caesar & Cleo, releasing the poorly received singles "Do You Wanna Dance?", "Love Is Strange", and "Let the Good Times Roll".
Cher signed with Liberty Records' Imperial imprint in the end of 1964, and Sonny became her producer. The single "Dream Baby", released under the name "Cherilyn", received airplay in Los Angeles. Encouraged by Imperial, Cher worked with Sonny on her second solo single on the label, a cover version of Bob Dylan's "All I Really Want to Do", which peaked at number 15 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1965. Meanwhile, the Byrds had released their own version of the same song. When competition on the singles charts started between Cher and the Byrds, the group's record label began to promote the B-side of the Byrds' single. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds commented, "We loved the Cher version ... We didn't want to hassle. So we just turned our record over." The namesake album, later described by AllMusic's Tim Sendra as "one of the stronger folk-pop records of the era", reached number 16 on the Billboard 200.
1965–67: Sonny and Cher's rise to pop stardom
In early 1965, Caesar and Cleo began calling themselves Sonny & Cher. Following the recording of "I Got You Babe", they traveled to England in July 1965 at the Rolling Stones' advice; Cher recalled, "[they] had told us ... that Americans just didn't get us and that if we were going to make it big, we were going to have to go to England." According to writer Cintra Wilson, "English newspaper photographers showed up when S&C were thrown out of the London Hilton [because of their outfits] the night they arrived—literally overnight, they were stars. London went gaga for the heretofore-unseen S&C look, which was neither mod nor rocker."
"I Got You Babe" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became, according to AllMusic's Bruce Eder, "one of the biggest-selling and most beloved pop/rock hits of the mid-'60s"; Rolling Stone listed it among "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" in 2003. As the song knocked the Beatles off the top of the British charts, English teenagers began to emulate Sonny and Cher's fashion style, such as bell-bottoms, striped pants, ruffled shirts, industrial zippers and fur vests. Upon their return to the U.S., the duo made several appearances on the teen-pop showcases Hullabaloo and Shindig! and completed a tour of some of the largest arenas in the U.S. Their shows attracted Cher look-alikes—"girls who were ironing their hair straight and dyeing it black, to go with their vests and bell-bottoms". Cher expanded her creative range by designing a clothing line.
Sonny and Cher's first album, Look at Us (1965), released for the Atco Records division of Atlantic Records, spent eight weeks at number two on the Billboard 200, behind the Beatles' Help!. Their material became popular, and the duo successfully competed with the dominant British Invasion and Motown sounds of the era. Sonny and Cher charted ten Billboard top 40 singles between 1965 and 1972, including five top-ten singles: "I Got You Babe", "Baby Don't Go", "The Beat Goes On", "All I Ever Need Is You", and "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done". At one point, they had five songs in the top 50 at the same time, a feat equaled only by the Beatles and Elvis Presley. By the end of 1967, they had sold 40 million records worldwide and had become, according to Time magazine's Ginia Bellafante, rock's "it" couple.
Cher's following releases kept her solo career fully competitive with her work with Sonny. The Sonny Side of Chér (1966) features "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)", which reached number two in America and became her first million-seller solo single. Chér, also released in 1966, contains the Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition "Alfie", which was added to the credits of the American version of the 1966 film of the same name and became the first stateside version of the popular song. With Love, Chér (1967) includes songs described by biographer Mark Bego as "little soap-opera stories set to rock music" such as the U.S. top-ten single "You Better Sit Down Kids".
1967–70: Backlash from the younger generation, first marriage
By the end of the 1960s, Sonny and Cher's music had ceased to chart. According to biographer Connie Berman, "the heavy, loud sound of groups like Jefferson Airplane and Cream made the folk-rock music of Sonny and Cher seem too bland." Cher later commented, "I loved the new sound of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, the electric-guitar oriented bands. Left to myself, I would have changed with the times because the music really turned me on. But Son[ny] didn't like it—and that was that." Their monogamous lifestyle during the period of the sexual revolution and the anti-drug position they adopted at the height of the drug culture eventually made the duo lose their popular appeal among American youths. According to biographer Mark Bego, "in spite of their revolutionary unisex clothes, Sonny and Cher were quite 'square' when it came to sex and drugs." In an attempt to recapture their young audience, the duo produced and starred in the film Good Times (1967), which was commercially unsuccessful.
Cher's next album, Backstage (1968), in which she runs in diverse musical directions, including Brazilian jazz and anti-war protest settings, was not a commercial success. In 1969, she was dropped from Imperial Records. Sonny and Cher had been dropped from Atco; however, the label wanted to sign Cher for a solo album. 3614 Jackson Highway (1969) was recorded without the guidance of Sonny and incorporates experiments in soul music; AllMusic's Mark Deming proclaimed it "the finest album of her career". Displeased with the 3614 Jackson Highway album, Sonny prevented Cher from releasing more recordings for Atco.
Meanwhile, Sonny repeatedly cheated on Cher, and by the end of the 1960s their relationship had begun to unravel. According to People magazine, "[Sonny] tried desperately to win her back, telling her he wanted to marry and start a family." They officially married after she gave birth on March 4, 1969 to Chastity Bono (who years later became Chaz Bono). That year, the duo spent $500,000 and mortgaged their home to make the film Chastity. Written and directed by Sonny, who did not appear in the movie, it tells the story of a young woman, played by Cher, searching for the meaning of life. The art film failed commercially, putting the couple $190,000 in debt with back taxes. However, some critics noted that Cher showed signs of acting potential; Cue magazine wrote, "Cher has a marvelous quality that often makes you forget the lines you are hearing."
At the lowest point of their career, the duo put together a nightclub routine that relied on a more adult approach to sound and style. According to writer Cintra Wilson, "Their lounge act was so depressing, people started heckling them. Then Cher started heckling back. Sonny ... reprimanded her; then she'd heckle Sonny". The heckling became a highlight of the act and attracted viewers. Television executives took note, and the couple began making guest appearances on prime-time shows, in which they presented a "new, sophisticated, and mature" image. Cher adopted alluring, low-cut gowns that became her signature outfits.
1971–74: Television career breakthrough, first musical comeback
CBS head of programming Fred Silverman offered Sonny and Cher their own television program after he noticed them as guest-hosts on The Merv Griffin Show in 1971. The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour premiered as a summer replacement series on August 1, 1971, and had six episodes. Because it was a ratings success, the couple returned that December with a full-time show.
Watched by more than 30 million viewers weekly during its three-year run, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour was praised for the comedic timing, and deadpan Cher mocked Sonny about his looks and short stature. According to biographer Connie Berman, they "exuded an aura of warmth, playfulness, and caring that only enhanced their appeal. Viewers were further enchanted when a young Chastity also appeared on the show. They seemed like a perfect family." Cher honed her acting skills in sketch comedy roles such as the brash housewife Laverne, the sardonic waitress Rosa, and historical vamps, including Cleopatra and Miss Sadie Thompson. The designer clothing Cher wore were part of the show's attraction, and her style influenced the fashion trends of the 1970s.
In 1971, Sonny and Cher signed with the Kapp Records division of MCA Records, and the latter singer released the single "Classified 1A", in which she sings from the point of view of a soldier who bleeds to death in Vietnam. Written by Sonny, who felt that her first solo single on the label had to be poignant and topical, radio station programmers quickly rejected the song as uncommercial. Since Sonny's first attempts at reviving their recording career as a duo had also been unsuccessful, Kapp Records recruited Snuff Garrett to work with them. He produced Cher's first U.S. solo number-one single, "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves", which "proved that ... Garrett knew more about Cher's voice and her persona as a singer than Sonny did", writes biographer Mark Bego. The song was featured on the 1971 album Chér (eventually reissued under the title Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves), which was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Its second single, "The Way of Love", reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and established Cher's more confident image as a recording artist.
In 1972, Cher released the all-ballad set Foxy Lady, demonstrating the evolution of her vocal abilities, according to Bego. Following the release of the album, Garrett quit as producer after disagreeing with Sonny about the kind of material Cher should record. At Sonny's insistence, in 1973 Cher released an album of standards called Bittersweet White Light, which was commercially unsuccessful. That year, lyricist Mary Dean brought Garrett "Half-Breed", a song about the daughter of a Cherokee mother and a white father, that she had written especially for Cher. Although Garrett did not have Cher as a client at the time, he was convinced that "it's a smash for Cher and for nobody else", so he held the song for months until he got Cher back. "Half-Breed" was featured on the album of the same name and became Cher's second U.S. solo number-one single. Both the album and the single were certified gold by the RIAA. Cher's third U.S. solo number-one single was "Dark Lady", in 1974, from the namesake album. Later that year, she released a Greatest Hits album that, according to Billboard magazine, proved her to be "one of the most consistent hitmakers of the past five years", as well as a "proven superstar who always sells records".
Between 1971 and 1973, Sonny and Cher's recording career was revived with four albums released under Kapp Records and MCA Records: Sonny & Cher Live (1971), All I Ever Need Is You (1972), Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer, Papa Used to Write All Her Songs (1973), and Live in Las Vegas Vol. 2 (1973). Cher later commented on this period: "I could do a whole album ... in three days ... We were on the road ... and we were doing the Sonny & Cher Show".
1974–79: Divorce from Sonny Bono, second marriage, decline of popularity
Cher and Sonny had marital problems since late 1972, but appearances were maintained until 1974. "The public still thinks we are married," Sonny wrote in his diary at the time, "[and] that's the way it has to be." In February 1974, Sonny filed for a separation, citing "irreconcilable differences". A week later, Cher countered with a divorce suit and charged Sonny with "involuntary servitude", claiming that he withheld money from her and deprived her of her rightful share of their earnings. The couple battled in court over finances and the custody of Chastity, which was eventually granted to Cher. Their divorce was finalized on June 26, 1975.
In 1974, Cher won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Television Series Musical or Comedy for The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. The same year, Sonny premiered a solo show on ABC, The Sonny Comedy Revue, which carried the creative team behind the Sonny and Cher show. It was canceled after 13 weeks.
During the divorce proceedings, Cher had a two-year romantic relationship with record executive David Geffen, who freed her from her business arrangement with Sonny, under which she was required to work exclusively for Cher Enterprises, the company he ran. Geffen secured a $2.5 million deal for Cher with Warner Bros. Records, and she began work on her first album under the label in 1975. According to biographer Mark Bego, "it was their intention that [this album] was going to make millions of fans around the world take her seriously as a rock star, and not just a pop singer." Despite Cher's efforts to develop her musical range by listening to artists such as Stevie Wonder, Elton John, James Taylor, Carly Simon, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Dylan, the resulting album, Stars, was commercially and critically unsuccessful. Janet Maslin of The Village Voice wrote, "Cher is just no rock and roller ... Image, not music, is Cher Bono's main ingredient for both records and TV." The album has since become a cult classic and is generally considered among her best work.
On February 16, 1975, Cher returned to television with a solo show on CBS. Entitled Cher, it began as a highly rated special with guests Flip Wilson, Elton John, and Bette Midler. The show was produced by Geffen and centered on Cher's songs, monologues, comedy performance, and her variation of clothing, which was the largest for a weekly TV show. Early critical reception was favorable; Los Angeles Times exclaimed that "Sonny without Cher was a disaster. Cher without Sonny, on the other hand, could be the best thing that's happened to weekly television this season." Cher lasted for less than a year, replaced by a new show in which she professionally reunited with ex-husband Sonny; she said, "doing a show alone was more than I could handle."
On June 30, 1975, four days after finalizing her divorce from Sonny, Cher married rock musician Gregg Allman, co-founder of The Allman Brothers Band. She filed for divorce nine days later because of his heroin and liquor problems, but they reconciled within a month. They had one son, Elijah Blue, on July 10, 1976. Sonny and Cher's TV reunion, The Sonny and Cher Show, debuted on CBS in February 1976—the first show ever to star a divorced couple. Although the show was a ratings success on its premiere, Cher and Sonny's insulting onscreen banter about their divorce, her reportedly extravagant lifestyle, and her troubled relationship with Allman caused a public backlash that eventually contributed to the show's cancellation in August 1977.
Cher's next albums, I'd Rather Believe in You (1976) and Cherished (1977), the latter a return to her pop style at Warner's producers insistence, were commercially unsuccessful. In 1977, under the rubric "Allman and Woman", she recorded alongside Allman the duet album Two the Hard Way, later regarded by History as "the worst of either artist's respective career". Their relationship ended following the release of the album, and their divorce was finalized in 1979. Beginning in 1978, she had a two-year live-in relationship with Kiss member Gene Simmons. That year, she legally changed her name from Cherilyn Sarkisian La Piere Bono Allman to Cher, to eliminate the use of four surnames. She returned to prime time television with the specials Cher... Special (1978) and Cher... and Other Fantasies (1979).
1979–82: Second musical comeback, shift from disco music to rock
A single mother with two children, Cher realized that she had to make a choice about the direction of her singing career. Deciding to temporarily abandon her desire to be a rock singer, she signed with Casablanca Records and launched a comeback with the single "Take Me Home" and the album of the same name, both of which capitalized on the disco craze. Both the album and the single became instant successes, remained bestsellers for more than half of 1979, and were certified gold by the RIAA. Sales of the album may have been boosted by the image of a scantily clad Cher in a Viking outfit on its cover. Despite her initial lack of enthusiasm with disco music, she changed her mind after the success, commenting, "I never thought I would want to do disco ... [but] it's terrific! It's great music to dance to. I think that danceable music is what everybody wants."
Encouraged by the popularity of Take Me Home, Cher planned to return to rock music in her next album, Prisoner (1979). The album's cover features Cher draped in chains as a "prisoner of the press", which caused controversy among feminist groups for her perceived portrayal of a sex slave. She included rock songs, which made the disco release seem unfocused and led to its commercial failure. Prisoner produced the single "Hell on Wheels", featured on the soundtrack of the film Roller Boogie. The song exploits the late 1970s roller-skating fad and contributed to its popularity.
In 1980, alongside Italian record producer Giorgio Moroder, Cher wrote her last Casablanca disco recording, "Bad Love", for the film Foxes. She formed the rock band Black Rose that year with her then-lover, guitarist Les Dudek. Although Cher was the lead singer, she did not receive top billing because she wanted to create the impression that all band members were equal. Since she was easily recognized when she performed with the band, she developed a punk look by cutting her trademark long hair. Despite appearances on television, the band failed to earn concert dates. Their album Black Rose received unfavorable reviews; Cher told Rolling Stone, "The critics panned us, and they didn't attack the record. They attacked me. It was like, 'How dare Cher sing rock & roll?'" During the band's active period, Cher was simultaneously doing a residency show in Las Vegas, earning $300,000 a week. Its companion television special Cher... A Celebration at Caesars aired on Lifetime in April 1983. Black Rose disbanded in 1981. That year, she released a duet with musician Meat Loaf called "Dead Ringer for Love", which reached number five on the UK Singles Chart and was later described by AllMusic's Donald A. Guarisco as "one of the more inspired rock duets of 1980s". In 1982, Columbia Records released the album I Paralyze, later deemed by biographer Mark Bego as Cher's "strongest and most consistent solo album in years" despite its low sales.
1982–87: Film career breakthrough, musical hiatus
With decreasing album sales and a lack of commercially successful singles, Cher decided to further develop her acting career. While she had previously aspired to venture into film, she had only the critically and commercially unsuccessful movies Good Times and Chastity to her credit, and the Hollywood establishment did not take her seriously as an actress. She moved to New York in 1982 to take acting lessons with Lee Strasberg, founder of the Actors Studio, but never enrolled after her plans changed. She auditioned for and was signed by director Robert Altman for the Broadway stage production Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, playing a member of a James Dean fan club holding a 20-year reunion. That year, Altman cast her again in the film adaptation of the same title. Cher credits Altman for launching her acting career: "Without Bob [Robert Altman] I would have never had a film career. Everyone told him not to cast me ... I am convinced that Bob was the only one who was brave enough to do it."
Director Mike Nichols, who had seen Cher onstage in Jimmy Dean, offered her the part of Dolly Pelliker, a plant co-worker and Meryl Streep's lesbian roommate in the film Silkwood. When it premiered in 1983, audiences questioned Cher's ability as an actress. She recalls attending a film preview during which the audience laughed when they saw her name in the credits. For her performance, Cher won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture.
In 1985, Cher formed the film production company Isis. Her next film, Mask (1985), reached number two at the box office and was Cher's first critical and commercial success as a leading actress. For her role as a drug addict biker with a teenage son who has a severe physical deformity, she won the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress. During the making of the film, however, she clashed with director Peter Bogdanovich. She attended the 58th Academy Awards in a tarantula-like costume "to show her scorn for the 'system'", according to authors James Parish and Michael Pitts. The incident garnered her much publicity.
By 1987, Cher was receiving attention for her controversial lifestyle, including her tattoos, plastic surgeries, exhibitionist fashion sense, and affairs with younger men. She had romantic relationships with actors Val Kilmer, Eric Stoltz, and Tom Cruise, hockey player Ron Duguay, film producer Josh Donen, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, and Rob Camilletti, an 18-years-younger bagel baker whom she dated from 1986 to 1989.
1987–92: Film stardom, third musical comeback
Cher starred in three films in 1987. In Suspect, she played a public defender who is both helped and romanced by one of the jurors in the homicide case she is handling. Along with Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer, she starred as one of three divorcees involved with a mysterious and wealthy visitor from hell who comes to a small New England town in the comedy horror The Witches of Eastwick. In Norman Jewison's romantic comedy Moonstruck, she played an Italian widow in love with her fiancé's younger brother. The two latter films ranked among the top ten highest-grossing films of 1987, at number ten and five, respectively. For her performance in Moonstruck, Cher won the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical. By 1988, Cher had become one of the most acclaimed and bankable actresses of the decade, commanding $1 million per film. That year, she released the fragrance Uninhibited, which earned about $15 million in its first year sales.
In 1987, Cher signed with Geffen Records and revived her musical career with what music critics Johnny Danza and Dean Ferguson describe as "her most impressive string of hits to date", establishing her as a "serious rock and roller ... a crown that she'd worked long and hard to capture". Michael Bolton, Jon Bon Jovi, Desmond Child, and Richie Sambora produced her first Geffen album, Cher, which was certified platinum by the RIAA. It features the rock ballad "I Found Someone", her first U.S. top-ten single in more than eight years.
Cher's 19th studio album Heart of Stone (1989) was certified triple platinum by the RIAA. The music video for its second single, "If I Could Turn Back Time", caused controversy due to Cher's performance on a Navy warship, straddling a cannon, and wearing a leather thong that revealed her tattooed buttocks. The song topped the Australian charts for seven weeks, reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became one of Cher's most successful singles. Further songs from Heart of Stone to reach the U.S. top ten were "After All", a duet with Peter Cetera, and "Just Like Jesse James". At the 1989 People's Choice Awards, Cher won the Favorite All-Around Female Star Award. She embarked on the Heart of Stone Tour in 1990. Most critics liked the tour's nostalgic nature and admired Cher's showmanship. Its parent television special Cher at the Mirage (1991) was filmed during a concert in Las Vegas.
In her first film in three years, Mermaids (1990), Cher paid tribute to her own mother in this story about a woman who moves her two daughters from town to town at the end of a love affair. She conflicted with the film's first two directors, Lasse Hallström and Frank Oz, who were replaced by Richard Benjamin. Believing Cher would be the star attraction, the producers allowed her creative control for the film. Mermaids was a moderate box office success and received mixed reviews. One of the two songs Cher recorded for the film's soundtrack, "The Shoop Shoop Song (It's in His Kiss)", topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks.
Cher's final studio album for Geffen Records, Love Hurts (1991), stayed at number one in the UK for six weeks and produced the UK top-ten single "Love and Understanding". The album was certified gold by the RIAA. In later years, Cher commented that her Geffen label "hit years" had been especially significant to her, "because I was getting to do songs that I really loved ... songs that really represented me, and they were popular!" She released the exercise book Forever Fit in 1991, followed by the 1992 fitness videos CherFitness: A New Attitude and CherFitness: Body Confidence. She embarked on the Love Hurts Tour during 1992. That year, the UK-only compilation album Greatest Hits: 1965–1992 peaked at number one in the country for seven weeks. It features three new songs: "Oh No Not My Baby", "Whenever You're Near", and "Many Rivers to Cross".
1992–97: Health and professional struggles, directing debut
Partially due to her experiences filming Mermaids, Cher turned down leading roles in such films as The War of the Roses and Thelma & Louise. According to biographer Connie Berman, "After the success of Moonstruck, she was so worried about her next career move that she was overly cautious." In the early 1990s, she contracted the Epstein–Barr virus and developed chronic fatigue syndrome, which left her too exhausted to sustain her music and film careers. Because she needed to earn money and was not healthy enough to work on other projects, she starred in infomercials launching health, beauty, and diet products, which earned her close to $10 million in fees. The skits were parodied on Saturday Night Live and critics considered them a sellout, many suggesting her film career was over. She told Ladies' Home Journal, "Suddenly I became the Infomercial Queen and it didn't occur to me that people would focus on that and strip me of all my other things."
Cher made cameo appearances in the Robert Altman films The Player (1992) and Prêt-à-Porter (1994). During 1994, she started a mail-order catalogue business, Sanctuary, selling Gothic-themed products, and contributed a rock version of "I Got You Babe" to MTV's animated series Beavis and Butt-head. Alongside Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry, and Eric Clapton, she topped the UK Singles Chart in 1995 with the charity single "Love Can Build a Bridge". Later that year, she signed with Warner Music UK's label WEA and released the album It's a Man's World (1995), which came out of her idea of covering men's songs from a woman's point of view. In general, critics favored the album and its R&B influences, some saying her voice had improved. Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that "From an artistic standpoint, this soulful collection of grown-up pop songs ... is the high point of her recording career." It's a Man's World reached number 10 on the UK Albums Chart and spawned the UK top-ten single "One by One". Tracks were remixed for the American release of the album, abandoning its original rock sound in favor of a style more accessible to U.S. radio; it reached number 64 on the Billboard 200.
In 1996, Cher played the wife of a businessman who hires a hitman to murder her in the Chazz Palminteri-scripted dark comedy film Faithful. Although the film received negative reviews from critics, Cher was praised for her role; The New York Times' Janet Maslin wrote that she "does her game best to find comic potential in a victim's role." Cher refused to promote the film, claiming it was "horrible". She made her directing debut with a segment in the abortion-themed anthology If These Walls Could Talk (1996), in which she also starred as a doctor murdered by an anti-abortion fanatic. It drew the highest ratings for an original HBO movie to date, registering an 18.7 rating with a 25 share in HBO homes and attracting 6.9 million viewers. Her music played a large role in the American TV series The X-Files episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus", which aired in November 1997. Written for her, it tells the story of a scientist's grotesque creature who adores Cher because of her role in Mask, in which her character cares for her disfigured son.
1998–2000: Death of Sonny Bono, fourth musical comeback
Following Sonny Bono's death in a skiing accident in 1998, Cher delivered a tearful eulogy at his funeral, calling him "the most unforgettable character" she had met. She paid tribute to him by hosting the emotional CBS special Sonny & Me: Cher Remembers, which aired on May 20, 1998. That month, Sonny and Cher received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Television. Later that year, Cher published the book The First Time, a collection of autobiographical essays of "first-time" events in her life, which critics praised for revealing the singer to be down to earth and genuine. Although the manuscript was almost finished when Sonny died, she could not decide whether to include his death in the book; she feared being criticized for capitalizing on the event. She later told Rolling Stone, "I couldn't ignore it, could I? I might have if I cared more about what people think than what I know is right for me." 
Cher's 22nd studio album Believe (1998) marked a musical departure for her, as it comprises dance-pop songs, many of which capture the "disco-era essence"; Cher said, "It's not that I think this is a '70s album ... but there's a thread, a consistency running through it that I love.'" Believe was certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA and went on to be certified gold or platinum in 39 countries, selling 20 million copies worldwide. The album's title track reached number one in more than 23 countries and sold over 10 million copies worldwide. It became the best-selling recording of 1998 and 1999, respectively, in the UK and the U.S., and Cher's most successful single to date. "Believe" topped the UK Singles Chart for seven weeks and became the biggest-selling single of all time by a female artist in the UK, selling over 1.7 million copies in the country as of November 2013. It also topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for four weeks, selling over 1.8 million units in the U.S. as of December 1999. The song earned Cher the Grammy Award for Best Dance Recording.
In January 1999, Cher performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl XXXIII. Two months later, she sang on the television special VH1 Divas Live 2, which attracted 19.4 million viewers. According to VH1, it was the most popular, and most watched program in the television network's history, as Cher's presence was "a huge part of making it exactly that." Capitalizing on the success of "Believe", Cher's former record company Geffen Records released the compilation album If I Could Turn Back Time: Cher's Greatest Hits (1999), which features the previously unreleased song "Don't Come Cryin' to Me". It was certified gold by the RIAA. The Do You Believe? tour ran from 1999 to 2000 and was sold out in every American city it was booked in, amassing a global audience of more than 1.5 million. Its companion television special, Cher: Live in Concert - From the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (1999), was the highest rated original HBO program in 1998–99, registering a 9.0 rating among adults 18 to 49 and a 13.0 rating in the HBO universe of about 33 million homes. In November 1999, Cher released the compilation album The Greatest Hits, which sold three million copies outside of the U.S. as of January 2000.
Cher was named the number-one dance artist of 1999 by Billboard. At the 1999 World Music Awards, she received the Legend Award for her "lifelong contribution to the music industry". Her next film, Franco Zeffirelli's Tea with Mussolini (1999), got mixed reviews, but she earned critical acclaim for her performance as a rich, flamboyant American socialite whose visit to Italy is not welcome among the Englishwomen; one reviewer from Film Comment wrote, "It is only after she appears that you realize how sorely she's been missed from movie screens! For Cher is a star. That is, she manages the movie star trick of being at once a character and at the same time never allowing you to forget: that's Cher."
Not.com.mercial (2000) was written mostly by Cher after she had attended a songwriters' conference in 1994; it marked her first attempt at writing most of the tracks for an album. As the album was rejected by her record label for being uncommercial, she chose to sell it only on her website. In the song "Sisters of Mercy", she calls the Catholic nuns who cared for her when she was a child "cruel, heartless and wicked" for keeping her in their orphanage long after her mother attempted to retrieve her; church leaders quickly issued denouncements.