Cher's New Flame
‘I love what I do and I don’t do anything I’m ashamed of’
“Sometimes I feel as if I’m spending my entire life growing up.”
If there’s a rueful wisdom behind those words, who’s earned it harder than Cher Sarkisian Bono Allman? The experiences of her 31 years only seemed to confirm that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel of love. Her mercurial marriage to troubled rock singer Gregg Allman was a public tragicomedy long before Cher ended it last January by filing for divorce—the second and, she says, final time. (Her first suit came a jolting nine days after they wed in June 1975.) Friends worried openly about what the ricochet romancing would do to Cher’s popularity. She had blatantly appeared on network TV with ex-husband Sonny Bono while pregnant with Gregg’s baby. Then she dropped off TV for one season. Her last solo album, Cherished, perished. A duet effort with Gregg, Allman and Woman, did little better. Was it possibly the end of the torturous road for the Great American Navel?
No way. “I think I’m starting to live again,” says a revitalized Cher. “For the longest time I didn’t think I’d be able to. Now I’m so happy to be alive.” What’s happening is this week’s stunning “comeback” (her word) TV special with Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart, the first installment of a contract Fred Silverman negotiated as a legacy to ABC. Underscoring the network’s confidence in Cher is that for the first time she’s receiving co-producing and co-writing credits. Other symbols of her new well-being: Her problem skin has cleared up and she doesn’t need shrinks (though she does do a little est).
The other thrill in Cher’s life is that she’s emerged from the messed-up All-man years with a new and (at least superficially) even more outrageous flame. He’s Gene Simmons, the fire-and-blood-spitting bass guitarist of the theater-rock group Kiss. They met “by a fluke” at a fund raiser for Gov. Jerry Brown some six weeks ago. The “fluke” was Chastity Bono, 9, Cher’s daughter and a Kiss freak. Chas, who now sports a T-shirt emblazoned “I know Gene Simmons personally,” had asked Mom to get his autograph at the party. That’s not easy since, like the rest of Kiss, Simmons refuses to have his ordinary-looking face photographed sans Kabuki makeup.
Whether the flamboyant Simmons, four years younger than Cher, has signed on for an extended play is problematical. “He hasn’t even kissed me yet,” she claimed last month, and this time, Cher insists with equal plausibility, it won’t be a public romance. “We want to hold out as long as we can to see if it’s worth fighting for.” So far Simmons’ merciless schedule—Kiss has been on the road 11 months annually for the past five years—has made that possible. During the separations Gene calls all the time, including a two-hour phoner recently from Japan. But this month Kiss plans a perhaps fateful 18-month TV and movie layover in L.A. “He’s sweet and warm, a really nice person, so far removed from what his stage personality is,” coos Cher, adding, “He doesn’t smoke or drink or do anything that’s bad for people.”
Their relationship is evolving in part, says Cher, because “I find no fascination in dating a lot of people. The idea of going to dinner with someone I don’t know is appalling. If I like someone, I want to be with that person until I don’t like him anymore. You can do the most wonderful things when you’re close,” she grins. “It’s hard to take showers with only one of five men you’re dating.” At the same time, she insists, “I just think I’m not going to marry everyone I like. I’m not in a rush. I want to be on my own for a while.”
That note of caution comes from a lady liberated from marriage and the pain of divorce for the first time since she was 16. (She has been unwed for only 15 months since then.) “It’s one thing to burn your bra and be emancipated,” Cher philosophizes. “But it’s another to really feel it.” (Just last summer, though, Cher was less into lifting consciousness than her anatomy in a bosom-firming operation in New York.) However shaky her new feminist self may be—”When everybody is equal men will be able to cry and ask directions at a gas station and do all kinds of neat things”—it’s undeniably sincere. She is working to fund a national child abuse center and has joined Mario Thomas’ crusade to reform children’s television shows and commercials. “TV viewing takes away people’s souls,” she says, although spots for Cher dolls are presumably excluded.
For the first time in her life, Cher is also discovering female friends—even if pals like Diana Ross (“my best friend”) and Angel Kate Jackson are not ordinary simple folk. “If I wasn’t with a man before, I was looking for one,” she says. “Now we can go out, have a good night and not have to be looking for men or going home to them. I’m starting to feel more respectful of women,” Cher concludes. “I’ve always liked them, but I didn’t respect them.”
Of course, when Cher wants to see her friends at roller skating she doesn’t just take the bus over and stand in line. Every Monday night she rents a San Fernando Valley rink for a revolving gang that includes Penny Marshall, Lily Tomlin, Mac Davis and Olivia Newton-John. Such casual consumption inspired Chastity to ask if mother “could rent Disneyland.”
Simultaneously, Cher has grown even closer to Chas and Elijah Blue Allman, 21 months, whom she calls “the dreaded Lij” (Gregg prefers “General Fats”). “They are first and most important,” says Cher, who practices bachelor mothering in a two-story Mediterranean-style place in Beverly Hills with an all-woman support system (secretary, nannie, cook and cleaner). “Maybe I should be there more,” Cher worries, but her justification is that “I don’t like the idea of making children too dependent for their security. Neurotic mothers have weak children.” Cher admits to having spanked Chastity only once “and then I ran into the next room and cried.” Elijah does occasionally get his bottom warmed. Auxiliary help is provided by her “sweet and wonderful” neighbor: Sonny Bono. “We are really good friends,” says Cher. “Sonny loves Elijah and he and Chas go over there all the time.” (Chastity recently spent two weeks in Greece with Sonny and his longtime steady, Susie Coelho, while he was shooting a movie.)
Even now Cher has no regrets about the public spectacle of her marriage to Allman, which she gamely tried to save in the face of his battles with drugs and alcohol until “I just didn’t have the juice anymore. I wouldn’t have gone through it,” she explains, “except that nobody ever made me feel as happy as Gregory did. God, he’s wonderful. I don’t understand why he can’t see it. He’s the kindest, most gentle, loving husband and father. But then,” she adds, “he forgets and everything goes to shit.” The end came after Cher returned from their month-long European tour last fall “tired and pissed off.” Finally fed up with Gregg’s busted vows, Cher realized, “If someone lies to you 10 times, you start becoming numb to whatever they say, but it took me an awful long time.”
Allman, who has been in institutions off and on for drug rehabilitation, has stopped calling but did send Valentine flowers. He hasn’t seen Elijah since last January. “It’s better not to know what he’s doing, because it’s just too hard for me,” Cher says sadly. “If I knew, I’d want to be with him and help him.” Gregg did resurface last month to jam with a local blues band in Washington, D.C. He no longer fears the death threats he received two years ago after his cocaine trial testimony contributed to a 75-year rap against his former roadie Scooter Herring—and the breakup of the Allman Brothers Band. But Herring’s conviction was recently overturned, and he and Gregg had a six-hour heart-to-heart reconciliation. As for Cher, says Allman, “We’re still on good terms.”
Cher is going through with plans to finish the elaborate Egyptian-styled estate she and Gregg had begun in Benedict Canyon. Meanwhile she will move her family to Malibu. Cher has swapped her Porsche for a Ferrari and tools around town in a black custom-made Jeep (“I feel really butch when I drive it”). When a gaggle of tourists recently caught Cher outside in housecoat and curlers, she cheerfully waved. “Underneath all that glitter,” says Kate Jackson, “is gold.”
Cher is mulling a made-for-ABC movie with her younger sister Georganne LaPiere (who played theater in General Hospital). Then comes an LP and four movie possibilities, including Loveland, produced by Barbra Streisand’s man, Jon Peters. “I’m a good performer, not a great performer,” she judges realistically. “I don’t know what I have, but I know I’ve got something, and I think people like me.” If they still do, it’s because of what old friend Mark Hudson (of the Brothers band) calls Cher’s “total honesty.” “I know I make mistakes,” Cher reckons, “and I will continue to make mistakes, but I don’t care if people agree with what I do. If I ever had the chance to be somebody better or prettier or whatever, I wouldn’t want it,” she says bluntly. “I love being me.”