Cher tells PEOPLE about her lasting friendship with former love Val Kilmer

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cher and val kilmer
Credit: Barry King/wireimage

After Cher, 75, and Val Kilmer, 61, met in the early eighties, they fell madly in love. "He's like nobody I've ever known," she says. "He is exasperating and hysterical. Thrilling and funny, and doesn't do what anyone else does."  Over four decades later, she says, "I don't know how we stayed friends, we just did. We didn't try. We just were." In this week's issue of PEOPLE, the star shares details of their love story and lasting bond. 

We called ourselves Sid and Ethel. Val didn't want to yell "Cher" and I didn't want to yell "Val." We also called ourselves Valus Maximus and Cherus Reprimandus. It was just kind of who I was in the household. Of course he was Maximus, come on.

I met him at a birthday party my friend was having for me. She said, "I invited this guy and I think either you or my friend who's an editor will like him." We became friends because we laughed at the same things constantly. He would sleep over and it was just a friendship [at first.] That took a long time. Well, I guess not really a long time.

He'd tell me about his dreams. He took me to a Japanese performance of Macbeth and I was thinking this guy is nuts, we're not going to get along at all. He was so young. Was he 22? What was I? I don't know. Thirty something. It was a bigger deal back then. The truth was if I hadn't gone out with younger men, I would have never had a date. Younger men weren't intimidated by older women. But older men in my age category, they weren't having it. 

Cher and Val Kilmer January 9, 1984
Cher and Val Kilmer in 1984
| Credit: Barry King/WireImage

One New Year's Eve, we didn't want to go anywhere so he bought a bunch of art supplies back to the house and we all did art all night long with the kids, one of the best New Year's Eves of my life. He was so good with my kids. He used to let Elijah drive the truck on his property. He couldn't even see over the dashboard. He might have been nine. He wouldn't be ashamed or think it was anything. He was a free spirit. When I went to see him in Mark Twain [his one-man show Citizen Twain], he started talking to me as he was walking down the aisle and then he took me outside and I said "Val, you're right in the middle of a performance," and we just started laughing. He stretches every boundary. We had unbelievable times and then put up with some times when they weren't [that way] because we were both Alpha males.  We were both individuals and neither of us was going to give up on that. 

He helped me with the screen test for Mask. He gave me a lot of confidence in my work. In that screen test, I didn't understand why they were coming to me cause I'd done only Silkwood. Then we went the next day, we did one for him. Desire Under the Elms, I think. In the middle of it, I got so absorbed with what he was doing, I just forgot my lines. 

Our sense of humor, and what we would put up with from one another, was more than I think I've ever had with any other guy. He would just go off and do his own thing and you just had to be prepared. And he was so beautiful. It went from madly in love and laughing hysterically to respecting each other's ability. 

He was at my house a lot of the time he was sick. He was brave the whole time. I saw how sick he was. Once when the paramedics showed up after he was so sick and coughing up blood, he looked at me and I looked at him and we both knew what we were thinking. Because those guys are so handsome.  When one of those paramedics comes to your house, you just know you're going to see somebody who's really cute. 

val kilmer

I told him I saw the documentary (Val). I said, "Sid, it's you."  He is so creative like nobody I've ever known and how brave he was to do it in the way that he did it.  He's an artist. He can be a brat too but you forgive him. You forgive him everything. Even when I was angry, it was still a joy.  If he called, it wouldn't matter where I was, I would go.  

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I loved him—and I love him.  I [just wrote to him], I said, "Valus Maximus, I'm sorry if I did anything to piss you off or hurt your feelings. I love you and your documentary was all things... I love the things that pissed me off, the things that made me hysterical, amazed, hurt, astonished, etc. You are brave and beyond brilliant. Ethel."

He's a true artist and Renaissance man. He was sick and it didn't stop him. He created an extension of his art and his life. Look what he created and even the things he let you see that nobody would let you see. Even the worst things, he wanted to be in the documentary because he wanted to show you who he was.

Val is now streaming on Prime Video.

For more about Val Kilmer, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.