aka Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierreCher without Sonny is like a dog without a bone, a ship without a keel, a touch without a feel...
Oh, wait, sorry, that was Sonny without Cher. My bad. Cher without Sonny is actually more like a dog with not only a bone, but a diamond-studded collar, an airconditioned dog house and a successful career in the entertainment industry.
Not that Sonny wasn't a very talented guy, not to mention a perfectly adequate (but extremely forgettable) Congressman. It's just... Well, he was no Cher.
Herself was born Cherilyn Sarkasian LaPier, in 1946, just over a year later than the Atomic Bomb. (There are currently no international conventions banning Cher.) Cher was born in California, and when she was more or less of age, she trekked to Hollywood to make her mark on the world.
In the fateful year of 1963, the same year John Kennedy was shot, Cher met Sonny Bono. Even in retrospect, it's tough to say which event would have the most cultural impact.
Sonny and Cher were a curious pairing. He was older than the nubile young singer, and more experienced in the ways of... Hollywood. As a result, their pairing seemed to have a certain lopsidedness, which they quickly discovered was a highly marketable commodity, especially in combination with their ability to sing. Which was mostly her ability to sing, but we'll get to that.
Sonny and Cher put out a few unremarkable albums under their own names, such as they were, and a variety of psuedonymns, such as "Caesar and Cleo." They hit the big time as a singing duo in 1965 with the debut of "I got You, Babe," the kind of tune you will be hearing in your head for the rest of the day unless one of the even more viral ditties listed below displaces it.
Through the remainder of the 1960s, the pair recorded a series of mostly forgettable tunes, with a few notable exceptions, such as "The Beat Goes On."
Cher continued to work solo through the '60s and early 1970s, outscoring Sonny with songs like "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves," and "Half- Breed," Although the couple said they had married in 1964 and had actually married in 1969, their career as a singing duo seemed doomed until some bright, young network executive came up with the notion of putting them on TV together in 1970.
The extremely unfortunately named "Sonny & Cher: Nitty Gritty Hour" was quickly replaced by "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour." It turns out America had a higher appetite for cheap yuks than... well, whatever the hell nitty-gritty is supposed to be.
The eternally 40-something-looking Sonny played the straight man to Cher's "innocent but strangely wise young thing" archetype, providing a model for countless midlife crises to come around the country. The show was fabulously successful, regularly making the top 10 in the ratings.
As with most such crises, the marriage of Sonny and Cher ended in divorce, with Sonny as the butt of the joke one last time.
The divorce was about as high-profile as it could possibly be. After all, they were the married couple America tuned in to see every week; the show was immediately canceled and the tabloids were having a field day with the extremely acrimonious separation. (Cher accused Sonny of enslaving her in contravention of the constitution, just as a "for instance.")
The marriage split, and their TV careers split as well, with each partner setting up shop on competing networks.
Quickly establishing the trend, Cher kicked Sonny's ass. His solo show bombed before hers even made it on the air. When she debuted a few weeks later, her solo program performed a lot better, due in no small part to Cher's paradigm-busting exposure of her navel, which had previously been a network taboo.
Once the novelty of navel-gazing wore off, however, Cher's TV appeal quickly tanked. In a desperation maneuver, the network reunited the squabbling spouses on a strictly professional basis, but no one cared. In 1977, the nitty-gritty turned to grit, and the pair's small-screen hopes evaporated.
Out on her own, Cher found that a world away from Sonny had something to recommend it. She banged out a series of top 10 singles, then discovered acting. Although she had been in a few movies before the 1980s, they hadn't really been much of anything to write home about (Remember "Good Times"? No? Really?)
Her real breakthrough into film stardom came with "Silkwood," in which she portrayed Karen Silkwood's best friend (and also a lesbian), helps fight the system, blah, blah, blah, and much hilarity ensues. She won an Oscar nomination for the performance, which was followed by some hit albums, and suddenly Cher was no longer simply the conclusion to "Sonny and..."
Despite the initial tempestuousness of their split, Sonny and Cher somehow managed to forge a friendship, in part out of concern for their unfortunately named daughter, Chastity (she was named after a movie, not the virtue).
Chastity would grow up with the usual problems afflicting children of celebrities lumped with eccentric names, eventually coming out as a lesbian during the 1990s, which was hardly shocking in context but nevertheless good for a flurry of tabloid headlines.
Despite a series of acclaimed star turns in movies such as "Mask," "Moonstruck," and "The Witches of Eastwick," respectability seemed to elude Cher (as it mysteriously seems to elude all celebrities who choose to dispense with their surnames).
The tabloids loved to rave about Cher's remarkably tame sexual escapades with second-string rockers like Gregg Allman (sorry, I call 'em like I see 'em). She briefly married Allman.
Other notable sex partners have allegedly included Gene Simmons (KISS), Eric Stoltz, Val Kilmer and David Geffen. Frankly, if you were Cher, you'd have bagged all these guys and dozens more. Come on, admit it.
Chastity's coming-out sparked another series of headlines, despite the fact that we've all pretty much gotten used to the idea of gay people by now. And the tabs breathlessly reported on the entertainer's allegedly copious plastic surgeries, again not exactly cause for alarm in the latter part of the 20th century.
What's all the fuss about? It's hard to figure why Cher gets run through the tabloid grist mill over and over again, while felons like Robert Downey Jr. and Rob Lowe seem to take their whippings and then get on with their lives.
While Rotten.com discourages amateur sociology (don't try this at home), one could speculate that the "Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" was a vestigial remnant of the vanished 1950s, a husband-wife team during the sexual revolution, a comedy-musical duo in the tradition of Steve and Edie, who somehow invoked the fading shreds of family values during a period in which their peers were rewriting the rules. Hell hath no fury like a Middle America scorned.
About the only really reasonable objection raised by those obsessed with Cher concerns her wardrobe. Cher is a multiple winner of "worst dressed" awards all over Hollywood. It's impossible to mount a defense when confronted with the evidence. Still, a lot of trees died to spread the word that one woman dresses tacky.
Whatever the cause, the notoriety hasn't prevented Cher from carving out a profitable and reasonably credible career for herself in music and acting (excluding a bout of infomercials in the early 1990s).
Still recording pop ditties as she approaches 60, Cher's music has persisted in its immense popularity overseas, although performing less consistently in the U.S. market of late.
She has also emerged as a full-fledged diva-style icon for gays, in much the same manner as Barbara Streisand and Elizabeth Taylor, presumably because it's fun to dress up like her and there are a few men who can actually pull it off.
And Sonny? Well, he eventually managed to parlay his persistently minor celebrity into a congressional seat (paving the way for future celebrity candidates like Arnold Schwarzenegger).
He died in 1998, in an ignominious skiing accident (he ran into a tree), which was entirely appropriate to his status in life as national punchline.
And, fittingly, the biggest headline to come out of his funeral was a teary-eyed scene-stealing eulogy delivered by Cher. Who says the gods don't have a sense of humor?