Like autumn follows summer, her MTV phase led to another Cher’s-too-old period. She was also laid low by the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes prolonged illness and fatigue. By 1993, she was rerecording “I Got You Babe” with Beavis and Butt-head, surely not her worst collaborators. No American record label wanted her. Then Rob Dickins, president of Warner Music U.K., offered her a deal.
Her first album for Dickins, the ballad-heavy It’s a Man’s World, “was crap,” she snorts. “I don’t remember what’s on it -- I didn’t like any of it.” Dickins wanted her to make a dance album in England, but by insisting, he triggered Cher’s teenage rebellion. She refused. “So he said, ‘Let me rephrase that. I’m going to send you some songs -- when you like them, tell me.’”
In England, she recorded “Believe,” which went to No. 1 in 23 countries. Who but Cher could score the biggest hit of her career at 52, with a song she hated, in a style she didn’t want to sing? Recording it was “a nightmare” -- she fought with producer Mark Taylor, and after she stormed out of the studio, he dosed her vocals with Auto-Tune, giving the song its surprising, modern feel. It was the biggest single of 1999 on the Hot 100.
Since that triumph, she has released only two studio albums on a major label, and she has made only one live-action movie since 2004. Her peers are either dead, retired (Tina Turner) or similarly puzzled (Aretha Franklin) by the same dilemma: What’s the role of an old, restless icon in American culture? “I don’t like getting old. I’m shocked that I can still run across the stage at my age. I thought I’d be dead,” says Cher.
She lives in a Malibu mansion with her son, Elijah Allman, 40, a musician and painter (“He’s talented, but he won’t buckle down,” she frets). Chaz completed sex reassignment surgery in 2009. “My relationship with my kids is great right now,” she says with a big smile. “Let’s freeze this moment, because God knows what’ll happen tomorrow.” She’s single, and has been “for a while. I loved all the men I was with, but I seem to have a two-and-a-half-year sell-by date.” She explains this with a quip: “My mom once said, ‘You should marry yourself a rich man.’ I went, ‘Mom, I am a rich man!’”
Her grandmother lived to 97, and her mother is 91 and still fussing, so Cher may have another few decades to go. She has slowly been working on an album she won’t discuss, “an idea I’ve had for a long time.” She’s also working, with Jersey Boys writer Rick Elice and Hamilton producer Jeffrey Seller, on a Broadway musical about her life and career. (Seller has told her it will open in 2018.)
She has been and is an icon of many things: strength, good humor, sarcasm, fashion, doing what you want whenever you want, not behaving appropriately, dressing outrageously, disrupting convention and dating younger men, to pick just a few. She’s also a model of versatility and, a trait of which she’s proud, durability.