Choosing what to include is always the toughest part of putting together our episodes, and our latest episode with Cher was no different. Journalist Benjamin Svetkey allowed us access to hours of unedited audio from his 1999 interview with Cher and we were faced with the daunting task of whittling that down to a five-minute episode.
Cher talked openly about her complicated relationship with Sonny Bono, who had passed away in 1997, two years before this interview. We were able to include some of those comments in the episode, but we were so enthralled by her insights into the private relationship of one of pop music’s most iconic couples that we wanted to bring you the rest of her comments here.
Sonny and Cher met in 1962. She was a 16-year-old high-school dropout who wanted to be a star and he was 28 and an assistant to record producer Phil Spector. Together they rode a wave of hits to pop stardom. Along they way they married and had a daughter named Chastity, born in 1969. In the early 70’s, they became a prime time TV staple with “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” but by 1974 the cracks in their relationship were beginning to show.
“He was like the father. You know how you can be frightened of your father even if he doesn’t ever do anything? It wasn’t like, I mean, he never hit me, never really yelled at me. He could be tough, though. He could just be real tough in that kind of horrible, tough Sicilian way. I couldn’t stand on my own two feet and talk back to him. That was my problem. I could just never ever talk back to him, and so I never got any of my needs met that weren’t what he felt they should be.”
“When I was young it didn’t make any difference because I was so crazy about him on so many levels. He was really everything to me, and after I had Chaz I started to grow up and he wouldn’t allow it, and I was starting to really … He was starting to kill my spirit.”
“I went to him and said, look, break the contract. Let us drop a new contract, make it fifty-fifty. You can’t tell me what to do anymore. I’m 27 years old. You can just not tell me what to do, and he wouldn’t do it and he just didn’t count on how tough I could be, because I never argued with him one time. I don’t think we had more than three arguments in eleven years.”
“He was crushed because he wasn’t going to be Sonny of Sonny and Cher anymore. That’s what hurt him. That’s what really hurt him, and that was sad because he loved it more than I did, really, but he wouldn’t give me my freedom.”
Cher filed for divorce in 1974, citing “involuntary servitude” as the reason for the split. The divorce proceedings were ugly; she accused Sonny of withholding her fair share of earnings and he took her to court for custody of Chastity.
Benjamin Svetkey: “At one point, wasn’t he living with another woman in the same house with you while you were still married?”
Cher: “Yeah, but we were fine with that. We had a strange relationship. I don’t expect anybody to understand it, because it was our relationship and it worked for us. I can’t explain it, because it was weird. It was just weird, but I know what it was, and it was what it was.”
Cher was also involved with someone else during the divorce proceedings – record executive David Geffen. Sonny and Cher were battling over their house in Holmby Hills, with both parties standing their ground and refusing to give up the digs. One evening while Sonny was away at a recording session, Geffen decided to take matters into his own hands and enlisted two security guards to help him round up all Sonny’s things and put them out on the curb (Sonny’s girlfriend included).
The divorce was finalized in 1975. Cher married Gregg Allman a mere three days later in Las Vegas. The union lasted nine days before Cher filed for divorce. The two eventually reconciled, had a son, and even made a duet album before divorcing in 1979.
Sonny and Cher, On Their Own
“It took me a long, long time to get over a lot of my anger about things that happened.”
After the divorce, both Sonny and Cher tried their hand at solo TV shows – his sunk, her’s was a success. They tried to replicate the success of “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Revue” by relaunching the show as “The Sonny and Cher Show,” but audiences weren’t interested in an uncoupled Sonny and Cher and the show was cancelled after two seasons.
1998: Sonny Bono Dies in Skiing Accident
“I almost moved out of this country and gave up show business when the reports started coming in that I was acting at Sonny’s eulogy.”
“I don’t usually think of him like … I don’t think of him in the past tense, like if I’m talking about him, I don’t remember to say he had, I always think he has, but even though I know he’s dead, I feel somehow closer to him now than I’ve felt in a really long time, and so he has more relevance to me now than he has in quite a long time.”
Benjamin Svetkey: “He’s a weirdly charismatic guy. He’s totally not what you’d expect a charismatic person to be, but he’s weirdly likable. This was my take on him, I don’t know. You married him, so you must’ve felt the same way. I guess what I’m sort of getting around to, I watched your eulogy and it made me wonder, was this guy your soul mate? I don’t know if you can believe in that kind of thing.”
Cher: “No, because if you talk about ‘soul mate’ that has nothing to do necessarily with husband-wife, then absolutely, because when I met him I was 16, he was 28 years old. He was my mentor, he was my father, he was my husband, he was my partner, he was my daughter’s father. They were all equally important, and so much focus was on the marriage but the marriage was the least-working thing. It worked least for us. Out of all of those relationships, it wasn’t the best-working relationship.”