The show ran against The Wonderful World of Disney in the 7:30 slot on Sunday night. Standing there on her runway, half clad in twelve to fifteen costumes, Cherilyn Sarkisian Bono inspired more-and infinitely richer- fantasies than all the plastics of Disneyland.
Time Magazine, 1975
Yes, before Madonna and Gaga there was Cher…
There she was, picking up the pieces of a career that many show-business insiders considered hopeless after pop Camelot came crashing down with the divorce/demise of Sonny and Cher. But indeed, at 28 she had been elaborately packed. More glitz, glitter, bugle beads, and feathers. And as the camera panned in on her navel, the first ever-exposed belly button on national television, it seemed to twinkle as brightly as her sequins.
It redefined “Family Entertainment”.
Despite decade after decade of reinvention, this would remain my personal favorite. I was sixteen, hormonal and feeling completely different – an outsider looking in. Not unhappy just different. The tension between my father and me had reached a pitch point of being too much to bear. So I would disappear into my room and try to be quiet as possible; hoping he would forget I was there.
Trying to be invisible would become my art form.
And though my mother and grandfather would try to intercede, it was impossible for anyone to understand the problems between us. No matter how much love I felt from others, not receiving my father’s love somehow overshadowed everything.
Escape came to me once a week, through the incredibly lavish productions and even more incredible showmanship. Elton John, Bette Midler, David Bowie, LaBelle, and Ray Charles teamed with the likes of George Burns, Flip Wilson, Carol Burnett, Pointer Sisters, and Liberace. If it hadn’t been true, you could only make it up.
For one hour a week I was transported to this glittering, zany, glamorous world. Cher was like a futuristic space queen who, if nothing else, could be admired for her nerve. Bob Mackie once said she never refused to wear anything he designed and threw on a beaded dress like they were blue jeans. Who else had the complete nerve to dance the robot with Michael Jackson or sit and sing a ballad with Art Garfunkel?
At some point, Cher forced my hand. I either had to love her completely or, in the rigid masculinity required of me, forget all about her. But in all her sparkly confidence, Cher wasn’t a woman who was going to hide. And in watching her and loving what she was, I decided I wasn’t going to hide either. It was the first time I was ‘out’ in my life – I was out as someone who loved Cher. My open enthusiasm for her created a shared bond with my friend Mark. He and I would watch the show together in easy camaraderie – something I didn’t experience with other boys.
Cher didn’t save or even change my life. But for one hour a week she gave me an incredible, magical escape – and that was an hour of courage for me to be who I really was.
She made me smile. And having the chance to smile, even once a week on a Sunday night, meant the world to me.