The road to success can be a bumpy one. Especially on this stretch of asphalt — the Pacific Coast Highway winding up through Malibu — where tonight a big black limousine is marooned on the curb with a blowout. Behind its tinted windows, watching the traffic buzz by as her chauffeur pulls a spare from the trunk, sits a woman who’s traveled this treacherous route — figuratively, at least — for more than 30 years. It’s not hard to imagine what must be going through her mind.
Just when you think you’ve got it made, something always comes along to let the air out of your tires.
An hour later, after a motorcade of cop cars has escorted the limo back to safety, Cher is ready to receive a visitor in the darkly lit bedroom of her rented beachfront home (her real house, just up the block, is under renovation). ”The flat tire was no big deal,” she says, lounging luxuriantly on her leopard-skin bedspread, ”but I’m really exhausted.” Too tired, she confesses, even to change her clothes: a pair of black velvety pants, a simple black top, and — inexplicably, even for Cher — a flowing silk turban not unlike the one Rudolf Valentino sported in The Son of the Sheik. ”You may not be getting me at my best,” she apologizes.
She couldn’t be more wrong. At 52, Cher has never been better — or at least bigger — thanks to a neo-disco smash called ”Believe.” The most successful song she’s ever released (No. 1 in 23 countries around the world, the single — and its like-titled album — has been hovering at the top of Billboard‘s charts for three months), it’s not only provided her stalled career with a powerful jump start but driven her to an entirely new generation of fans. (That would be the generation that hadn’t yet been born when ”I’ve Got You Babe” ruled the charts in 1965.)
There’s more: Cher is also starring in her first film in three years, Tea With Mussolini, a World War II drama directed by arty Italian cinema titan Franco Zeffirelli in which she’ll match her acting chops against the likes of Maggie Smith, Joan Plowright, and Judi Dench. Last week, she took on an even tougher bunch of dames — Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, Brandy, and Elton John — on VH1’s Divas Live ’99 concert. And let’s not forget that moment in January when Cher received the highest honor our country can bestow on a singer: an invitation to lip-synch the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
All in all, it’s been the most dramatic comeback Hollywood has seen since, oh, say, the last time Cher raised her career from the dead.
Like the old music-biz saying goes, after a nuclear war only the roaches and Cher will survive. Nobody in this town has been to the graveyard and back more often — or more flamboyantly or outspokenly — than the onetime infomercial hostess now splayed like Cleopatra on her king-size bed. The litany of Cher’s career reversals goes back decades: In the mid-’60s, when she first started singing duets with that funny little guy in the furry vest, she was the world’s coolest counterculture wife, the hippest hippie chick in Amerika; by the end of the decade, she had become half of a joke act, a burlesque beatnik shticking it up in Vegas nightclubs. In the ’70s she came back with a hit TV variety show, then split with her partner in an ugly breakup that scuttled the series at the height of its popularity. She returned in the ’80s as a serious film actress (winning critical snaps for her work in Silkwood and Mask, and an Oscar for her performance in 1987’s Moonstruck), but by the early ’90s she was battling Epstein-Barr virus and — worse — peddling hair cream on TV.