Late at night, she gets social, holed up in the bedroom of her eye-popping Moorish-castle-meets-Venetian-palazzo high on a bluff in Malibu. Stretched out on a bed that once belonged to the wife of Rudolph Valentino, Cher turns to Twitter to share what's on her mind. Nothing seems off-limits. (An example: "How did you celebrate Madonna's birthday?" someone asks. Cher's answer: "I got a colonic.")
Late at night, she also chats by phone with reporters. "I'm eating while talking to you," she says in that famous throaty contralto that long ago made her the Goddess of Pop. A giggle. "Peanut butter. Crunchy, of course!"
Cher's unabashedly frank attitude endears her to millions of fans. She's as witty as she is physical — and always, always sexy. An intriguing blend of Armenian-American and Cherokee, she's also extremely adept at staying in the game. Her reign as an undisputed diva is among the longest in show business. Now 68, she was just 19 when she hit the national stage with then-husband Sonny Bono. She has won a best-actress Oscar, an Emmy, three Golden Globes and a Grammy. And she has scored a No. 1 record in each of the past six decades. Her 26th studio album, Closer to the Truth, released last fall, was her first in more than 11 years and entered the Billboard 200 chart at No. 3, making it her highest-charting album ever. As she rightfully boasts, "I'm so the phoenix."
Though she swore that her 2002 Living Proof: The Farewell Tour would be her last, she's back with her Dressed to Kill Tour, with headdresses as tall as buildings and elaborate costumes that cast her as a Greek gladiator, a gypsy queen and a Byzantine divine being. She attributes her success to her perfectionism. "I'm not a confident person," she says, "and I'm really not a Cher fan. But I want to make sure I'll do a great job, so I go balls to the wall and try to do every single thing I can."
Says Stanley Tucci, a costar of her 2010 film Burlesque, "The most remarkable thing about Cher is that she constantly reinvents herself but maintains a strong sense of identity."
She's been her own person almost since her birth as Cherilyn Sarkisian, in El Centro, Calif., the daughter of a truck driver with a drug habit and a struggling actress-model-singer. Cher's parents divorced before she was a toddler, and her mother, Georgia Holt, briefly placed her child in an orphanage. Holt remarried several times and produced another daughter, Georganne; stepfathers were rarely in the picture, and Cher routinely flirted with trouble. "When I was a kid, my friend and I ran away and hopped a train," she says. "I was always this strange child who wanted more adventure than was allowed. I think I learned a lot from my mother," Cher adds. "She really didn't take s--- from anybody."