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Published: Sunday, 9/5/2004

Cher's long farewell

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Cher performs at the Skydome in Toronto last year. Cher performs at the Skydome in Toronto last year.
TOBIN GRIMSHAW / AP Enlarge

You d think she was running for office.

There s the relentless criss-crossing of the country and intense appearances before cheering masses, to whom she dishes out exactly what they want.

Ah, but only in our dreams could politicians be even remotely as entertaining as the one, the only, Herself Cher who mounts her extravagant Living Proof Farewell Tour at the University of Toledo s Savage Hall Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. (A few tickets may be available.)

In the last two years, more than two million fans in North American have voted with their greenbacks to see this 58-year-old phenom, the woman who dumped a mess of dead weight with one fell swoop in 1978 when Cherilyn Sarkisian La Piere Bono Allman (birth father, adoptive father, first husband, second husband), became a four-letter word.

Singer, over-the-top entertainer, television host, comedienne, Oscar-winning actress, fitness-video/cosmetic saleswoman: Cher s many moons have waxed and waned since she first crooned I Got You, Babe, with Sonny in 1965.

She had a rare 24-year break between No. 1 hits 1974 s Dark Lady and her all-time best seller, Believe (1998) when she was in her 50s. Cher seems to have learned to take the vagaries of time in stride, re-inventing herself as need be.

Some years, I m the coolest thing that every happened, she s said, the next year, everyone s so over me.

This is the third year of her Living Proof Farewell Tour, and she s giving few if any interviews. In its first two years, North American fans spent well over $140 million on more than 2 million tickets to her shows.

In 2002, she grossed the third highest in ticket sales, behind Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor-in-chief of Pollstar, a weekly publication covering the concert tour business. She did it by charging substantially less per ticket (an average of $72 in 2002, compared to more than $100 for McCartney and the Stones), but by staging substantially more shows (93 in 2002 and 102 in 2003; McCartney did 53 and the Stones did 34 shows).

"Cher's out there working hard," said Bongiovanni of the biggest-ever tour by a woman.

You may find Cher crude and crass, but you can't deny she works hard for the money, as well as that minor intangible paycheck: thunderous adulation. She pumps iron for untold hours to enlithen her lanky frame, undergoes who-knows-how-much cosmetic surgery, and has assembled an eye-popping show with fabulous costumes designed by Bob Mackie and drama (Cher descending from a chandelier, Cher astride a giant animatronic elephant accompanied by six harem dancers), and a video scrapbook (her years with Sonny).

And here's a departure from other big names - after playing the big-money enormodomes in the early part of the tour, she's now visiting venues that average 7,800 seats and charging even less for tickets. Savage Hall will admit about 7,500 warm bodies in exchange for tickets that cost from $40 to $80.

The concerts draw people of all ages and sexual orientations, many of whom dress like the diva in one of her many phases. Cher says she loves the 90 to 120 minutes when her version of Cirque du Soliel meets rock and roll, but says life on the road is pure grind.

Cher's roots are beyond humble, but full of musical risk-takers.

Her own mother, Jackie Jean Crouch, was born in 1927 in rural Arkansas to a 13-year-old girl and a farm boy who played in his family's Hillbilly Crouch Brothers Band. Cher's grandfather, Roy Crouch, was funny, charismatic, and drank way too much. He beat his young wife so severely that she left when Jackie Jean was five

Little Jackie Jean had a voice, and Roy put her to work singing in gin mills and honky-tonks. They hitchhiked to Hollywood, hoping to make the big time. Jackie Jean, who later changed her name to Georgia Holt, wrote, "I always set out to be a star. I just never arrived," in her 1988 book, Star Mothers.

At 18, she married truck driver Johnny Sarkisian, and within a few months they had separated. Then Jackie Jean learned she was pregnant with Cher. Motherhood, she wrote, was hard. "I was hysterical all the time. She cried a lot and my milk was no good, I think it was the turmoil I was in."

A gorgeous blonde, Jackie Jean/Georgia sang in bars, modeled, and won small parts on television shows such as Ozzie and Harriet and I Love Lucy. She married six men, some of whom were drunks and addicts. At one point, she drove cross-country with a trucker 21 years her junior.

Georgia said that Cher describes her childhood as being much tougher than it actually was. In fact, she wrote that Cher's was an immeasurable leap forward from Georgia's early years.

And how about this for deja vu: When 16-year-old Cher brought Sonny Bono, 28, home to meet her mother, Georgia thought, "Except for the nose, Sonny looks exactly like Cher's father!"

Despite her mother's efforts to keep them apart, Cher married Sonny, and the rest is history.

Except for what Cher might name her next tour.

How about, "Never Can Say Goodbye"?

For ticket information, call Savage Hall at 419-530-4653 or Ticketmaster at 419-474-1333.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.



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