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Survival of the Fittest 

Do you believe in life after Cher? Considering her career, does it really matter?

To call Cher a "survivor" has become a cliche -- but ask any of her fans why they're attending the venerable diva's "Farewell Tour," and the S-word is still likely to come up in the conversation.

And how does she feel about it? "I think it's meant in a positive way, but sometimes I wonder if it's just a term that applies to me," she said in a recent interview in Australia's The Herald Sun. "Somebody who walks away from a plane crash is a survivor. What I do is the life I live from day to day. I haven't come through a disaster."

Well, not unless you count those Lori Davis infomercials.

So just what is it that makes her a survivor? Compared to the sturm und drang of the divorces and illness of a Liz Taylor, the TV-movie fodder of a Tina Turner, or even the recent tabloid travails of a Winona Ryder, her life has seemed charmed. She's never darkened the door of the Betty Ford Clinic; she's won Emmy, Golden Globe, Grammy and Academy awards; she's had a string of gorgeous young boyfriends and seems to get along pretty well with her kids; she got to communicate with her ex-husband from beyond the grave -- and she still looks better in a fishnet body suit at age 56 than you ever will. Only she and Aretha Franklin share the distinction of having a top-10 hit in each of the past four decades. She's a "survivor" who was never a victim of anything worse than shifting tastes.

"You know, someone out there said that at the end of the nuclear winter, there'd be nothing left but cockroaches and Cher." she said during a VH1 Behind the Music interview. "And I'm still here, so maybe they were right."

One need only look at her career to feel that she's been around forever and to see how far she's come. There was the sloe-eyed, proto-flower child Cher who started her career in 1964 as Bonnie Jo Mason with the Phil Spector-produced "Ringo, I Love You," and teamed up with Sonny Bono the next year for "I Got You Babe." There was Cher the exotic outsider who donned feathers and fringed vests and went native (-American) with "Half Breed" and "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves." There was (and is) the glammed-out Cher of various versions of The Sonny and Cher Show, resplendent in her Bob Mackie outfits. ("Cher has the most beautiful armpits in the world," Mackie once said. "As much as anything else, I designed for her armpits.") And there was Cher of the tabloids, whose tattoos and plastic surgery and predilection for dating younger men consumed acres of column space in supermarket checkout lines before Sex and the City rendered such dalliances irrelevant.

There's Cher the movie star, back in the days when you couldn't swing a Golden Globe without hitting one of her critically acclaimed film roles (Mask, Moonstruck, Silkwood), followed rather too quickly by her descent into The Infomercial Years -- a career move that transformed her from serious actress into box-office poison almost overnight. (With characteristic aplomb, she wrote about the debacle in her autobiography My First Time in a chapter titled "How to Destroy Your Life in One Easy Lesson." Count a disarmingly self-deprecating sense of humor among the secret weapons in her arsenal.)

And then, of course, there's Cher Triumphant, the resurrected pop diva, whose 1998 single "Believe" gained her new a generation of fans who'd never even heard of Gregg Allman and made her the oldest female performer to grace Billboard's No. 1 spot (top that, Mrs. Guy Ritchie). With singles from her latest album, Living Proof, currently saturating dancefloors, Cher is arguably at the top of her career and finally finds herself coasting on a series of on-target professional choices instead of rebounding from misdirected ones.

Through it all, she's remained identifiably, unmistakably ... well, Cher. She's always managed to convey that there's a real person beneath the layers of makeup and implants and outrageous glamour, one who seems slightly bewildered if always appreciative of the notoriety that's come so naturally to her.

Cynics might wonder if her Farewell Tour isn't, like the death of Elvis, just a shrewd career move. But there are worse things to do than quitting while you're ahead; trust Cher's ability to confound expectations and stay one step ahead of the celebrity game. And just because she won't be gracing any more hydraulic stages doesn't mean she'll fade away any time soon. We may not necessarily care whether we believe in life after love or not. But life after Cher? Not if she can help it.

"People always go, 'That's it for her,'" she recently told Cox News Service's Craig Seymour. "And I guess some day it's gonna be it. But so far, it hasn't been."

click to enlarge 'Cher has the most beautiful armpits in the world,' costume designer Bob Mackie once said. 'As much as anything else, I designed for her armpits.'
  • 'Cher has the most beautiful armpits in the world,' costume designer Bob Mackie once said. 'As much as anything else, I designed for her armpits.'
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