At the age of 67, and as she gears up to launch her 26th solo studio album, Cher - mother, daughter, sister, singer and activist - is a woman who seems to have a lot on her mind. The first track on her new album, Closer to the Truth, is titled Woman's World. It is, unapologetically, a feminist anthem.
Yet, in 2013, with the disparity between genders still evident around the world and abortion, in politically conservative corners of the world, including the US, still prominent on the political agenda, Cher may be singing it's a woman's world, but it sometimes feels like it's anything but.
"It pisses the f... out of me," Cher says, candidly. "We have been thrown under the bus during this administration. Not by him [US president Barack Obama] but we're just thrown under the bus. This has nothing to do with men, I love men, but until women get paid the same, have control over their bodies, a number of things thought of as equal, then you can't stop."
Compounding the problem, she adds, is disunity. "There should be no bitch fighting," she says. "Women should hang together. But girls don't have that one down. And I think some women maybe don't like the idea."
Cher, born Cherilyn Sarkisian in 1946, is a striking and powerful presence. She walks into her interview with Sunday Life two parts rock chick, one part opinionated lady, with side orders of mother and superstar. She's detailed like a prestige car: painted and polished until she gleams.
And yet there is something in her candour, an unfiltered honesty rare in Hollywood. Celebrities usually come with minders. Today, Cher has just one. And interviews frequently come with conditions. Cher has none. Just that questions about her family be asked with "sensitivity". It doesn't seem like much to ask. Celebrities usually sit at the centre of their maelstrom. Cher's world is unexpectedly calm. She lives in a sprawling estate in the reclusive LA suburb of Malibu. Her home is a palace of hammered travertine and hand-carved marble, with Venetian influences.
Our first topic of conversation: the business of being Cher. "I am just me," she says, frankly. "I don't know what else I would be if I wasn't me. I am not looking from the outside, looking back. I am who I am. [Asking me about being Cher] is like saying, 'How do you feel about being famous?' Well, I've been famous my entire life, I don't know any other way."
Her life, like most superstars who have retained their relevance across decades, has been a series of rebirths and renewals, each better than the last. Her marriage to singer Sonny Bono; a television career as, of all things, a comedian; then a stint on Broadway; a series of critically acclaimed films; and rebirth as a pop icon. She has show business's holy trinity: an Oscar, a Grammy and an Emmy. And you can add to that list two kids: Chaz (born Chastity) Bono and Elijah Blue Allman.
It has been, she says with a somewhat understated air, a busy life. Her new album comes after a 12-year gap since the last. There's no real reason for the delay, she says. "I just forgot to. It's pretty much that simple.
I just didn't think to. I didn't think I would be making another album and if it wasn't for Lindsay [one half of Cher's Australian-born management team, Roger Davies and Lindsay Scott], I don't think I would have. But I am thrilled that I did. I love the songs."
Her 26 albums - including 1965's All I Really Want to Do, 1971's Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves and 1998's Believe - might form a sort of acoustic biography of Cher's life, but she doesn't choose to see them that way. "If you asked me how many records I'd made I wouldn't have the slightest idea," she says, laughing. "Some of the songs I can't even remember and are a surprise to me. It's a volatile kind of thing, art."
The daughter of a truck driver and part-time model and actress, Cher was born in El Centro, California, a tiny, unremarkable town near the Mexican border. Her first burst of fame, if you skip a high school production of Oklahoma! and a somewhat precocious pre-career as a teenaged backing singer, was as one half of Sonny & Cher, a partnership between her and Sonny Bono, whom she met in November 1962. Three years later, their signature song, I Got You Babe, became one of the biggest hits in pop music history.
"I was 16 when I met him, and I just had total hero worship," Cher says now of the relationship. Their TV show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, was a titanic hit and put Cher on stage alongside stars such as Frankie Avalon, Truman Capote, Merv Griffin, Tina Turner and The Jackson 5.
Their marriage, ultimately, didn't last, though they had a daughter, Chastity, born in 1969. Despite very different political views - Bono was a Republican, and later enjoyed a successful career in politics - Cher says the marriage was a happy one.
"We never discussed any of that stuff," she says. "I am not a Democrat, but I always was a liberal. I felt people needed to be able to do what they wanted to do, as long as they weren't breaking the laws, and some laws were stupid and needed to be changed."
Bono had not encouraged her as an actress, Cher recalls, believing she was better suited to a career as a singer and comedian. "I wanted to do both," she says. "But really, I wanted to be an actress, and Sonny thought it was kind of stupid. He said, 'You know, you're a singer. Let's go there. Let's not do the other.'"
But a burning ambition to act, coupled with a period in her career where she seemed, musically, to be at a crossroads, forced her hand. "It took such a long time," she says.
"I had friends who were heads of studios who were like, 'Oh Cher, don't be ridiculous.' And then Francis Ford Coppola came to see me, and he said, 'You should be doing movies.' And I broke down in tears and said, 'What do you think I've been trying to do?' "
Director Robert Altman took a chance and cast her in the Broadway stage production (and later film adaptation of) Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. Impressed with the result, director Mike Nichols offered her the role of Meryl Streep's lesbian housemate Dolly in Silkwood. The role transformed Cher from aspiring actress to Oscar nominee. Later it made her a bona fide movie star. "Bob Altman was brave. And Mike Nichols was brave. They were brave," she says. More recently, she has added producer and director to her bow, with Dear Mom, Love Cher, a documentary about her mother, Georgia Holt. It was an opportunity to explore her own family relationships, including with her sister, Georganne LaPiere, and her children, Chaz and Elijah, her son from her second marriage to singer-songwriter Gregg Allman.
"I think I am a product of my mother's sensibilities and my mother's values," Cher says. "There has been lots of battling and lots of love and it's never an easy road for us. But in the deepest recesses, I do have my mother's values. She was very black and white, there were no shades of grey, and I like that. I am who I am and you're not going to get much polish on what I think."
Equally complex is Cher's relationship with her own children, particularly Chaz, who underwent female-to-male gender transition between 2008 and 2010 and now lives as a transgendered man. "My children are my children," says Cher, simply. "They do exactly what they want and think exactly what they think and run it by me once in a while. They're stubborn and wilful.
"I think Chaz is a real success story, because Chaz is so happy, happier than ever," she says. "And we haven't had such a great relationship since Chaz was little. Chaz and I have had an off-and-on relationship, a mother/daughter relationship, now mother/daughter/son relationship, whatever. Elijah also. We're close, but we butt heads. All of us."
Added up, with the music industry, the fame machine and the marketing trail for a new album on her lap, it's a complicated life. But Cher doesn't yearn for anything different. "What would I do with a simpler life?" she asks, laughing. "That wouldn't be too much fun. I like to create things. There are times when I think, 'oh f...,
I don't want to do this right now, I don't want to go on tour, I'm too tired, I don't want to sing on The Voice, it's too scary.' But you give up a lot and you get a lot. It's enjoyable."
The new album's title, Closer to the Truth, suggests that at 67, Cher is as far along the journey to an answer as she can be. "I hate to disappoint you," she says, laughing. "Sometimes things that look mysterious are not mysterious. Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and let you feel the way you feel."
In truth, the title is a line from a song on the album, I Walk Alone, one of two on the album authored by Alecia Moore, best known to her fans as Pink (the other is Lie to Me). The pair share management, and were encouraged to collaborate. "I really love the line, but there was no deeper meaning," explains Cher. "They needed a working title. And I thought, 'It's open to interpretation and I will let everyone interpret it the way they want.' "
Cher relished the collaboration. "It's great when someone you respect likes what you do with their material," she says. "She sent the two songs across, that she felt would be a good fit for me. And I loved both of them."
For Cher, music remains her first love. Despite her strong political voice, there is no political future, she says. "Can you imagine? I would be fighting with some congressman, and go, 'Go f... yourself, you ass.' I would say what I feel and that wouldn't be good because that's not politics."
She is content, for now, to be Cher: past and/or present mother, lover, wife, artist and performer. "I can't cut them apart because they all form who you are," she says. "Some are more important but they make the pyramid and when you get to the top of the pyramid, you are aware of every single block that went into it, that makes it what it is. That's who I am."
- Cher is the cover story of tomorrow's edition of 'Sunday Life Magazine' - found free with Australia's 'The Sun-Herald' and 'The Sunday Age'.