June 19, 2002 -- — Like so many people of a certain age — in my case 45 — I grew up watching the Sonny and Cher Show. Cher was always a particular favorite of mine: I liked her hair (which I tried to copy), her clothes (which I didn't try to copy) and her smart mouth (no comment on that one).
So when I got the offer to interview Cher for Primetime last year, I jumped at it. Frankly, I expected to like her as I flew out to California in January. But I didn't expect I would want to bring her home with me.
Let me pause a moment here for a little "journalistic" perspective. Most of the stories I do at ABCNEWS are serious, hard-hitting legal stories — often investigations. You have to stay very independent-minded to do them well.
Celebrities are a little different. Sometimes, it's just plain fun to enter the world of one of them — sometimes, especially if you admire or like the particular star. But there is a balancing act between having a good time and coming home with a story.
For me, that means that, as a person, I can't erase the fact that I like Cher. But as a journalist, I can't let that get in the way of asking the questions I suspect she isn't looking forward to — in this case: plastic surgery.
This was the plan: I would go with her to the American Music Awards, where she was to debut the single from her new CD Living Proof. The next evening, I was to go to her home for a three-camera interview and afterwards maybe she'd let us go with her while she shoots a commercial for the CD.
First Sighting: I am 5 feet 8 inches tall. Cher is shorter than I am, and very small-boned.
I wonder to myself , "What does this mean about Sonny's height?"
These are my not-very-profound thoughts as I meet Cher for the first time in her trailer in the parking lot at the American Music Awards. She also has beautiful hands: Long, strong and thin.
And she is nice. Nice to everyone, and polite too — despite the fact she is about to perform. This — from my experiences backstage with others — is rare.
Second Observation: Backstage, after her performance, everyone tries to get close to her. There is lots of pushing and shoving, lots of cameras and people screaming, "Look here, Cher!!!!!" She walks through it all as if she is unaware of the pandemonium, takes my hand, squeezes it hard and whispers, "Well, this is what I wanted when I was 11."
I can't help but wonder if this is a confession or a lament. She has been in the public eye for almost four decades, and so far has had hit records in each. She may make it five with the release of "Song for the Lonely."
Third "Cher Moment": Somehow, the car that is supposed to take me from the Music Awards to my hotel has never gotten the message. I am stranded. Cher offers a ride in her limo, so six of us are squeezed into the back: me, Cher, and her manager, hairdresser, make-up artist and publicist.
As a result, several people are sitting on the floor. Cher doesn't seem to want to talk about the performance, although she has to be delighted by the standing ovation the hard-to-please industry audience has given her.
She talks about writing music, and how much it means to her. How she loves her Not Commercial CD, even though it wasn't — commercial, that is. Maybe because it wasn't.
She drops me off at the hotel and heads to Jack in the Box and consumes — she tells me the next day — two Jack tacos, fries and a chocolate milkshake. The limo goes through the drive-through window.
Going to Cher's House: First off, it's not easy to find. Cher's mansion is high above the beach in Malibu, and we drive right by on our first pass. As it is now twilight, we almost miss it a second time.
Our interview will be the first she has given in her ... well, it is really a mansion.
Somebody says when we get there it is 17,000 square feet. I don't know about that, but big it is. It is sort of Mexican/Spanish/Gothic. Very Cher. I "ohh" and "ahh" over the kitchen.
She looks at me puzzled.
"You like the kitchen? Personally, I've always thought the kitchen should be in a separate building," she says.
The dining room is black. The living room could easily host 100 people with room left over. The pool is the most beautiful I have ever seen... vanishing as it does into the distant Pacific.
The interview is to be in the sitting room off her bedroom. I spot her Academy Award on one shelf. Lots of treasures from travels around the world are on the dark wood antique tables. A large fireplace is in the center of the room.
Cher enters. She is blond.
I don't want her to be blond. I want her to be what I remember: long straight black hair.
We start to talk. And we talked, and talked, and talked. We talked for almost three hours, even though we were only supposed to talk for one. Cher doesn't have the self-censorship gene. You ask; she answers.
Even the tough questions.
She makes you believe when you are with her she has nothing to hide. That she is telling you just what she would be telling you if there were no TV cameras there. Cher does not seem frightened: Not of saying the "wrong thing," and not of failing.
Primetime's interview with Cher was originally broadcast Feb. 28, 2002.