Born into a lower-income California family, actress/pop singer Cher (born Cherilyn Sarkisian) attempted to escape her poverty by entering show business as a go-go dancer at the age of 16. She met and married singer/promoter Sonny Bono, who lifted her from obscurity as half of the immensely popular singing duo Sonny and Cher. The diminutive, ebullient Bono and the tall, deadpan Cher became a top recording team (their big hit was "I Got You, Babe") and a regular guest act on the many variety shows of the period. Sonny and Cher continued their upward climb until musical tastes changed in the early '70s, whereupon they began concentrating on comedy sketches and kidding-on-the-square insults directed at one another in their own variety weekly, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, which enjoyed a successful three-year network run beginning in 1971. It was on this program that Cher, began sharpening her acting versatility in such sketch roles as brash housewife Laverne, sardonic waitress Rosa, and a whole slew of historical vamps. But Cher began to chafe at Bono's hold on her career and her private life, and the couple divorced in 1974. Both Sonny and Cher were starring on separate TV series that fall, but they also each faced poor ratings; so the pair decided to team up professionally once more in 1976 for a new Sonny & Cher Show, although Cher was now married to Gregg Allman and pregnant with their son Elijah. But the old chemistry was no longer there, and the new program was canceled in the following year.
Bono eased out of show business for a successful political career, while Cher began seeking out film work. At first treated condescendingly by critics, she matured into a first-rate actress in such movies as Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) (repeating her Broadway role), Silkwood (1983), Mask (1985), Suspect (1987), and Moonstruck (1987). She was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Silkwood, received one for her role in Moonstruck, and shared a Best Actress award at Cannes for her supporting role in Mask. Something of an enigma in the show business world, Cher has managed to retain her stature as a highly respected film actress while promoting exercise videos and a line of cosmetics, in addition to recording new chart-topping songs and appearing in music videos.
She was mother to Winona Ryder in the quirky comedy Mermaids in 1990, and two years later she was one of the many celebrities who made cameos as themselves in Robert Altman's scathing Hollywood satire The Player. She appeared in and directed one of the segments of the abortion drama If These Walls Could Talk, and was part of the impressive ensemble put together for 1999's Tea With Missolini. She had a very funny turn in Stuck on You, and mounted a farewell concert tour in 2003. She was away from the big-screen for a period of years, but came back with the campy musical Burlesque opposite Christina Aguilera in 2010. The next year she lent her distinctive voice to one of the animals in the Kevin James vehicle Zoozeeper.