The Armenian Side of Cher
Posted 13 January 2013 - 11:38 AM
– January 2, 2013
By Tom Vartabedian
Say what you want about Kim Kardashian and the other sisters. But for my money, Cher continues to be my dream girl. Always was. Always will be.
Not that I have a love affair with the woman. An infatuation for beauty and talent mixed is more like it. And durability. To continue going this strong in Hollywood and Las Vegas at the ripe age of 64 probably takes a lot of makeup but more passion for the entertainment world. She’s still a class act, a true Armenian American icon.
That is why I shall be in her corner come Academy Awards time. If she doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for her role in the current production of “Burlesque,” I shall cancel my subscription to Hollywood Magazine and demand an investigation.
Her role as the club owner and den mother to a host of showgirls is truly impeccable. I marveled at her Academy Award-winning performance in “Moonstruck.” And I found her just as remarkable in such other films as “Mask,” “Witches of Eastwick,” “Tea with Mussolini,” and “Silkwood,” which earned her an Oscar nomination.
Here’s what one critic has to say about this present campy musical. “It takes a legend to make a star. Without Cher, ‘Burlesque’ wouldn’t work.”
The musical side is just as impressive, going back to the TV days of Sonny Bono. She’s sold more than 100 million records. Her concert tours are still sold-out. In truth, Cher knows no hiatus.
Though I’m a tad older than Cher, she was always the one I would showcase whenever outsiders asked me to identify any prominent Armenians.
“Well, you know Cher,” I would respond, calling to mind her given name, Cherilyn Sarkisian.
“No kidding, Cher’s Armenian?” they would reply. “I had no idea.”
The year was 1985, precisely 25 years ago. I was a well-groomed journalist for the Haverhill Gazette and was notified that Cher would be receiving the coveted Hasty Pudding Award given at Harvard University as Female Actress of the Year.
I talked my editor into going to Cambridge and covering the story, despite some resistance. He saw no local connection to the event so I drummed up an alibi.
“She happens to be a friend of mine,” I told him. “Can get a personal story and beat the other Boston papers.”
In some ways, that wasn’t far from the truth, given the ideology that all Armenians happen to be related through ethnicity. To be meeting Cher for the first time was indeed a revelation.
There she was, as glamorous as ever, in the back seat of a Mercedes convertible with the top down, waving to fans in a motorcade through Harvard Square. I waved, too, but she didn’t see me.
It wasn’t until we had adjourned to an auditorium when a more formal introduction occurred. I cornered her press agent and told the woman I was Armenian like Cher and would like a word with her. She obliged me.
“Eench bes es?” I said, offering an ethnic greeting.
It was then that Cher bowled me over with a perfectly controlled dialect of Armenian that totally caught me off guard. The woman knew her language and was relatively fluid, obviously getting it from her dad’s side. What I learned about John Sarkisian was that he drove a truck, gambled, and had spent time in prison. It was not the best relationship for an adolescent.
I also quickly discovered other Armenians in the crowd who also began exercising their native language. Cher had a definite Armenian following that afternoon and she didn’t disappoint when it came to her culture and heritage.
There was noticeable pride etched across her face which complemented her smile. What’s more, I figured if I was going to get the inside scoop on this starlight, I had better keep talking Armenian.
“What’d she say?” my competition wondered. “What kind of language is she speaking? Hey, that’s not fair.”
Well, sir, you should have been born an Armenian and perhaps you could have gained her better side in this interview, I snickered to myself. In the end, I came away with a story none of the other papers could match. Even my editors were amazed.
It’s no secret that Cher has reached out to the indigent of Armenia over her prominent career. And no wonder that she has shown a distinct charitable side in supporting people of her kind in this country.
Even today, when people ask me, “Armenian? What’s that?” I can still reply after all these years, “You want to know what Armenian is? Go ask Cher!”
Like her hit song, “The beat goes on!”
Posted 10 March 2013 - 10:40 PM
I read and heard interviews she gave over the years, where she claimed to be American Indian. One in which she, in a magizine, said her father was a drug addict and a thief and that her mother was a blond haired floozy named Fifi LaTour. In a magizine also she poise in one picture in a black body suit with a brown paper bag over her head and a gold Crescent around her neck on a chain, a Crescent.
I did read: after the earthquake in Armenia she was going to adopt an Armenian child, I don't know if she did. maybe she is Armenian now, that can happen. God bless her if it has.
As for Kardashian, she is an embaressment. Making it with sevs, openly being the lowest picture of ourselfs to the world.
Edited by onjig, 10 March 2013 - 10:42 PM.
Posted 13 January 2014 - 11:16 AM
January 10, 2014
The Secret Jewish History of Cher: 9 Reasons Why the Entertainer Is
Honorary Member of Tribe
By Seth Rogovoy
Published January 06, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
In the beginning, there was Cher. And the Lord saw that Cher was good,
and so He made Madonna. And Britney. And Gaga. And Miley. And then,
exhausted, spent, and depressed about twerking, He went back to the
drawing board and breathed new life into Cher... again.
We're on the verge of yet another Cher comeback - these happen roughly
once per decade. Last fall, she released her first album in 11 years,
`Closer to the Truth,' and this year she hits the road for `Dressed to
Kill,' her first United States arena tour in eight years. It begins in
March and is scheduled to run through July, but will in all likelihood
continue well into the rest of the year and span other continents.
Cher has always been a master of invention and reinvention. Her career
spans the worlds of pop music, TV and film; she's been a star as
one-half of the famous duo Sonny and Cher (both on the pop charts and
on TV), and one of the most successful solo female recording artists
of the past five decades (she's the only artist to have a No. 1 hit in
every decade since the 1960s). But more than that, Cher is that rare
creature - a celebrity whose fame transcends her artistic and
commercial accomplishments (and failures) and in some way becomes her
greatest pop culture achievement.
While Cher is of mixed ethnicity, with a mother of Irish, English and
German descent and an Armenian father (she was born Cherilyn
Sarkisian), she is probably most often thought to be Native American.
She's part Cherokee on her mother's side, and she played up that
heritage in costume and in song quite a bit in the 1970s.
While Cher has no Jewish background, many of the key people in her
life - friends, boyfriends and collaborators - have been Jews. Her
somewhat exotic ancestry, her distinctive looks, and her assertive
independence have on occasion resulted in her taking on roles both in
her work and in life that are expressive of her affinity with Jewish
people and Jewish causes.
1) As is well known, in the 20th century the Armenian people and the
Jews shared a tragic history, both victims of attempted genocide. And
rounding out the Jewish, Christian and Muslim quarters of Jerusalem's
Old City is the Armenian Quarter, where there has been a continuous
Armenian presence dating back to well before there were even such
things as Christians and Muslims, to say nothing of quarters named
2) Most Native American peoples came to this continent via the
Beringian land bridge from Siberia. Recent DNA evidence suggests that
many of those very early immigrants originally hailed from the Middle
East and Europe. Given the many Native American traditions, rituals,
beliefs and legends that mirror those of Judaism, some speculate that
some or all of these peoples were actually descendants of the Ten Lost
Tribes of Israel.
3). Much of the iconography of Cher's solo hits of the 1970s was
inspired by her Armenian and Cherokee heritage, as well as her tough
upbringing, perhaps nowhere more successfully than in the hit song,
`Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves' - her first solo No. 1 hit record - a
portrayal of life lived in the social margins. Gypsies, of course,
have long been cultural and historical cousins to Jews, living lives
in parallel, and sharing exile and diaspora, musical and professional
affinities, and common enemies among Nazis and other European
4) From her beginnings as a backup vocalist working for Jewish pop
impresario Phil Spector (on hit songs including the Ronettes' `Be My
Baby' and the Righteous Brothers' `You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin''),
Cher has enjoyed great success singing the works of such great Jewish
songwriters as Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and her most
important hitmaker of the last three decades, Diane Warren. She's
recorded more songs by Warren and Dylan than any other songwriter.
5) Among Cher's many boyfriends, a few great loves of her life stand
out - Jewish music mogul David Geffen (before he came out as gay);
Chaim Witz, the Israeli-born rock bassist and vocalist better known as
Gene Simmons of the rock band Kiss; and Robert Camilletti, 18 years
her junior, who, although not Jewish, was known as `the bagel boy' for
his stint working in a bagel bakery. While dating Simmons, Cher got
her first up close and personal experience of anti-Semitism when the
two were apartment hunting and a realtor confided to her that she
couldn't show them certain luxury apartments because they were in
buildings where the co-op boards would have turned down Simmons for
being Jewish. Cher also famously attended a seder at Simmons's
mother's house on Long Island, during which she had to stand the
entire time because she'd just had her tukhes surgically nipped and
6) While her marriage to rock singer and famous heroin addict Gregg
Allman was short-lived, it did produce a son named Elijah, as in the
Hebrew prophet. Elijah joined the family business; his first guitar
was a gift from `Uncle Gene' Simmons.
7) Cher's early mentors in her film career were Jewish directors Mike
Nichols (`Silkwood') and Peter Bogdanovich (`Mask'), both of whom
directed her in award-winning roles that helped establish her as a
serious actress. Cher portrayed Jewish women in two dramatic roles: In
the 1990 film `Mermaids,' she played Winona Ryder's Jewish mother,
Mrs. Flax, and in the 1999 Franco Zeffirelli movie `Tea with
Mussolini,' Cher played the film's hero, Elsa Morganthal
Strauss-Armistan, a young Jewish-American widow and singer who saves a
group of expatriate Englishwomen from Italian fascists.
8) In a rare venture into contemporary politics in the 2012
presidential campaign, Cher used her considerable social media
presence on Twitter to defend Barack Obama against charges that he was
an anti-Israeli Muslim, even quoting Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres to
the effect that Obama was a true friend of Israel.
9) Cher kind of looks like my cousin Rachel.
Seth Rogovoy is a longtime contributor to the Forward, where he has
recently explored the kabbalistic underpinnings of such pop culture
figures as David Bowie, James Bond, and Aerosmith.
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