The Armenian Side of Cher

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!”

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5 Comments

  1. Vanessa Kachadurian said:

    We love Cher in Fresno, she lived here for a time in Armenian Town across the alley from my grandmother on (“S” St.) Her grandmother was a tall woman, attractive and boasted to all the Armenian women about her beautiful granddaughter. My grandmother remembers brushing Cherilyn’s hair while visiting with Grandma Sarkisian, she remembered she thought Cher to be one of the beautiful kids in the neighborhood (untill her own grandchildren came later) Cher is amazing 4 decades of survival I can only think of a few besides Cher, Tina Turner and Diana Ross.
    You go Cher and make that trip back to Armenia soon, the kids love you.
    http://www.vanessakachadurianarmenianart.blogspot.com
    Vanessa Kachadurian

  2. Adrineh said:

    Great and engaging piece, though I cringe when Armenians claim popular stars as their own when they have even a percentage of Armenianness in them. Of course Cher is not a “percentage” but we Armenians often omit to mention that her father was Armenian, while her mother was of mixed descent (incl. Cherokee). I’m happy to hear she speaks Armenian and smiles to her Armenian fans, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she greets her Cherokee fans just as warmly. Apart from her one visit to Armenia after the 1988 earthquake, has Cher returned? What else has she done for the Armenian community? Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of hers and agree with the author that she is beautiful, talented and tenacious. But let’s not let these qualities affect us so that we gloss over the other parts of her identity or her actual relationship with the Armenian community.

  3. Armanen said:

    Adrineh:

    I agree with you. Just last month, when the Genocide resolution was seemingly going to be put up for a vote by the full House, Serj Tankian and Kim Kardashian made tweets about it, I was pretty surprised by Kim doing it but it was a nice surprise. As far as I know, Cher did no such thing. It is even worse when one considers that she is even closer to the Genocide due to her age, her father’s family came to US to escape the Genocide, so she is only a generation removed, yet relative youngsters like Serj and Kim went public about their support for the Resolution.

    Anyway, Cher can do a lot just by going to Armenia and giving a concert, maybe setting up a charity similar to what Oprah did in South Africa. She doesn’t though and there may be good reasons for why she has not visited since 1993 but I doubt this.

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