She uses her Oscar—for Best Actress in 1987's Moonstruck—as a doorstop in the bedroom of her palatial Malibu home. "My cats have to run in and out, and it's the perfect weight," says Cher. "Some people think it's disrespectful, but I don't really mean it that way. It works."

That's Cher—at 52, still a provocative personality that she herself describes as "melancholy, hysterical, childish, strong and unusual." In her 35-year career, the original one-name wonder has slipped into as many roles as she has romances and outrageous outfits: pop diva, '70s TV star, esteemed actress and infomercial has-been. And with no to-do list in sight. "Ten-year plan? I don't have a 10-minute plan," she admits with typical candor. "I'm free-falling."

Since her arrival in 1965, warbling "I Got You Babe" on the arm of Sonny Bono (whom she married in 1969), the landings haven't always been soft. For the former Cherilyn Sarkisian, an El Centro, Calif., high school dropout, life "happened in very big swings, either really high or really low," she says. Her humiliating 1992 stint as late-night pitchbabe for Cher Beauty skin-care products ("as low as I could go") is now being canceled out by her latest single, "Believe," a hit in 19 countries. " 'Making it' isn't a definitive thing," says Cher. "It's not one moment but millions of moments."

She has lived most of hers in public. Her litany of love affairs, including those with Kiss bassist Gene Simmons and actor-bartender Rob Camilletti ("still my best friend"), were chronicled as much as her bitter 1975 divorce from Bono (with whom she had a daughter, Chastity, now 30) and her ill-fated marriage to musician Greg Allman (father of her son Elijah, 22). Now, she says, "I absolutely see myself falling in love again. But I can't imagine why I'd ever get married. It's very difficult to be Mr. Cher."

Being Cher is hard enough. "She wants to make people say, 'Oh, my God!' " says longtime friend Bob Mackie, designer of the infamous barely beaded Oscar gown that she wore in 1988. "You never lose her under a costume." Having surgically altered her nose and breasts (but not, she claims, her oft-exposed derriere), the woman within agrees: "When I'm not at the Oscars, it's boring."

Yet to Chastity, Mom is lately exhibiting "a certain wisdom and calmness that have definitely come with age." She needed both in January 1998 when Bono, first elected to Congress in 1994, died in a South Lake Tahoe skiing accident. Delivering his eulogy "terrified" her, she said afterward. She went on to produce a TV special about their famous partnership. "I couldn't wait to not be Sonny and Cher, but I don't mind going back. It's my choice now."

Meanwhile, the beat goes on. Cher stars in the upcoming comedy Tea with Mussolini, a possible summer world tour is in the works, and, come fall, she starts filming The Breakers. One by one, her six tattoos are coming off. "They'd all be gone by now if I was paying attention," she says. But any transformation, she assures, will be only skin-deep. Eventually, says Cher, "I'll be a cool old lady. Just an older version of myself."

Lisa Russell
Danelle Morton in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Danelle Morton.