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Like any other self-respecting Californian who's been blackballed by the board of a Manhattan co-op and gone through at least six crises in public, it was memoirs time. Only this tragicomic American folk figure wasn't going to blow it in the usual book: Cher is baring her all in a glitzy cross-country cabaret tour. And institution that the lady already is, at 33, she even took it to Washington's Kennedy Center.

The autobiographical act cost half a million to mount, including nine peekaboo Bob Mackie costumes and one $30,000 effect that failed ("We really ate it," Cher concedes, "on the laser butterfly"). But in the this-is-your-life scenes, she cut costs by hiring female impersonators to play her buddies Diana Ross and Bette Midler. Also, the film footage, flashed on a large screen, of her children, Chastity Bono, 10, and Elijah Blue Allman, 3, was shot not by a high-priced documentarian but by her first husband and Chas' father, Sonny. As for the voice-over, Cher's mother delivered the most telling line: "She always loved to be naked."

Similarly, the most stunning number was not ghosted but written by Cher herself. My Song is a lament for her second husband, the drug-racked Southern boogie bandsman Gregg Allman. "He's too far gone/He doesn't want to know me/He'll never get to know his son," she wails, while Bono's movies of Elijah flicker in the background.

Pressed about what Allman thinks of the song, Cher allows, "He was a little p.o.'d at first because he thought I was talking about him specifically—like he's off the edge. But that didn't really occur to me. When I wrote that, I thought the relationship was too far gone." Cher, meanwhile, is justifiably proud of how far (in a different sense) she's gone. As she stutters at the start of the act, "What you see up here may look like an adult, but it's really a child with very long legs." That self-perception, plus her palpable and perpetual fondness for Bono and Allman, suggest that the long-legged kid really is growing up. Yet oddest and most curious of all is that the liaison that may have brought the greatest solidity to her life is with, of all people, Gene Simmons, the four-years-younger, fire-breathing and blood-spitting bass guitarist for the kinky kindergarten rock group Kiss. We share, she says, "the best relationship I've ever had with a human being."

Which does not necessarily mean monogamous. "I'm going through a very liberated phase right now," she says. "I think I have a very masculine attitude to dating." So she doesn't mind if her prince charms others. "Gene might spend time with another woman and stay the night," she shrugs, "but he wants her to leave in the morning so he can get on with his day." Cher admits that Simmons' heavy road schedule (Kiss tours as much as 11 months a year) has given him a "totally warranted" rep for 1,000 one-night stands, onstage and off. As for herself, Cher says, she goes with other men but only "for companionship. Gene is the only one I'm crazy about. All my relationships are serious. I don't screw around." And perhaps that's what endears her to Simmons. She reports: "We just had a wonderful suite at Chicago's Ritz-Carlton overlooking the lake, and Gene said at breakfast that it never ceases to amaze him how comfortable he is with me. He has never had a steady girlfriend, never had a relationship with anybody. That's pretty heavy stuff. He's a very strange, complicated and honest person."

"I've always been afraid to talk about the relationship before," says Gene. "I thought it would be the death knell of Kiss. From a publicity angle, this is not the most popular thing we could do. The fans who buy records think it's horrible. They're very jealous and possessive, but that's tough," he snaps. "I'm crazy about Cher, nuts about her. She's my first love," Simmons burbles. "Cher's an untainted soul who has never done anything bad to anybody."

The two phone daily and jet so often to rendezvous for stolen weekends (Gene has flown intercontinental for as little as a night together) that they have begun to establish beachheads outside L.A. Cher just bought a $250,000 log cabin in Aspen, where they'll spend Christmas. "It's kinda small, just four bedrooms," she says. "But it's a real warm retreat." After Cher was turned down by Manhattan's cafe-society co-op, the Dakota, Simmons popped for another New York apartment, which Cher is redecorating. What's more, the enormous Egyptian-style palace Cher began in Beverly Hills three years ago should soon be finished, months behind schedule. "The architect and I got a lot of ideas from the souvenir book that came with the TV movie Jesus of Nazareth,'' Cher admits ingenuously. The two-story mansion is being built around a central courtyard with a glass roof that opens electrically.

Does all of this imply a more permanent attachment with Simmons? "I'm not saying marriage would never happen, but I'm not planning on it. For once, I don't feel I have to get married," says Cher, who attributes her newfound independence to the support and companionship of pal Kate Jackson. "Before Kate I would never go anywhere alone," says Cher. "We ended up having a lot of fun together." At the same time, the mercurial Cher declares: "I'd love to have another baby, though just one more. I don't know when I'm going to have time to do it, but then I didn't have time for these two either." Simmons adds: "We've talked about getting married, but all this is new to me. I've never had anything even close to being serious. I've been a snake most of my life. For six years I've been on the road, and I didn't care who I was with. Besides, I've always hated kids—except scrambled."

Chastity and Elijah Blue are the exception to that heretical statement by one of the kingpins of pubescent rock. "They're wonderful," says Gene. "Chas is going to be President of the U.S. someday. She busts me." The kids get along well with Simmons, whom they call "Genie." If Chas hadn't asked for Mom to get Simmons' autograph for her at a party, they would never have met. Now, says Cher, "Gene takes Chastity to the movies and they get in food fights. He's teaching Elijah to swim. When he had time off and I wasn't home, he came out to be with them." Beams Cher: "It's hard to find someone who likes your kids as much as you do—especially when they didn't have anything to do with it."

For those men who did have something to do with it, Cher retains a special respect. "I guess the most honest thing I could say about Gregory is that I still care a great deal about him because I never loved anybody the way I loved him. But I don't love him anymore," she says. Lately she's troubled that "he doesn't see Elijah nearly as often as I'd wish"—in the past year only "a couple of times." Of Sonny—who phones Cher daily and took her, Elijah and Chastity along on a Palm Springs weekend with his steady, model Susie Coelho—"He's like my parents. He raised me from the time I was 17 until I was 27. I could never have done anything or have been anything without him."

Clearly, Cher's solo act has never been more together, and, as she says, her excesses have been exaggerated. Sure, she's had her breasts "tightened" three times ("once after each of my children, and then once again"). But she doesn't spend, as rumored, $600 monthly on manicures ("in a year, maybe") or "run around the house in beads and feathers." She claims, "I really don't give a shit about clothes." Cher keeps her 5'7½" frame to 108 pounds (she doesn't use scales but checks by slipping into a favorite test pair of tight jeans) and exercises at least two hours a day with the three R's of Rodeo Drive—racquetball, running and rollerskating. She still plans to buy her own rink if she finds the right price. Or is that just the latest put-on from our Lady of Outrage? Her latest record is the roller disco single "Hell on Wheels"; it's part of a just-released LP, Prisoner, with a cover showing Cher stripped but for chains and hair.

Then there's been a draft film script, which recently bolstered her hopes of remaking the 1945 movie The Enchanted Cottage as a musical. There are no more plans for weekly TV. Her last special got disappointing ratings and besides, she says, "I'd rather do stage work. You get immediate response. It's like being in bed with somebody, having an audience."

As for the future, Cher is heartened by the words of friend Jane Fonda: "She said that her career didn't even begin until she was 30." Does that suggest a more politicized Cher? "I want to do other stuff besides being a performer," she admits, "but not politics. Politicians are only glorified actors. I've got good insight into people, and I'd like to use that someday to help other people. As crazy as people think I am," says Cher, with considerable justice, "I've really always been honest. I've never lied. It's gotten me into trouble, but I always say so if I'm screwing up." What's next? "Asking me about the future is pointless," admits Cher with her growing self-knowledge. But Simmons could well be part of it. "I've only been comfortable with three people in my life," says Cher. "And I married two of them."