Cher

updated 12/28/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/28/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

She long ago achieved that rare status in American pop culture: rechargeable, perpetual celebrity that kept the public riveted whether she actually did anything or not. But Cher wanted to be more than an exotic curiosity. "I was feeling really frustrated," she says. This year on film (The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect, Moonstruck) she broke through, earning both tremendous box-office-based clout and unassailable credentials as a serious actress.

It's about time. For years she's been trying desperately to rebel against kitsch typecasting, the self-limiting legacy of her partnership with ex-husband Sonny Bono and her splashy, lucrative vamps in Vegas. Sure, she had won praise for her supporting role in 1983's Silkwood, but she stood in Meryl Streep's star shadow. Yes, her acclaimed dramatic role in 1985's Mask had surprised nearly everyone, but the studio refused to use her picture in the ads. Nobody paid money to see a movie just because Cher was in it.

They do now. Disappointed by the earlier rejection, Cher hadn't worked for over a year, searching instead for roles to make her "bankable." The result is her three smash '87 films, which display her dramatic range, her gift for comedy—and a talent you can take to Chase Manhattan. Playing a frumpy Italian widow in Moonstruck, the glamour girl even wowed the critics. "I refuse to accept other people's limitations," she says.

That holds true in life as well as in art. The 41-year-old iconoclast's relationship with Rob Camilletti, 23, a former doorman and bartender, got heavy ink this year, but what's often overlooked is her anchoring devotion to her children, Chastity, 18, and Elijah, 11, as a successful single mother. Her new power as an actress means she can earn more than $1 million per role—and, like only a few Hollywood women, produce her own projects. "I'm so lucky," she says. "I'm making money now doing something fulfilling. This is my time." So it is, and it's fun to watch her having it.

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