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By adolescence, Cher had started perfecting a signature she regarded as suitable for a star to sign in autograph books, and after the tenth grade she quit school forever. Around this time she had a first—and last—experience with a drug, Benzedrine. It left her "deadly opposed to drugs in every form, in every way." At 16 she left home rather than go on quarreling with her mother about "life-styles."

She moved in with a girl friend and supported herself with menial jobs. She remembers her social life at the time as an all-singing, all-dancing marathon on the Sunset Strip ("I'd go up there and dance till dawn"). When she was 16, she went out on a double date with her friend Melissa Melcher and met Melissa's boy next door—27-year-old, newly separated Sonny Bono. Not long after, he made her an offer she could not refuse: "Look, I don't find you particularly attractive and I have no designs on you. I'd like you to move in with me and keep the house clean and cook. I'll pay the rent." Cher said she could not cook, but Sonny took her in anyway. Cher recalls: "We lived together for two months, slept in the same bedroom and he never laid a hand on me."

She did not tell her mother about her new domestic arrangement. When Georgia was expected, Cher says, "I'd rush around, collect all of Sonny's clothes and dump them through the window into Melissa's place right across the way. One day Melissa was sitting at the table with some guests when a shower of Sonny's belongings descended on everyone. She just said, 'Oh, Cher's mother must be on the way.' "

When Mom found out about Sonny, she made Cher move into a Hollywood girls' residence, but absence finally made his heart grow fonder. They took up housekeeping again—nonplatonically. "When I met her she was 16 and a waif," says Sonny. "On the one hand, she was a very mature kid. She had dealt with life and men on an adult level—she skipped the teen-age stage. But on the other, she was also a very naive little girl."

He also claims he always knew she would be a star some day: "She would walk around our house and sing her ass off. It drove me crazy. But in the first two weeks I knew her, I told her I felt that she would be a great star. That's what she wanted." In this period she and Sonny once briefly split because, he claims, he was afraid he might stand in the way of the great career he was still predicting.

But they both must have known that she needed him.

Her ambition may have been fierce, but like her talent it was vague and undefined. She was also—and ironically—a shy, stage-frightened girl. She needed, as Sonny puts it, "a husband, a father, a brother, a lover, everything. I loved giving it. It was a resurgence for me at 27. It made me a leader, something I never was before." If, sometimes, he had literally to push his wife onstage, that was all right too.

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