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Somewhere in the next couple of years their stories begin to diverge. As Cher tells it, she began to feel "I was going nowhere as a person. I wanted to grow, expand my horizons. I was bogged down." She is vague about just how her husband was holding her back. She mentions his forbidding her to play tennis because he did not feel like taking up the game, refusing to let her play music in the house or socialize with band musicians—that is all. She is also dim about what his methods of restraint were. "It's impossible to explain Sonny's hold on me," says Cher. "I was afraid of him; yet he never laid a hand on me. His powers of persuasion were enormous—as deep as the ocean. You just didn't argue with Sonny. We had no friends, went nowhere but to work. It was a very stultifying existence."

For his part, Sonny bridles at the notion that he was the only ambitious member of the marriage. Early on, he recalls, they bought a house in Encino to which they both took an instant loathing. A little later, when they were down and out, he told her that if things did not start looking up they might have to retreat to that house. "Cher said, 'I'll never go back to that house.' I got the message. She was telling me, 'Make it for us; I'm not going backward.' That's the way it is with Cher. She's very demanding of the man hi her life."

According to Sonny, "She expected me to lead the way to success—and I did." Now, perhaps with some justification, he feels "really down," as one friend put it. He has just turned 40, discovered that "I can't do it as a solo," and that a great fall's pain is intense. "I lost it all," he says. "The way the act was constructed—not just the way it came about—Cher was the focal point. I never considered it a disadvantage because the act was a smash. But a straight man is a straight man is a straight man ..." A current girl friend, a 19-year-old Cal State psychology student named Ora Renet, adds: "Of course he's bewildered; someone has stepped on his sand castle."

His consolation, as he sees it, is that Cher is applying everything he taught her. He insists that her public persona and her sense of how to use it are largely his creations. But Cher takes justifiable pride in the fact that she has so quickly picked up the pieces of a career that many show-business Insiders last summer considered hopeless. To be sure, she had plenty of money—a $25,000-per-week allowance from Sonny, its size based on the fact that most of their $2 million joint earnings were in his control. But it was she who firmly refused his persistent and eccentric suggestion that they continue their show even though they were divorcing. It took some courage: "I really was beginning to wonder if there would be a future for me at all in this business. Sonny had signed with ABC to do a series. I had nothing but a lousy album. There were no offers coming in. Nothing."

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