Cher turns 66 on May 20. But instead of shopping around for seniors' day discounts, the Grammy, Oscar, Emmy and Golden Globe winner will be busy preparing for her latest farewell tour.
The tour -- tentatively titled "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," after a song in the movie Burlesque -- is scheduled to kick off in Kansas City, Mo., in September. Alison Calthorpe, a Winnipeg high school student who collects all things Cher, intends to be there on Night 1, front row centre.
"Cher hasn't announced whether or not she's coming to Winnipeg but if she does, no worries; I'll just go again," Calthorpe says matter-of-factly.
Oddly enough, Calthorpe, 17, didn't know a gypsy from a tramp or thief until eight months ago. That's when her grandmother phoned her and said, "Turn on Dancing With the Stars. That guy I've been telling you about is on next."
The person Calthorpe's grandmother was referring to was Chaz Bono, the first transgender person to appear on the popular ABC program.
Although Calthorpe wasn't exactly Chaz's lucky charm -- viewers gave the author/activist the boot that evening -- she was curious about who he was and what he was famous for. After learning the names of Chaz's parents, the Vincent Massey Collegiate student logged onto YouTube and began watching old episodes of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, including the segments when the hosts would bring their daughter Chastity (who would later become Chaz) onstage to wave goodbye to the studio audience.
Faster than you can say "if I could turn back time," Calthorpe was hooked.
"The way Cher looked just caught my attention," Calthorpe says. "And then after I learned stuff about her, I was like 'Whoa, what an incredible human being.' She's so unique, so pretty and so crazy-talented, I just love her."
Calthorpe now has a wing in her bedroom devoted to her heroine, born Cherilyn Sarkisian. That's where the student keeps her ever-growing assortment of biographies, CDs, DVDs and press clippings. Calthorpe has also become a bit of a regular at used record stores around town, as she hunts down vinyl copies of Cher's solo albums, as well as ones she recorded with Sonny.
(Question: has Calthorpe's collection ever come in handy at school? "One time my teacher asked us if we knew anything about the '60s. I mentioned a few songs and she knew what I was talking about 'cause she's kind of old.")
"There are still a lot of records I'm looking for, but the thing I want most right now is a Cher doll," Calthorpe says, mentioning that mint-in-box versions of the Mego doll -- the No. 1-selling doll in the world in 1976 -- command as much as $300 on eBay. (Although Calthorpe says she wants "anything and everything" associated with Cher, she does have certain boundaries. After posting an ad on Kijiji earlier this year, Calthorpe was contacted by a man who said he had something she'd be interested in. "It turned out to be a couple of battery-operated skeletons -- the kind you'd put out at Halloween -- singing I Got You, Babe. I was like, thanks but no thanks.")
By the time September's concert rolls around, Calthorpe hopes to have added a more personal touch to her passion. "Right now I'm growing my hair out. My goal is to have it as long as Cher's was when she was on the Sonny and Cher show."
"Growing your hair like Cher is dedication," says Mary McCray, a fellow collector who started watching Cher on television when she was seven years old.
"I loved The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour: I thought they were both groovy and beautiful and so Hollywood," McCray says, when reached at home in New Mexico. McCray originally thought her hobby would get boring after a couple of years or that she'd grow out of it. Instead, she discovered that there were others who shared her passion; fans who were also after every last 45, plastic phonograph and perfume bottle connected with the diva.
"I don't know how many, but there are probably hundreds of collectors out there and they all usually focus on different items," says McCray who maintains a website called cherscholar.com, which touches on every topic under the Cher-sun, including "Songs Cher Should Cover" and "Cher in Art and Literature."
"Some people collect dolls only, some collect movie paraphernalia like lobby cards, some collect picture discs from the '70s and '80s... the problem with Cher is the breadth of stuff."
Besides pre-worn items like designer gowns, which can command as much as $50,000 when they come up for auction, the most sought-after items date back to the days when the singer wasn't mononymous.
Cher's debut single -- Ringo, I Love You -- was released in 1964 and was recorded under the name Bonnie Jo Mason. The tune is considered one of the Beatles' most famous tribute songs, so latching onto an original copy is doubly difficult because of competition from Beatlemaniacs, McCray says.
McCray doesn't believe Cher's pending tour will change the value of collectibles one way or another. "What usually affects price is scarcity and newness," she says. "For instance, Burlesque memorabilia spiked when those items first came out (in 2010)."
McCray has attended four Cher conventions, with all proceeds going to the Children's Craniofacial Association, inspired by the movie Mask. She says that the majority of collectors who show up at the biennial events -- herself included -- are always looking for new treasures.
"Most of the people I know have at least a separate room or storage area for their Cher stuff. And they continually forget what they have until they come across it years later."
Cher your toys
BESIDES dolls, Cher was responsible for a long line of toys that hit store shelves in the late 1970s.
There was mock jewelry, model cars created by George Barris, the man responsible for the Batmobile, and a Cher makeup centre that included a plastic bust of the star, and some curlers and face paint.
But the toy that hobbyists covet the most, according to collector Mary McCray, is Sonny & Cher's Theatre in the Round, above. McCray says she "almost fainted" when she got the play set for her eighth birthday. It came with a piano, a microphone stand and dressing table, as well as three dioramas: a replica of the variety show's main stage, Cher's backstage dressing room and -- mamma mia -- something called Sonny's Pizzeria.