DATE: Wednesday, March 1, 2000

PUBLICATION: The Roanoke times





John Anderson opens his front door wide and smiles, nervous, but ready for inspection.

"She's upstairs," he says.

She being Cher. Or rather, 33 miniature versions of Cher, expertly dressed for the Oscars, for television, for concert or a casual day at the studio.

At the center of the room that houses these mini-Chers is Anderson's piece de resistance: The coveted Cher head, with drugstore eyelashes.

Smaller than life, bigger than Barbie.

"This is the head," Anderson says. "The head of Cher."

There is no mistaking the head of Cher, or the dolls of Cher, or any of the other objets de Cher that fill half of the upstairs of the Roanoke house Anderson shares with his long-time companion Joe Jones.

"I won't let him go any farther than that side," says Jones, whose half of the upstairs consists of a desk, a daybed, and family pictures. "He's pushing the bounds as it is."

Cher looks, in poster or plastic, as she appears in life. Flowing dark hair (except for her red phase). Slightly awkward nose (until after her surgery).

High cheekbones. Arched eyebrows. Sarcastic mouth. Often she's decked out in Bob Mackie clothing creations that leave people talking or gaping.

Always, she's intriguing. "Cher is wigs and costumes and sequins and makeup," Anderson says. "The more outrageous, the more Cher. She doesn't care what people think about her. Cher has said herself she's an acquired taste."

He's heard the joke: "After nuclear war, there would still be cockroaches and Cher."

Certainly in a career that is chronicled on Anderson's walls, she has come back and back and back.

Anderson calls his room "The Cher Experience," or sometimes simply "Her."

Jones sometimes uses the term "It." But he listens to her music. And he and Anderson will both be attending the concert this evening at the Roanoke Civic Center, where Cher will perform for the first time since 1973.

Anderson's hope against hope is that he'll find a way to meet her backstage.

If he doesn't, he says, the experience will still be incredible. "This is supposed to be her last tour," Anderson says. "I will, in my lifetime, have seen Cher."

This will be Anderson's first concert since Peter Frampton more than 20 years ago and the first time he'll see Cher in person, though he's followed her career since 1970.

He was only 11 then, feeding cows and baling hay on his parents' Craig County farm.

Cher was doing her thing on television in glitter and gold and Bob Mackie.

Anderson loved it.

His late father, also named John Anderson, did not. He didn't want his son joining the Cher fan club or playing "Half Breed" on the bedroom stereo.

"Half dressed is more like it," he would bellow, and certainly Cher has been known to bare more than the fashionable midriff.

Anderson wouldn't give her up. Not when she was Sonny's better half. Not when she was on her own.

Not when she was Leather Cher or Movie Cher or '80s Cher. Not when she did infomercials for hair products.

And certainly not now, during the elaborate "Believe" tour.

"Cher was my escape in school," Anderson explains. "She was an outlet for me. I could go up to my room and slam the door and put on the big headphones

and just chill out and let the world escape me and do my thing."

Even now, after a bad day at his retail sales job, he still finds refuge in "The Cher Experience," with its lava lamp, for extra mood lighting, and an eight-track player, because Anderson's a completist and that was the medium of Cher's music when he liked her the most: '70s Cher.

Born Cherilyn Sarkisian, the singer / actress got her start when she was just a 1960s teen-ager with partner Sonny Bono. Together, they created hits like "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On."

As the '60s ended, their careers slid. In the '70s, there was renewal, with a variety show that became a television show. That's when Cher captured Anderson's attention.

Sonny and Cher divorced and Cher returned to television on her own. She married the Allman Brothers' Gregg Allman. She dated Gene Simmons of KISS.

Magazine covers and tabloids showed her everywhere. "Bono Files for Separation." "How to be Thin and Beautiful." "Cher Confesses Everything about Lee Majors." "Cher and KISS Star Wed in Secret Ceremony."

Anderson looks at his wall. "True. True. Not true. Not true."

In the 1980s, Cher was known more for her acting than her music. Her name on the cast list of "Silkwood" brought her scoffs, then an Oscar nomination. "Mask" earned her Best Actress at Cannes. "Moonstruck" brought her an Oscar and even more respect.

By the late 1980s, she was back on the music charts (and half-dressed in videos) with "If I Could Turn Back Time."

"She looks larger than life," Anderson says, gazing at his coveted "Half Breed" poster. "But she's really 5-7."

There were more movies in the 1990s: "Mermaids," "Faithful," "If These Walls Could Talk."

There was more music.

At the end of the decade, "Believe," a club favorite that went to No. 1 in more than 20 countries, returned her to diva status, and a new tour.

"Can you 'Believe' She's Back?" shout Anderson's headlines. She was the highest grossing act of 1999.

Through the ups and downs, gossip tabloids, ever-obsessed with her personal life, continued their reports: "Cher Dumped: Live-in Love Leaves her for Sexy 22-year-old Red Head."

"Not true," Anderson says.

"I've Got Lbs. Babe." "Well she's older now and going through menopause."

The tabloids also remained obsessed with the personal lives of the people surrounding Cher.

They followed her younger boyfriends.

They kept track of Sonny, who became mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., then a U.S. congressman before he died last year in a skiing accident. Cher gave the heartfelt eulogy at his funeral.

And they followed daughter Chastity Bono, who asked her family to accept her homosexuality and later became a political activist and director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Cher didn't accept Chastity's homosexuality at first. It was the one time Anderson remembers being truly mad at her.

"I just wanted to shake her," Anderson says. "She always wanted people to accept her for being herself."

A short time later, Cher accepted Chastity's news and apologized.

"She said herself she was very un-Cher-like," Anderson says. "I forgave her."

His collection grew accordingly.

It grows the most when Cher is on the downswing. That's when it's cheaper to find items at the Hillsville flea market or Happy's Flea Market in Roanoke, where Anderson laid out his previous collection - Marilyn Monroe memorabilia - on a blanket and sold it all in the late 1980s to make room for the dusted-and-polished "Cher Experience."

All that remains of Marilyn is a framed set of postage stamps, on which a spider's handiwork remains in tact.

In this year of Cher's success, the collection has seen slow growth, save the concert tickets, at $65 each, which will be framed after the show. "She'll fade again this time," Anderson says. "Stars always do."

But she will not fade here, in the glow of the lava lamp, where Anderson has her music on LP, 45, eight track, CD, cassette tape and reel-to-reel. Where he has the entire collection of Cher People magazine covers, a short-lived catalog of gothic Cher-approved household items, and a copy of a 1970s letter to the editor, in which he declares himself "Cher's Biggest Fan."

She will not fade here, where Anderson keeps his still-sealed, never-listened-to recording of Cher with Gregg Allman, a hidden-away box of extra parts in case a mini-Cher has a blowout, and a glass bottle of "Uninhibited," the Cher perfume.

"I've never sprayed it," Anderson says. "But I've sniffed."

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