Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008 | 2 a.m.
(This Is) A Song for the Lonely
Beyond the Sun
Every other year Cher fans from all over the world convene to celebrate Cher. They play Cher trivia, watch Cher impersonators, pick up Cher tchotchkes and even buy Cher’s clothes.
The gatherings are big “Cher family” reunions. Attendees hug, laugh, cry, swap Cher stories and share updates on their own lives.
“Some people look forward to Christmas,” says Javier Ozuna from Burbank, Calif., who has been to three conventions and 25 Cher concerts. “We look forward to Cher concerts and conventions.”
The fests, started by die-hard fans in 2000 to celebrate the hit song “Believe,” are more than mere Cher revelry. They have raised $120,000 for the Children’s Craniofacial Association, which is focused on the disease highlighted in Cher’s 1985 movie “Mask.” Cher is the group’s national spokeswoman.
The fifth biannual meetup was planned for Dallas this year but moved to Las Vegas when it was announced that Cher would be at the Colosseum. That way fans wouldn’t have to plan two vacations: one to see Cher in Las Vegas and one to attend the Dallas convention. It seemed the perfect venue given that Cher is selling out the showroom and the gift shop is making millions off the Cher brand.
But Caesars almost swallowed the rollicking party and charity auction. The fanaticism was there, but only 100 or so fanatics showed up as balloons floated above mostly empty tables. This is the first year there was not a dinner at the conference and the small, volunteer charm seemed a better fit for the convention at the Riviera in 2002.
Cardboard signs with the words “Cher convention” written in markers guided attendees on the long walk to the Tiberius Ballroom at the far end of the third-floor promenade — far from restaurants and the buzz of the casino and shops. Fans complained they had a hard time finding the convention, and checking at registration or the concierge didn’t help, they say, because hotel staff knew nothing about it.
Organizer Kim Werdman says some gave up and demanded refunds.
So exhausting was this year’s effort and so disappointing was the turnout that top organizers, including Werdman, resigned. There is talk that this will be the last convention, though most of the fervent fans knew nothing of it.
They were caught up in the usual excitement of being together “in Cher” and the hope that Cher would “drop in.”
“We always have that hope,” says Rose Delgardo from New York, who has attended all five conventions. “When it was in L.A., we were right near her house. We thought maybe she’d show for that.
“Here, I feel her presence. I just need to meet her in person one day. I grew up on ‘Sonny and Cher.’ Everybody always said I looked like Cher. I held onto that.”
Some fans say Cher doesn’t stop by because it would take attention away from the children with craniofacial afflictions. It’s not as if Cher has neglected the convention. She donates autographed photos, dolls, posters and other memorabilia for the auctions. There are also Cher snow globes, paperweights, fitness videos, Christmas ornaments, calculators and soap featuring the likeness of Sonny and Cher.
The silent and live auctions sold Cher’s Versace slippers, daughter Chastity’s embroidered black jeans and Bob Mackie’s original sketches. A bidder spent $10,000 on a package that included tickets to her show, a meet-and-greet with Cher and accommodations at the hotel, all donated by Caesars. The auctions weren’t as successful as in past years, attributed to the small turnout, a weak economy and competition from the Cher concert.
But StarWares celebrity clothing sales did well. A shawl and coat Cher wore in “Mermaids” sold for $3,200 and a dress from “The Sonny and Cher Show” for $3,000. An Etch A Sketch that has a permanent shadow of Cher’s face didn’t sell. But fans hit the $10 rack to buy high-end tank tops and camisoles from Cher’s personal wardrobe that were knocked down in price so fans could take home a piece of Cher from the convention.
Angelica Bertrem from San Diego wore one of Cher’s studded bras, which she bought for $220 at the previous convention and has worn to several Cher concerts. She planned to wear one of Cher’s beaded skirts to the concert Tuesday night and bought another Cher bra this year.
Bertrem divides her wardrobe between clothes she buys at the budget store and clothes from Cher’s closet. “There’s no in between.”
She also springs for good tickets. “Once you sit in the front you will come up with the money no matter what,” she says, saying friends have refinanced their homes so they could get front-row tickets to Cher concerts.
Cher also is a big budget item for Teresa Black, a mother of four from Wichita, Kan. A regular at the conventions, she’s attended 23 concerts.
“You have to have a release,” she says. “Some people go to bars. We come here.”
Some came a long way: Remo Figus flew in from Holland for the concert, then joined the convention, and Catherine Marie Carter, a Cher impersonator, and her fiance, Mark Parry, a Sonny impersonator, naturally, came from Bristol, England.
Those who heard the conventions might end said they hope something works out.
They include Jill Gorecki, developmental director of the Children’s Craniofacial Association. This is one of the group’s biggest fundraisers and Cher fans give to the organization throughout the year, including donations sent in on Cher’s birthday.
Gorecki’s 22-year-old son, Robbie, who was born with Goldenhar syndrome, has known Cher since he was a toddler and meets his friends at the conventions: “My son has pretty much grown up with these people. They’re like family to him. We have to keep it going.”
Ozuna, who was lugging $1,000 worth of memorabilia back to Burbank, is staying optimistic, convention or no convention.
“If they cancel it, we’d have to find another way to get together and support Cher,” he says. “And we’ve become lifelong friends, so we’ll always find a way to keep in touch.”