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There is no Cher there.

Last year Cher reportedly had over $100,000 of plastic surgery. It included eyebrow lifts, upper eyelid surgery, face and neck surgery, a chemical face peel and lip injections. On her current album, "Believe," Cher's voice is enhanced and amplified by computers. When she appears on stage, Cher sports a silver Mylar wig and layers of makeup, and seems to change into costumes every five minutes as she melds music into an image of video, smoke and mirrors.

Imagine what Cher does after the concert when she gets back to the dressing room: She takes off her wig. She removes her eyebrows. She deflates her lips. She lowers her cheekbones. Then someone twists off her head and puts it in cold storage.

Cher must be a cyborg.

How else to explain a 53-year-old woman who looks 35; acts 25; has a lean, sexy body; recently hit No. 1 on the record charts, and is a baby boomer having the time of her life in a Gen X world.

Sonny Bono is dead, Gregg Allman is with his old band, Madonna is a matronly role model, and Cher, an idol of drag queens everywhere, still rocks.

There's no one else quite like her. Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton may go on forever, rocking and rolling, hanging with younger women and staying cool. But in the sexist universe of rock 'n' roll, we half expect aging male rock stars to be that way.

Cher is all woman but acts like a man. She's had flings with the likes of Allman, Gene Simmons of Kiss and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi until she dumped them. Now that's cool.

Cher's the only woman to have a No. 1 single in the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s. She's a pop singer who owns an Academy Award for her role in "Moonstruck." She's done everything from hustle hair-care products on TV infomercials to making a raunchy, semi-nude music video onboard a U.S. Navy ship packed with leering sailors.

Cher's music appeals to young and old, women and men, gays and straights. Turn on an oldies radio station and you can hear Cher singing bygone tunes ranging from her 1965 duet with Sonny on "I Got You Babe," to her first solo No. 1 from 1971, "Gypsies Tramps and Thieves." Turn on a contemporary hits station and you can hear Cher singing, "Believe," the chart-topping disco-sounding single from earlier this year that spurred her latest comeback.

It was last January when I finally understood why Cher is so essential to American culture. She turned up at half-time of the Super Bowl to lip-sync "Believe."

The Super Bowl is our festival of hype, hustle, commercialism and all-American kitsch. Who better than Cher to be its reigning half-time queen?

Cher not only knows the game, she also knows how to play it.

From the dawn of Sonny and Cher, the act was about looking and acting outrageous and staying hip. For her past 35 years in the public spotlight, Cher has more than lived up to those standards and gone to the edge, on and off stage.

"Someone has to draw the line for me where over the top is concerned," she said earlier this year. "Because then and only then can you know when you are going over it. I just do it."

Cher knows no limits. In her career she has been perceived as a hippie, lounge singer, TV star, film actress, vamp, disco queen, sex symbol, plastic surgery poster girl and comeback kid.

Cher is all of that and more. Today she binds generations and musical styles. "I have a foot in the past and a foot in the future," she has said.

But even Cher is human. After Sonny died in a skiing accident, Cher turned up, dressed in black, to give the eulogy. The queen of cool lost her composure talking about her ex-husband. She wept, she stuttered and was overcome by grief. Cher said, between tears, she felt stupid.

Such humanity made Cher all the more endearing. She is a true pop cultural icon who attained that stature by just being her outrageous self.

Music changes, people get older, kids grow up and rock stars fade away. But somehow, someway, not for Cher. With Cher, you gotta believe.

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