She’s an international pop star, an acclaimed actress, a fashion icon and an author. She’s won dozens of awards in her career of 50-plus years. And she is instantly recognized around the world by her first name: Cher.
This multitalented superstar has lived in the public eye since she was a teenager. Her fans have seen her succeed in many ways for many years. But they might not know about the challenges she faced growing up.
Cher has both dyslexia and dyscalculia. In school, she struggled with reading and with making sense of numbers. Her learning differences didn’t keep her from pursuing her passions, however. And they’ve led her to one of her latest roles: as an outspoken advocate for kids with learning and thinking differences.
A discouraged young student
Cher was born Cherilyn Sarkisian in Southern California. As a child, she couldn’t keep up with school lessons. “I couldn’t read quickly enough to get all my homework done and for me, math was like trying to understand Sanskrit,” she wrote in her autobiography, The First Time.
“Almost everything I learned, I had to learn by listening. My report cards always said that I was not living up to my potential,” she has said. Discouraged after failing several classes, she dropped out of high school her junior year. She fled to Hollywood to pursue something she felt confident about: entertaining.
A brilliant career — and a hidden diagnosis
Cher has reinvented herself many times over the years, finding great success at every turn. She began her musical career in the 1960s with husband Sonny Bono. In the 1970s she pursued a solo career and starred in two TV variety shows.
In the 1980s she added acting to her list of accomplishments. She appeared on Broadway and in a string of movies. (She won the Oscar for best actress in 1987’s Moonstruck.) Throughout it all she kept building on her success as a musician.
Cher was a mother of two by the time she found out about her learning differences. When her son Chaz Bono was 10, he struggled with reading. Cher took him to a testing center, where she learned Chaz had dyslexia. The doctors asked about Cher’s own experience with reading and writing, since dyslexia often runs in families.
“I told them how my mind raced ahead of my hand, how I’d skip letters in the middle of a word. I told them how I kept transposing numbers, and that I’d get so cranky trying to dial long-distance calls that someone would finally have to take the phone and dial the number for me,” she said in The First Time.
The experts who diagnosed Chaz told Cher that she, too, had learning differences. “It was like a big, Ohhh…Now I understood everything, why I had so much trouble with school. It all fit together.”
Raising awareness for kids like her
These days, Cher focuses much of her time on philanthropic endeavors. She supports medical research, veterans, LGBT rights, and assistance for children. (In fact, she’s a member of the Understood Board of Advocates.)
Cher still wrestles with her dyslexia and dyscalculia. “I am a terrible reader, I don’t write letters. Numbers and I have absolutely no relationship,” she has said.
And yet, more than 3 million people hang on her every tweet. Cher maintains an active, colorful Twitter presence and is honest about her learning differences.
When a fan asked, “If you could turn back time and change one thing, would it be to not have dyslexia?” Cher replied: “No! It caused pain, but it’s me!”
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The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.