Cher Recalls the Time Jack Nicholson Called Her "Too Old, Not Sexy"

Cher performs NBC's "Today" September 23, 2013 - Getty-H 2018
Al Pereira/WireImage

The 72-year-old icon told the story about her 'Witches of Eastwick' co-star during a recent concert in Atlantic City — and also shared how she left David Letterman "traumatized" in 1986.

"Alright, sit down, because I'm going to tell you a fabulous story," Cher said toward the start of her first of two sold-out shows at Atlantic City's Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa over the weekend. "A true story, OK?"

She actually told a few stories during the Friday night stop of her Classic Cher tour. After descending from the ceiling, dripping in gold and wearing a larger-than-life orange wig, for a dazzling performance of her 2013 hit "Woman's World," the pop icon took a breath — and then a trip down memory lane.

Though she's been performing for more than five decades — and can do a five-minute plank at 72 years old — Cher admitted that she once felt insecure about her age. And it was all because of her Witches of Eastwick co-star Jack Nicholson and director George Miller.

Cher confessed that she was "dreading" turning 40 in 1986. But, after a "fantastic" birthday party and a flirty encounter with future boyfriend Rob Camilletti, her attitude about ringing in another year quickly improved. "So I went to sleep, dreaming these fabulous thoughts of being 40 and it was good," she said with a smile. "And I was going to get all these movies and I was just so happy."

Cher continued: "And in the morning, my telephone rang and the man said, 'Hi, Cher, it's George Miller.' I said, 'Hey, George.' He was the director of Witches of Eastwick. So he said, 'I just wanted to call and tell you that I don't want you in my movie and Jack Nicholson and I think you're too old and you're not sexy.' Good morning, 40!"

Tears "started streaming down my old face," the singer said with a laugh. "I was heartbroken. I wanted this movie so badly. Usually, in Hollywood, if you insult somebody, you hang up," she said, adding that Miller was relentless in his run of insults. "He didn't want to hang up. He just wanted to tell me everything: 'I hate the way you walk, I hate the way you talk, I don't like the color of your hair, I don't like your eyes.'"

That's when Cher hit back. "So, finally I was like, 'OK, look mother—,' yeah, I said the whole thing. I said, 'You didn't find me under a rock. I was nominated for an Academy Award for Silkwood. And I got the Cannes Film Festival award for best actress for Mask,'" the superstar — exuding confidence onstage in a gladiator-inspired leotard — said to resounding applause. "'So, goodbye!'"

Cher eventually won the lead role of Alexandra Medford in Witches of Eastwick, starring alongside Nicholson, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer. Thirty-two years later, the Oscar winner remains a big-screen fixture. She recently starred in the summer blockbuster Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, and is still making waves in music. In addition to touring, Cher is readying the release of her 26th studio album, Dancing Queen, featuring covers of ABBA's biggest hits. Her "Fernando" duet with Here We Go Again co-star Andy Garcia recently peaked at No. 22 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart.

During the concert, Cher made it clear that she's aware of her eternal star power. "What's your grandma doing tonight?" she quipped to the audience at one point. Elsewhere in her act, the legendary musician brought up her uncomfortably amusing interaction with former late-night host David Letterman during an interview in 1986, the same year she was disparaged by Nicholson and Miller.

"For the longest time, David Letterman had wanted me to come on his show. Every week, they called me constantly," said Cher, who finally said yes after producers agreed to pay her $28,000 — money she owed to her friend, the late Studio 54 co-owner Steve Rubell. "I couldn't pay it, so I'm thinking, 'Cha-ching!'"

Cher said a producer asked why she had passed on Letterman's show so many times before, to which she replied, "Well, because I think David is very smart and very funny. But sometimes I've noticed, if people come on that he doesn’t like, or he doesn’t think are smart, or he doesn't respect, he can be kind of an asshole."

When Letterman asked her the same question on air, she felt like she had no other choice but to tell the truth. "If I lied, it would have been terrible. I can't lie and then have a great performance or a great conversation," Cher said. "So, while that's all happening in my mind, out of my mouth comes, 'Because I thought you were an asshole!' And I could not stuff it back in."

According to the singer, her brutally honest remark left Letterman "traumatized for five years." However, the two were able to make amends. "We got to be friends and so that was OK. He sent me a birthday card on my last birthday," said Cher, before revealing his playful jab. "But the weird thing is at the bottom, he said, 'P.S. My Mom always liked Sonny best.'"