How David Geffen Romanced Cher and Built a Music Empire

2012-06 ENDPG Lou Adler Britt Ekland David Geffen Cher Jack Nicholson Anjelika Huston H
Phil Roach/IPOL/Globe Photos

From left: Lou Adler, Britt Ekland, Geffen, Cher, Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston at the 1974 Grammys, where Cher presented the album of the year award to Stevie Wonder for Innervisions.

At the 1974 Grammy Awards, the record executive and the singer were the industry's hot couple.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

The 1974 Grammys were a heady night for David Geffen. He had risen meteorically in the record industry during the previous half-decade, and that night he had a major star on his arm: Cher.

In the late 1960s, Geffen had entered the music publishing side of the business when, as singer-songwriter Laura Nyro's manager, he created a publishing company for her songs. That was his first big break as a businessman. He sold the company to CBS for $4.5 million in stock in 1969. Geffen got half, and that allowed him to form Asylum Records with a roster that would come to include Joni Mitchell and the Eagles.

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It took only a year for him to sell Asylum for $7 million to Warner Communications, where he would head the merged Elektra/Asylum Records. He was now a certified music tycoon.

But it was his relationship with Cher that brought Geffen into the public eye. Although he would later come out as gay, in 1973 at age 30 he'd fallen in love with Cher, then 27, and they became a couple.

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"I was the first person to share his bed and to share his life," she says in Tom King's book about Geffen, The Operator. "People don't believe that, or they don't want to believe it, or they don't understand how it could be. But we were really crazy about each other." They would be together for two years.

Geffen's first move was to free the singer from her onerous business arrangement with estranged husband Sonny Bono, under which she was required to work exclusively for Cher Enterprises, the company he controlled. Cher had no vote in decisions, even though she was the much bigger star. Geffen called the contract "slave labor."

In short order, he had her quit The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. She separated from Bono and in time for the Grammys had a butterfly tattooed on her posterior to celebrate her emancipation.