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I Got You... and You... and You: The many faces of Javier Ozuna's Cher collection

Cher and Cher Alike

Javier Ozuna owns nearly 300 Cher dolls and more than 6,000 Cher magazines. Who you calling obsessive?

By Traci Vogel

ON A QUIET suburban street in the foothills of east San Jose, there exists a basement to instill jealousy in the hearts of many 11-year-old girls. In this basement, there are no limits on how many celebrity posters may be hung on the wall, no concern for how much space Barbie doll No. 208 or her many accessories might consume. In this basement, the sort of souvenir collecting and celebrity worship most people leave behind with adolescence has instead been honed to a fine art by Javier Ozuna, a man in his 40s.

Ozuna, who moved to San Jose six years ago, has been collecting Cher memorabilia since the mid-1970s. Why Cher, I ask? Why not Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler? "I had just moved to L.A., and I was feeling really lonely and empty without my family," he explains. "I caught The Sonny and Cher Show on television, just by chance, and the show really lifted my spirits. I used to watch it faithfully every Sunday. ... I couldn't wait to see what Cher would wear!"

Since then, Ozuna says, he's reserved a special place for Cher in his heart: "There's just something about her--her style, her exotic beauty, that I love."

Ozuna is a dark-haired, bright-eyed man dressed neatly in two overlapping Cher concert shirts--one long-, one short-sleeved. He takes me on a tour of his low-ceilinged basement bulging with Cheriana: framed movie, concert and product promotional posters; coffee mugs, magazines, dolls; even a framed copy of Cher's first single (as Bonnie Jo Mason), "Ringo, I Love You."

There are so many reproductions of Cher, depicting her from so many angles, that the room has the feel of a fun house maze. Every surface reflects another Cher permutation: from her Sonny beginnings to her pre-nose job "Half-Breed" era to her days of daring Bob Mackie-gowned glory all the way up to a Cher newly blonde and surgically enhanced for her upcoming Farewell Tour, which arrives Aug. 5 at the Compaq Center in San Jose (Ozuna has a ticket--he's sitting in the second row). If someone wanted to clone Cher, this would be the place to start.

Because initially very few commercial items were available, Ozuna's very first Cher keepsake had nothing to do with mass merchandising. "I made my own Cher T-shirt and started wearing it around '77, '78," he explains. "The show had ended, and everywhere I went people said, 'Who's that? Cher? You like her?' She wasn't cool then."

Soon his friends, learning of Ozuna's interest, started finding him stuff. "They started bringing me magazines, records--they got the ball rolling," he recalls. "Then I joined the fan club--they send you photos."

What began innocently enough, however, soon spiraled into the kind of collecting that requires serious storage capacity. Ozuna's L.A. apartment began to sacrifice blank walls, linen closets--everything became dedicated to Cher.

At last, Ozuna explains, his celebrity collecting made him a celebrity in his own right. "Finally, around 1988, a roommate of mine had seen Star magazine's 'Life In America' section, where they featured eccentric collectors. A friend sent my picture in, and they sent a writer and a photographer and did a little piece about me. Before I knew it, I was getting a slew of letters from around the world--Australia, Belgium, Russia, a lot from the U.S. Complete strangers started sending me stuff."

Javier Ozuna

Much discussion has been flung by art critics about obsession's role in folk art, and Ozuna's collection surely qualifies. Taken together, the objects and their single subject become meaningful in a way one single CD cover is not. After a viewer has flipped through the 30th magazine with Cher on the cover, only to turn and see 100 stacks of 30 more, the sheer volume of Cher-ness starts to take on eerie qualities.

Judging from the world's decades-long love affair with Cher, as documented by this collection, a hapless extraterrestrial might indeed think that Cher is to humanity as Ozuna's license plates claim: "CHER GOD."

But Ozuna is quick to distance himself from the obsessive nature of his collection, and there are limits even to his interest. He demurs insistently: "I've never considered myself 'obsessed' about [Cher]." He has no desire to follow the example of a woman he knows who so idolizes Elvis, for example, that she recently bid $4,000 for copies of his dental charts on eBay. And he hasn't even read through the court papers a fellow fan dug up for him concerning a defamation suit Cher once filed in L.A.

"I don't really care what Cher is like as a person," he claims. "The Cher I like is the public Cher. I could care less when she goes to the bathroom or what she has for breakfast."

He doesn't like the idea of fans who will rummage through a celebrity's garbage or follow her from town to town. Maybe that's because Ozuna has gotten a taste of what fame is like himself, having been featured on TV shows like Geraldo and A Current Affair.

When he was living in L.A., he says, it got so that he would sometimes be recognized at his job, or on the street. "It was interesting and fun, but at the same time a little scary. I understood a little what celebrities go through--and they're worldwide!

The circular nature of Ozuna's celebrity boggles as a symptom of a reductively media-obsessed society (one wonders: Is there a collector out there who collects nothing but articles about collectors?). It is also a testimony to the extreme nature of his collection. After all, everyone collects celebrity, but it is only the true devotee who might be let into the light of the TV studio himself.

Ozuna did happen to meet Cher in person once, as she walked down the street in L.A. with two bodyguards. It's a complicated story, as befits the intersection of image and reality.

"I wasn't even sure it was her at first--she wasn't looking too good that day; it was the unglamorous Cher--but I stopped the car and ran over and asked, 'Are you Cher?' Then I didn't have anything for her to sign, so I got her to sign some scrap of paper in my wallet, which didn't ... I didn't like the way it turned out. But then I quickly went and made copies of my fan club membership card, which has pictures of Cher on it, and I ran back, and she signed those, four times! She was very nice about it."

He pulls the trophy in question off of the wall and sets it in front of us, a sentimental mist descending over his eyes.

But Ozuna's real dream is to meet Cher and chat with her just as he and I are doing now, maybe to have dinner. To that end, he keeps on collecting her image, as if it's some sort of voodoo draw.

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From the August 1-7, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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