When Cher arrived on the Silkwood set in 1982, she had no idea of what to expect from Meryl Streep. The singer imagined that being in the company of the Oscar-winning actress would be “like having an audience with the pope” but was pleasantly surprised.

“Meryl just came up, threw her arms around me and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here,’” Cher remembers. “She’s all communication and warmth and friendship, with a great sense of humor.” Those qualities, which both women share, became the building blocks of a sweet friendship that has endured for nearly four decades.

“We’ve stayed friends all these years. I cannot believe that,” says Cher, 74. A mutual friend explains that “they are both kindred souls and longtime icons who are still going strong but, most importantly, don’t take themselves too seriously.” While their personal lives couldn’t be more different — Cher’s romances have made headlines since the 1970s while Meryl, 71, shares a quiet existence in Connecticut with her husband of 41 years, Don Gummer — they connect in other ways.

Inside Cher and Meryl Streep's Friendship

“They both have wicked senses of humor, are brutally honest and are true artists,” says the friend, who adds that they also bond as “activists for social justice” and defenders of the environment. “They understand and respect each other,” the friend explains. “There has never been a competitive actress thing between them.”

That’s fortunate, because a few years after Silkwood, Cher and Meryl were both in the running for the best actress Oscar at the 1988 Academy Awards. When Cher’s name was called as the winner for Moonstruck, Meryl, who had been nominated for her role in Ironweed, leapt to her feet clapping with obvious delight. “These women have always been there for each other,” says the pal, who adds that Cher and Meryl try to see each other for a low-key get together a few times a year. “They’ve also spent time in each other’s homes.”

In 2008, Cher turned down the opportunity to play Tanya, the libidinous best friend of Meryl’s character Donna, in the hit musical Mamma Mia! “I think she felt that the Tanya character was probably too close to her,” says producer Judy Craymer. But Cher couldn’t resist joining the Mamma Mia! fun a few years later when she was offered the role of Ruby, Donna’s mother, in the sequel — even though Cher and Meryl are only three years apart in age.

Meryl wasn’t scheduled to be on the set the day Cher filmed her rendition of “Fernando,” but she showed up anyway. “She lifted the lid off the place! I mean, she steals the movie!” gushed Meryl, who “has always been a fan of Cher’s music,” according to the friend. If Meryl gets her way, it won’t be the last time she and Cher work together. “Meryl is always trying to get Cher to do more films. They text all the time,” says the pal. “They treasure their time together.”

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