Who Was Sonny Bono?
Sonny Bono was an American musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer. He gained fame as half of the musical duo Sonny & Cher alongside his then-wife Cher. Sonny is best known for producing hit songs such as “I Got You Babe”, and their successful television variety show, “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour”, in addition to many other prominent projects he worked on during his career.
Wiki: Age, Childhood, and Education
Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono was born on 16 February 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, USA. His parents, Zena “Jean” and Santo Bono, were of Italian descent, with his father hailing from Palermo, Sicily, Italy. In his childhood, Sonny’s mother affectionately called him “Sono”, which eventually became “Sonny”. The youngest of three siblings had two sisters named Fran and Betty.
Despite attending Inglewood High School, he dropped out in pursuit of a career as a songwriter and performer. Along the way, Sonny held various jobs, including waiter, construction laborer, truck driver and butcher’s hand, as he worked towards breaking into the music industry.
Bono began his career in music working for record producer Phil Spector at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. During this time, he met Cherilyn ‘Cher’ Sarkisian in a Los Angeles coffee shop in November 1962. Cher was just sixteen then, and Sonny 11 years her senior. They became best friends and eventual lovers. Cher started as a session singer, lending her vocals to recordings by various artists, including those produced by Spector.
Success with Cher (1964-1977)
Sonny and Cher decided to team up musically, forming the duo “Caesar and Cleo” and releasing singles in 1964, including the song “Baby Don’t Go” as Sonny & Cher, which became their first regional hit. Their breakthrough came in 1965 with their debut album, “Look at Us”, featuring the iconic number one single “I Got You Babe”; the album reached number two on the Billboard chart.
Sonny and Cher’s success continued to soar, with appearances in popular television shows of the era, such as “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “American Bandstand”, and “Top of the Pops”. In 1966, they released their second studio album, “The Wondrous World of Sonny & Chér”. Despite their musical success, their foray into films, including “Good Times” in 1967 and “Chastity” in 1969, did not fare well commercially.
In 1970, Sonny and Cher starred in their first television special, “The Nitty Gritty Hour”, which led to the creation of “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” in 1971. The variety show was an instant hit, quickly reaching the top 10 and receiving 15 Emmy Award nominations during its run. Their on-screen banter, with Cher as the glamorous, humourous singer, and Sonny as the long-suffering recipient of her insults, became a trademark of their act.
During this period, Sonny and Cher also released albums, including “All I Ever Need Is You”, which featured two top ten hits “All I Ever Need Is You” and “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done”. They appeared in films such as “Wild on the Beach”, and Cher pursued solo successes with hits such as “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and the theme from the film “Alfie”.
Their personal and professional lives intertwined, with Sonny and Cher welcoming their first child, Chastity, in 1969. However, by the third season of “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” in 1974, their marriage was falling apart. The couple separated later that year, leading to a very public divorce in 1975. Despite their personal struggles, the show continued to rate in the top 10, but eventually imploded.
Sonny Bono launched his own show, “The Sonny Comedy Revue”, in 1974, but it was canceled after a brief six-week run. Cher debuted her own successful variety series, “The Cher Show”, in February 1975, receiving critical acclaim and high ratings during its first season. Sonny and Cher briefly reunited for “The Sonny & Cher Show” in 1976, but the duo finally parted ways for good in 1977.
In addition to his successful music career, Sonny Bono made several notable on-screen appearances, demonstrating his versatility and talent beyond music. He took on bit parts as a guest performer in popular television shows such as “The Man From UNCLE”, “Fantasy Island”, “Charlie’s Angels”, “The Love Boat”, “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and “CHiPs”. Bono’s acting prowess extended to TV movies such as “Murder on Flight 502” in 1975 and the miniseries “Top of the Hill” in 1980.
He left an impression with his role as Joe Selucci in “Airplane II: The Sequel” (1982) and made a memorable cameo appearance in the horror film “Troll” (1986). Bono’s talent and versatility shone brightly in John Waters’ “Hairspray” (1988), in which he portrayed Franklin von Tussle.
Additionally, he made a cameo as himself in “Men in Black” (1997) and lent his voice and portrait appearance to VeggieTales in the Silly Songs with Larry segment, “I Love My Lips” in the episode “Dave and The Giant Pickle”. Bono’s on-screen presence also graced popular TV series such as “P.S. I Luv U”, in which he had a recurring role as the Mayor of Palm Springs from 1991 to 1992, and “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”, in which he played Mayor Frank Berkowitz in the episode “The Man of Steel Bars” during the show’s first season. Bono’s guest appearance as himself in “The Golden Girls” in the episode “Mrs George Devereaux” in 1990 added a touch of charm to the beloved sitcom.
Bono’s political career was sparked by his frustration with local government bureaucracy. He served as the mayor of Palm Springs, California, from 1988 to 1992, during which he played a pivotal role in establishing the Palm Springs International Film Festival. In 1992, Bono ran for the Republican nomination for the US Senate but was unsuccessful, however, his political ambitions were realized in 1994 when he was elected to the US House of Representatives, representing California’s 44th congressional district. During his time in Congress, Bono co-sponsored a House bill to extend copyright protection, and took up the cause of the Salton Sea’s restoration, raising national awareness about its environmental issues. Notably, Bono was the first to recognize Newt Gingrich’s public relations challenges in 1995, and offered him advice on managing his celebrity status. Additionally, Bono holds the distinction of being the only member of Congress to have achieved a number-one pop single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Sonny Bono’s net worth was estimated at $4 million at the time of his death.
How did Sonny Bono Die?
On 5 January 1998, Sonny Bono’s life was tragically cut short in a skiing accident at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California. Bono, who was 62 years old, was on vacation with his fourth wife, Mary, and their children. While skiing alone in the afternoon, he ventured into a wooded area and collided with a tree, resulting in severe head injuries. Several hours passed before he was reported missing, and his body was discovered later that evening. The news of Bono’s untimely death shocked and saddened his family, friends, and fans around the world.
Following his passing, Bono’s funeral took place with a eulogy delivered by Cher, as requested by Mary. He was laid to rest at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California. The epitaph on his headstone, which captures his enduring legacy, reads, “AND THE BEAT GOES ON”.
Personal Life, Marriages, Wives, Children
His first marriage was to Donna Rankin – they tied the knot on 3 November 1954, and welcomed daughter Christine, known as Christy, on 24 June 1958. However, their marriage ended in divorce in 1962.
In 1964, Bono entered into his second marriage, with Cher; they had one child together, son Chaz born on 4 March 1969. Despite their musical and professional success as a duo, Bono and Cher’s marriage faced challenges, leading to their divorce in 1975.
Following his divorce from Cher, Bono married actress-model Susie Coelho on New Year’s Eve in 1981. However, their marriage didn’t last long as they divorced in 1984.
Bono’s final marriage was to Mary Whitaker, whom he wed in 1986. They had two children together: a son named Chesare Elan, born in 1988, and daughter Chianna Maria, born in 1991.