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Sonny Bono

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Sonny Bono

Sonny Bono
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 44th district
In office
January 3, 1995 – January 5, 1998
Preceded by Al McCandless
Succeeded by Mary Bono
16th Mayor of Palm Springs
In office
April 1988 – April 1992
Preceded by Frank Bogert
Succeeded by Lloyd Maryanov
Personal details
Born Salvatore Phillip Bono
(1935-02-16)February 16, 1935
Detroit, Michigan, US
Died January 5, 1998(1998-01-05) (aged 62)
Stateline, Nevada, near South Lake Tahoe, California, US
Resting place Desert Memorial Park
Cathedral City, California, US
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Donna Rankin (1954–1962, divorced)
Cher (1964–1975, divorced)
Susie Coelho (1983–1984, divorced)
Mary Whitaker (1986–1998, his death)
Children Christine Bono
Chaz Bono
Chesare Elan Bono
Chianna Marie Bono
Religion Roman Catholicism
Sonny Bono
Genres Pop, rock
Occupation(s) Singer, musician, songwriter, producer, actor
Years active 1963–1995
Associated acts Cher, Sonny & Cher

Salvatore Phillip "Sonny" Bono (; February 16, 1935 – January 5, 1998) was an American recording artist and producer, who came to fame in partnership with his second wife Cher, as the popular singing duo Sonny & Cher. He was also mayor of Palm Springs, California from 1988 to 1992, and congressman for California's 44th district from 1994 until his death in a skiing accident while still in office.

Early life

Bono was born in Detroit, to Santo Bono (born in Montelepre, Palermo, Italy) and Zena "Jean" (née La Valle). His mother gave him the nickname "Sonny", which lasted his lifetime.[1] Sonny was the youngest of three siblings; he had two older sisters, Fran and Betty. He attended Inglewood High School, Inglewood, California, but did not graduate.[2]


Entertainment career

Bono began his music career working at Specialty Records where his song "Things You Do to Me" was recorded by Sam Cooke, and went on to work for the record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist and "gofer". One of his earliest songwriting efforts was "Needles and Pins" which he co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche, another member of Spector's production team. Later in the same decade, he achieved commercial success, along with his then-wife Cher, as part of the singing duo Sonny and Cher. Bono wrote, arranged, and produced a number of hit records with singles like "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On", although Cher received more attention as a performer. He also played a major part in Cher's early solo career with recordings such as "Bang Bang" and "You Better Sit Down Kids".

Bono co-wrote the song "She Said Yeah", which was covered by The Rolling Stones on their 1965 LP "December's Children" Bono also recorded as a solo artist under the name of Sonny. He had only one hit single as a solo artist, "Laugh at Me". "Laugh at Me" was released in 1965 and peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In live concerts, Bono would sing the song with an introduction of, "I'd like to sing a medley of my hit." His only other single as a solo artist was a follow-up release, "The Revolution Kind", which reached number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that same year. Bono also recorded an unsuccessful Sonny album titled Inner Views in 1967.[3]

Sonny Bono in 1966 during a performance

Sonny continued to work with Cher through the early and mid-1970s starring in a popular television variety show, The Sonny and Cher Show, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974. From 1976 to 1977, the couple returned to performing together on The Sonny and Cher Show despite being divorced. Their last appearance together was on Late Night with David Letterman on November 13, 1987,[4][5] when they sang "I Got You Babe".

Bono continued his acting career, doing bit roles in such shows as Fantasy Island and The Love Boat. He played the part of mad bomber Joe Selucci in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and in the 1986 horror movie Troll. Bono also played the part of Franklin Von Tussle in the 1988 John Waters film Hairspray. In the 1997 film Men in Black, Bono is one of several oddball celebrities seen on a wall of video screens that monitor extraterrestrials living among us. He also appeared in several episodes of P.S. I Luv U starring Connie Sellecca and Greg Evigan during the 1991–92 TV season as the Mayor of Palm Springs [which he really was at the time]. His last acting role was in the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (Season 1, Episode 9, originally aired on November 21, 1993), in which he played the Mayor Frank Berkowitz. He also made a minor appearance as himself in the 1996 film First Kid.

Sonny poked a little fun at himself when he guest-starred on Lyle Waggoner for Dorothy's (Bea Arthur) affection in a dream, where Blanche (Rue McClanahan) dreams her husband is still alive. In the dream, Sonny uses his power as mayor of Palm Springs, California to have Waggoner falsely arrested just so he can have Dorothy to himself. Later on, after Blanche awakens from the dream, Dorothy is thrilled to learn she picked Sonny this time.

Political career

Bono entered politics after experiencing great frustration with local government bureaucracy in trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. Bono placed a successful bid to become the new mayor of Palm Springs. He served four years (1988 to 1992).[6] He was instrumental in spearheading the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which is held each year in Bono's memory.

Bono ran for the Republican nomination for United States Senate in 1992, but the nomination went to the more conservative Bruce Herschensohn, and the election to the Democrat Barbara Boxer. Bono and Herschensohn became close friends after the campaign. Bono was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 to represent California's 44th congressional district. He was one of twelve co-sponsors of a House bill extending copyright.[7] Although that bill was never voted on in the Senate, a similar Senate bill was passed after his death and named the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in his memory.

He championed the restoration of the Salton Sea,[8] bringing the giant lake's plight to national attention. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich made a public appearance and speech at the shore of the lake on Bono's behalf.

In their book Tell Newt to Shut Up, David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf credit Bono with being the first person to recognize Gingrich's public relations problems in 1995. Drawing on his long experience as a celebrity and entertainment producer, Bono (according to Maraniss and Weisskopf) recognized that Gingrich's status had changed from politician to celebrity, and that Gingrich was not making allowances for that change:

You're a celebrity now, ... The rules are different for celebrities. I know it. I've been there. I've been a celebrity. I used to be a bigger celebrity. But let me tell you, you're not being handled right. This is not political news coverage. This is celebrity status. You need handlers. You need to understand what you're doing. You need to understand the attitude of the media toward celebrities.

Bono remains the only member of Congress to have scored a number 1 pop single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Personal life

Bono married his first wife, Donna Rankin, on November 3, 1954. Their daughter Christine ("Christy") was born on June 24, 1958. They divorced in 1962. In 1964, Bono married singer/entertainer Cher. On March 4, 1969, their daughter Chastity was born. In 1975 the duo divorced, partly due to allegations about Sonny's infidelity.[9] Bono then married Susie Coelho, but divorced her in 1984. He wed the much-younger Mary Whitaker in 1986 and they had two children, son Chesare Elan on April 25, 1988 and daughter Chianna Maria on February 2, 1991. He became interested in Scientology partly because of the influence of Mimi Rogers, but stated that he was a Roman Catholic on all official documents, campaign materials, web sites, etc. His wife Mary also took Scientology courses.[10]

Bono was named a godparent of Anthony Kiedis who would go on to become a musical artist with his band, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sonny was a close friend of Anthony's father, Blackie Dammett, and would often take the boy on weekend trips.[11][12]

Bono was a champion of the Salton Sea in southeastern California, where a park was named in his honor. The 2005 documentary film Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea[13] (narrated by John Waters) features Bono and documented the lives of the inhabitants of Bombay Beach, Niland, and Salton City, as well as the ecological issues associated with the Sea.

In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[14]


Sonny Bono's headstone at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California. The epitaph reads: "And the Beat Goes On."

Bono died on January 5, 1998, of injuries sustained when he hit a tree while skiing on the Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort near South Lake Tahoe, California.[15] His death came just a little less than a week after Michael Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, died in a similar skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado. After Bono's death, Mary Bono told an interviewer from TV Guide that Sonny had been addicted to prescription drugs, mainly Vicodin and Valium. Though Mary claimed that Sonny's drug use caused the accident, the autopsy performed by the Douglas County Coroner showed no indication of any substances or alcohol.[15] Sonny's mother and several friends disputed Mary's account.

Bono was survived by his wife, Mary, and children, Christy, Chianna, Chesare and Chastity. His mother, Jean Bono, also survived him, and died on January 15, 2005, at the age of 90.[16] At Mary Bono's request, Cher gave a eulogy at Sonny's funeral. His remains were buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.[17][18] The epitaph on Bono's headstone reads: "And the Beat Goes On", written in uppercase.[19]

Mary Bono was elected to fill the remainder of his Congressional term. She was elected in her own right seven more times and was defeated for re-election in 2012.

See also


  1. ^ "Sonny Bono Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  2. ^ Yates, Nona (January 7, 1998). "Sonny Bono, a Chronology". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Sonny Bono – Inner Views – from Rhino Handmade". Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  4. ^ "Sonny & Cher Boost Ratings". The New Mexican. Santa Fe, New Mexico. November 29, 1987, p. 35, accessed through on March 13, 2009.
  5. ^ "Sonny and Cher Reunited on David Letterman Show." Aiken Standard. Aiken, South Carolina. November 15, 1987. p. 3. accessed through on March 13, 2009.
  6. ^ "BONO, Sonny – Biographical Information". Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  7. ^ "Bill Summary & Status – 105th Congress (1997–1998) – H.R.2589 – THOMAS (Library of Congress)". March 26, 1998. Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  8. ^ "Salton Sea rescue to be named for Sonny Bono". CNN. January 16, 1998. 
  9. ^ Sonny's cheating made me consider suicide': Cher admits she thought about ending her own life"'".  
  10. ^ Proud Mary Bono, George, August 1999
  11. ^ "Anthony Kiedis". Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ "Cher – Kiedis' Bedroom Joy With Cher – Contactmusic News". Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  13. ^ "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea". Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  14. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  15. ^ a b Sonny Bono Is Killed in Ski Crash, Washington Post, 1998-01-07
  16. ^ "Jean Bono (1914–2005) – Find A Grave Memorial". Retrieved April 25, 2012. 
  17. ^ Palm Springs Cemetery District "Interment Information"
  18. ^ Brooks, Patricia; Brooks, Jonathan (2006). "Chapter 8: East L.A. and the Desert". Laid to Rest in California: a guide to the cemeteries and grave sites of the rich and famous. Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 239–40.  
  19. ^ Sonny Bono at Find a Grave

Further reading

  • Sonny Bono: And The Beat Goes On. New York: Pocket Books 1991. ISBN 0-671-69366-2
  • Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles, 12th edition. Menomonee Falls WI: Record Research 2009 ISBN 0-89820-180-2 and 978-0-89820-180-2

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Frank Bogert
Mayor of Palm Springs, California
April 1988 – April 1992
Succeeded by
Lloyd Maryanov
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Al McCandless
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 44th congressional district

January 3, 1995 – January 5, 1998
Succeeded by
Mary Bono
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