Sonny Bono

Active - 1965 - 2012  |   Born - Feb 16, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan, United States  |   Died - Jan 5, 1998   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Musical

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Sonny Bono found success in wildly different venues. From the late '60s through the early '70s, he was best known as the driving force in the pop duo Sonny and Cher. He was also an actor, the owner of a small restaurant chain, the longtime mayor of Palm Springs, CA, and a United States Congressman representing California's 44th Congressional District. A first-generation Sicilian-American from Detroit, Bono (born Salvatore Bono) was raised in Los Angeles since early childhood. Though his parents wanted him to be a doctor, Bono had his eye on becoming a performer. In the late '50s, he was hired as a songwriter and singer for Dig Records and had his first hit with "Needles and Pins." When he first teamed up with willowy and exotic-looking teenager Cherilyn Sarkisian, they billed themselves as Caesar and Cleo; later they married and became Sonny and Cher. They had their first successful single with "Baby Don't Go." The two went on to have more major chart success with songs such as "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." Sonny and Cher also recorded separately and Bono had success with "Laugh at Me." At the peak of their popularity as singers, the duo appeared as themselves in a couple of films with their largest role in Good Times (1967). In 1969, Bono wrote the screenplay and music and produced a vehicle for Cher, Chastity. In the late '60s, Bono saw that the popularity of Sonny and Cher was in decline -- in part because they took a public stand against drugs at a time when illegal drugs were hip -- and reworked their act and began getting nightclub bookings. The new Sonny and Cher act relied heavily on their comical patter in which the diminutive Sonny played the clueless straight man to the tall, cool, hip, and tart-tongued Cher. The act was popular and the two were given a summer variety show on CBS in 1971 that featured much of the writing staff from the recently canceled and controversial Smothers Brothers program. The show became a hit and ran through 1974. By that time the couple had divorced and went on to make unsuccessful bids at solo series before reuniting again with a new version of their show in 1977. Unfortunately, they were unable to capture the magic of their first show and the new show was canceled. In 1975, Bono made his solo debut as an actor in the made-for-TV movie Murder on Flight 502. He subsequently continued the occasional film appearance as an actor through the '80s, and in 1994 made a cameo appearance in the comedy First Kid. In 1982, he opened a restaurant, BONO, in West Hollywood and after it became a hot spot, he opened another in Houston. It too was a success, but he eventually sold them both to open another BONO restaurant in Palm Springs that specialized in authentic Sicilian cuisine based on old family recipes.

In 1988, conservative Republican Bono was elected Mayor of Palm Springs by a landslide and played an integral role in enlarging and rejuvenating the popular desert resort community. Interestingly, up until a year before the election, Bono had never been a registered voter. The Palm Springs International Film Festival was one of many community events he helped launch. Despite his contributions to Palm Springs, critics questioned his income, which was allegedly higher after becoming the mayor than it was when he was a businessman. Bono rose above the allegations and remained popular. He made an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate in 1991. However, in 1994, he successfully ran for Congress where, in addition to his legislative duties, he was appointed by the Speaker of the House to chair the Entertainment Industry Task Force. As a conservative, Bono was known for being outspoken and even blunt in his assessment of policies and issues. That he tempered his views, which included a stand against the National Endowment for the Arts and same sex marriages (this despite the fact that his first daughter Chastity is a lesbian activist), with humor did little to soften their impact. On the other hand, as tough as he was on issues, Bono was also known for his generosity and kindness. Supporters wondered whether or not he was planning to run for the California Senate in 1998, but Bono said that he wouldn't as he wanted to spend more time with his third wife, Mary, and their two children. Sonny Bono died on January 5, 1997, during a ski outing near Lake Tahoe, NV. Though reportedly an expert downhill skier, he apparently strayed from the trail and struck a tree.

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  • Began in the music biz in the 1950s as a promotion man at Specialty Records, where he worked with Sam Cooke, Larry Williams and Little Richard.
  • Moved in the early '60s to Phillies Records, where he became a protégé of famed producer Phil Spector.
  • Cowrote the classic "Needles and Pins," which became a hit for the Searchers in 1964.
  • Met Cher when she was 16 after she'd moved to L.A. looking for fame; he gave her a place to sleep and found her session work at Gold Star.
  • First recorded with Cher as "Caesar and Cleo."
  • Wrote, arranged and produced the classic Sonny & Cher hits "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On."
  • Penned the script for the 1967 Sonny & Cher movie Good Times.
  • The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted as a summer variety series in 1971 before landing on the network's regular schedule in January 1972. It aired until 1974, when news of their impending divorce broke.
  • Worked with Cher post-divorce in 1976 and '77 when they regrouped for The Sonny & Cher Show; also reunited for a one-off reunion on Late Night With David Letterman in 1987.
  • Decided to enter politics after encountering much red tape while trying to get a bigger sign for his Palm Springs restaurant; he ran for mayor in 1988 and won.
  • Ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992, but lost; ran for Congress two years later and won. 
  • Died in a tragic skiing accident.