Sonny Bono

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sonny Bono
Congressional portrait c. 1995
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 44th district
In office
January 3, 1995 – January 5, 1998
Preceded byAl McCandless
Succeeded byMary Bono
16th Mayor of Palm Springs
In office
April 1988 – April 1992
Preceded byFrank Bogert
Succeeded byLloyd Maryanov
Personal details
Salvatore Phillip Bono

(1935-02-16)February 16, 1935
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
DiedJanuary 5, 1998(1998-01-05) (aged 62)
Stateline, Nevada, U.S.
Cause of deathBlunt trauma as a result of a skiing accident
Resting placeDesert Memorial Park, Cathedral City, California, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
  • Donna Rankin
    (m. 1954; div. 1962)
  • (m. 1964; div. 1975)
  • (m. 1981; div. 1984)
  • (m. 1986)
Children4, including Chaz
Residence(s)Palm Springs, California, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • actor
  • politician
Musical career
OriginInglewood, California, U.S.
Years active1963–1998

Salvatore Phillip "Sonny" Bono (/ˈbn/ BOH-noh; February 16, 1935 – January 5, 1998) was an American singer, songwriter, actor, and politician who came to fame in partnership with his second wife, Cher, as the popular singing duo Sonny & Cher. A member of the Republican Party, Bono served as the 16th mayor of Palm Springs, California, from 1988 to 1992, and served as the U.S. representative for California's 44th district from 1995 until his death in 1998.[1]

The United States Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998, which extended the term of copyright by 20 years, was named in honor of Bono when it was passed by Congress nine months after his death. Mary Bono (his widow and successor in Congress) had been one of the original sponsors of the legislation, commonly known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.[2]

Early life[edit]

Bono was born in Detroit, the son of Zena "Jean" (née DiMercurio) and Santo Bono.[3] His father was born in Montelepre, Palermo, Italy, and his mother was also of Italian descent. His mother called him "Sono" as a term of endearment, which evolved over time into "Sonny".[4][5] Sonny was the youngest of three siblings; he had two sisters, Fran and Betty.[3] The family moved to Inglewood, California, when he was seven, and his parents divorced soon afterwards.[3] Bono decided early in life to become part of the music business, and began writing songs as a teenager.[6] "Koko Joe", a song he wrote at age 16, was recorded by Don and Dewey in 1958, and later covered by several other artists including The Righteous Brothers.[7] Bono attended Inglewood High School, but did not graduate, opting to drop out so he could begin to pursue a career as a songwriter and performer.[3][8] He worked at a variety of jobs while trying to break into the music business, including waiter, truck driver, construction laborer, and butcher's helper.[9]


Entertainment career[edit]

Sonny & Cher, 1966

Bono began his music career as a songwriter at Specialty Records, where his song "Things You Do to Me" was recorded by Sam Cooke, and went on to work for record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist and "gofer". One of his earliest songwriting efforts, "Needles and Pins" was co-written with Jack Nitzsche, another member of Spector's production team. In 1965, he achieved commercial success with his wife Cher in the singing duo Sonny & Cher. Bono wrote, arranged and produced a number of hit records including the singles "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On", although Cher received more attention as a performer.[10] He played a major part in Cher's early solo recording career, writing and producing singles including "Bang Bang" and "You Better Sit Down Kids".

Under a pseudonym, Bono co-wrote "She Said Yeah",[11] covered by The Rolling Stones on their 1965 LP December's Children. His lone hit single as a solo artist, "Laugh at Me", was released in 1965 and peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In live concerts, Bono introduced the song by saying "I'd like to sing a medley of my hit". His only other single as a solo artist, "The Revolution Kind", reached No. 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that year. His solo album, Inner Views, was released in 1967.[12]

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 & Cher Comedy Hour, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974. In 1974, his solo variety show, The Sonny Comedy Revue, ran on ABC for one season. From 1976 to 1977, the duo, since divorced, returned to perform together on The Sonny and Cher Show. Their last appearance together was on Late Night with David Letterman on November 13, 1987, on which they sang "I Got You Babe".[13][14]

"What we call a hook hits you, ... then you're almost not writing, lyrics come to you, a sort of magic takes over, and it's not like work at all."

-Sonny Bono on songwriting, 1967 Pop Chronicles interview.[10]

In 2011, Sonny Bono was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.[15]

Film and television[edit]

Bono's acting career included bit parts as a guest performer in such television series as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (appearing with Cher in "The Hot Number Affair"), Fantasy Island, Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat, The Six Million Dollar Man and CHiPs. In the 1975 TV movie Murder on Flight 502, he played the role of rock star Jack Marshall. He appeared in the 1980 miniseries Top of the Hill. He played the role of mad bomber Joe Selucci in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and appeared in the horror film Troll (1986). He also portrayed racist entrepreneur Franklin Von Tussle in the John Waters film Hairspray (1988). He also appeared as the Mayor of Palm Springs (which he actually was at the time) in several episodes of P.S. I Luv U during the 1991–92 TV season, and on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (in season 1, episode 9 "The Man of Steel Bars", which aired November 21, 1993), in which he played Mayor Frank Berkowitz. He also made a minor appearance as himself in the comedy film First Kid (1996). A portrait of Bono also appeared in the VeggieTales episode "Dave and the Giant Pickle"; in the Silly Songs with Larry segment I Love My Lips (original version).

Bono guest-starred as himself on The Golden Girls episode "Mrs. George Devereaux" (originally broadcast November 17, 1990), in which he vied with Lyle Waggoner for Dorothy's (Bea Arthur) affection in a dream sequence. In Blanche's (Rue McClanahan) dream, her husband is still alive, and Bono uses his power as Mayor of Palm Springs to have Waggoner falsely arrested so he can have Dorothy to himself. Sophia (Estelle Getty) had been hoping for Sonny and Dorothy to get together and actively supported Sonny.

Political career[edit]

President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan are greeted by Sonny Bono and Mary Bono on their arrival via Air Force One in Palm Springs, California, December 29, 1988.

Bono entered politics after experiencing frustration with local government bureaucracy while trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. He made a successful bid for mayor, and served from 1988 to 1992.[16] As mayor, Bono spearheaded the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which is held each year in his memory.

Bono ran for the Republican nomination for United States Senate in 1992, but lost to the more conservative Bruce Herschensohn, who lost the general election to Democrat Barbara Boxer. Bono and Herschensohn became close friends after the campaign. In 1994, Bono planned to run for lieutenant governor, but decided to run for Congress when Republican Al McCandless announced his retirement. Bono won the Republican nomination and the general election to represent California's 44th congressional district. He was reelected in 1996, and served from January 1995 until his death.

In the House, Bono was one of 12 co-sponsors of a House bill extending copyright.[17] 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. It is also known (derisively) as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.[18]

He championed the restoration of the Salton Sea,[19] bringing the giant lake's plight to national attention. In 1998, then 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 he 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-one pop single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.[20]

Personal life[edit]


Bono was married four times. He 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 Cherilyn Sarkisian, later known as singer and actress Cher. The couple had one child named Chastity, later known as Chaz, born in 1969. The couple divorced in 1975.[8]

On New Year's Eve 1981 Bono married actress-model Susie Coelho,[21] they divorced in 1984.[22]

In 1986 he married Mary Whitaker. The couple had two children: son Chesare Elan in 1988 and daughter Chianna Maria in 1991. Mary was widowed by Sonny's death.[8]


Bono was a godparent of Anthony Kiedis of the band Red Hot Chili Peppers; he was a close friend of Kiedis's father, Blackie Dammett.[23][24]

Salton Sea[edit]

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[25] (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.


He became interested in Scientology and took Scientology courses partly because of the influence of Mimi Rogers, but stated that he was a Roman Catholic on all official documents, campaign materials and websites.[26] His wife Mary also took Scientology courses.[27][28] However, after his death, Mary Bono stated that "Sonny did try to break away [from the Church of Scientology] at one point, and they made it very difficult for him." The Church of Scientology said there was no estrangement from Bono.[29]


External videos
video icon Memorial Service, U.S. Capitol, January 28, 1998, C-SPAN
Sonny Bono's headstone at Desert Memorial Park

Bono died on January 5, 1998, of injuries incurred when he hit a tree while skiing at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California.[30][31]

At Mary's request, Cher gave a eulogy at Sonny's funeral. He was buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California.[32][33] The epitaph on Bono's headstone reads "AND THE BEAT GOES ON".[34]

Mary Bono was elected to fill the remainder of her husband's congressional term. She was elected in her own right seven subsequent times before being defeated in the election of 2012.[35]

Honors and tributes[edit]

Sonny Bono has been honored and memorialized with:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "CNN – Sonny Bono killed in skiing accident – Jan. 6, 1997". CNN.
  2. ^ "U.S. Copyright Office: Annual Report 2002: Litigation". Retrieved January 21, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d Larocque, Jason (2013). Cher: You Haven't Seen The Last of Me. Charlotte, NC: Baker & Taylor. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-300-88858-1.
  4. ^ "Sonny Bono Biography". Yahoo! Movies. Archived from the original on February 17, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  5. ^ Kephart, Robert (February 16, 2016). "Palm Springs Remembers Sonny Bono – February 16, 1935 – January 5, 1998". I Love Palm Springs!. Palm Springs, CA: Palm Springs Guru.
  6. ^ Morris, Chris; Holland, Bill (January 17, 1998). "Bono Recalled as Politician and Performer". Billboard. New York, NY. p. 16.
  7. ^ Hodenfield, Chris (May 24, 1973). "As Bare As You Dare With Sonny and Cher". Rolling Stone. New York, NY.
  8. ^ a b c Yates, Nona (January 7, 1998). "Sonny Bono, a Chronology". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  9. ^ Bego, Mark (2001). Cher: If You Believe. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-58979-135-0.
  10. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 44 – Revolt of the Fat Angel: Some samples of the Los Angeles sound. [Part 4]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries. Track 1.
  11. ^ "BMI | Songview Search".
  12. ^ "Sonny Bono – Inner Views – from Rhino Handmade". Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  13. ^ "Sonny & Cher Boost Ratings". The New Mexican. Santa Fe, New Mexico. November 29, 1987, p. 35, accessed through on March 13, 2009.
  14. ^ "Sonny and Cher Reunited on David Letterman Show." Aiken Standard. Aiken, South Carolina. November 15, 1987. p. 3. accessed through on March 13, 2009.
  15. ^ Johnson, Gary. "Michigan Rock and Roll Legends – Sonny Bono".
  16. ^ "Bono, Sonny – Biographical Information". Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  17. ^ "Bill Summary & Status – 105th Congress (1997–1998) – H.R.2589 – THOMAS (Library of Congress)". March 26, 1998. Archived from the original on November 27, 2008. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  18. ^ Lawrence Lessig, Copyright's First Amendment, 48 UCLA L. Rev. 1057, 1065 (2001)
  19. ^ "Salton Sea rescue to be named for Sonny Bono". CNN. January 16, 1998.
  20. ^ "Rewinding the Charts: Fifty Years Ago, Sonny & Cher 'Got' to No. 1". Billboard. Retrieved December 2, 2017.
  21. ^ "Singer-actor Sonny Bono". Reading Eagle. (Pennsylvania). UPI photo. January 2, 1982. p. 6.
  22. ^ "Bono Takes Third Trip To The Altar". The Tampa Tribune. January 2, 1982.Free access icon
  23. ^ "Anthony Kiedis". Angelfire. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  24. ^ "Kiedis' Bedroom Joy With Cher". October 11, 2004. Retrieved April 25, 2012.
  25. ^ "Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea". Archived from the original on July 2, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  26. ^ Wright, Lawrence (November 5, 2013). Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the prison of belief. New York City: Vintage. pp. 249–50. ISBN 978-0-307-74530-9.
  27. ^ Pareene, Alex (February 10, 2011). "The Cult of Scientology's friends in Washington". Salon. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
  28. ^ Bardach, Ann (August 1999). "Proud Mary Bono". George.
  29. ^ Babington, Charles (July 15, 1999). "Bono Not Receptive to Scientologists". The Washington Post. p. A5. Retrieved September 24, 2017.
  30. ^ Claiborne, William (January 7, 1998). "Sonny Bono Is Killed in Ski Crash". The Washington Post.
  31. ^ "Sonny Bono Killed in Skiing Accident". CNN. January 6, 1998. Archived from the original on September 26, 2016. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  32. ^ "Palm Springs Cemetery District "Interments of Interest"" (PDF). Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  33. ^ 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. ISBN 978-0-7627-4101-4.
  34. ^ Pilato, Herbie J. (July 20, 2016). Dashing, Daring, and Debonair: TV's Top Male Icons from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-63076-053-3 – via Google Books.
  35. ^ Lochhead, Carolyn (November 7, 2012). "Mary Bono Mack defeated in Palm Springs upset". San Francisco Chronicle. Archived from the original on November 12, 2012. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  36. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012.
  37. ^ Leech, Marie (September 14, 2000). "Proposed Fountain Would Honor Sonny Bono". The Desert Sun.
  38. ^ Trone, Kimberly (January 11, 2002). "Freeway Signs Pay Tribute to Bono". The Desert Sun. p. B1.
  39. ^ "Airport Adds Sonny Bono Concourse". Billboard. AP. October 29, 2002. Retrieved June 18, 2019.
  40. ^ Guzman, Richard (November 17, 2001). "Palm Springs inaugurates Bono tribute". The Desert Sun.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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

January 3, 1995 – January 5, 1998
Succeeded by