Who Was Sonny Bono?
Sonny Bono started his career as a singer in the mid-1960s with then-girlfriend Cher. Their biggest hit was "I Got You Babe." Bono's singing career waned, but he stepped back into the public eye when he became mayor of Palm Springs, California in 1988. In 1994, he was elected to Congress as a representative from California's 44th Congressional District. He unexpectedly died in a skiing accident in 1998.
Early Life and Career
Born Salvatore Phillip Bono on February 16, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, Bono began his music career as a songwriter and singer for Johnny Otis's Dig Records label in the early 1960s. He was the son of immigrants from Sicily. His family moved to Los Angeles when he was around seven years old.
Bono attended Inglewood High School, but he dropped out. After leaving school, he took on a number of jobs while trying to make it as a songwriter. He worked as a waiter, a truck driver and a construction worker before making it in the music business. Bono's career eventually took off and he worked with the likes of Sam Cooke and Phil Spector.
Sonny and Cher
In the early 1960s, Bono's life changed after meeting a young woman named Cherilyn Sarkisian, better known as Cher. The couple formed a professional and personal partnership that became part of entertainment history. They scored the greatest hit of their career in 1965 with "I Got You Babe," which went to the top of the pop charts. Sonny and Cher had married the previous year. It was Bono's second marriage.
More hits followed over the next few years with such songs as "Baby Don't Go" and "The Beat Goes On." Sonny and Cher also became a popular nightclub act. Their shows combined singing with comedy and featured Sonny as the straight man to Cher's light-hearted jibes. The duo took their entertaining stage personas to the small screen, appearing in The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour beginning during the summer of 1971. Sometimes the couple's young daughter, Chastity (now known as Chaz Bono), would appear on the show. The program enjoyed great popularity for several years before going off the air in 1974. While Sonny and Cher split up in 1975, they tried to recapture their television success with another show in 1976. This latest effort failed to generate strong ratings.
While his music and acting career faded after parting ways with Cher, Bono soon found a new vocation. The former showman had transformed himself into a conservative Republican. He entered the political arena, running for mayor of Palm Springs, California, in the late 1980s. Bono won that post, serving as the town from 1988 to 1992.
Before long, Bono set his sights on national office. He made an unsuccessful run for the Senate in 1992. Two years later, Bono was elected to Congress as a Representative from California's 44th Congressional District. He became a popular figure within the Republican Party, known for his wit and his deeply conservative views.
On January 5, 1998, Bono was on holiday with his fourth wife Mary Whitaker Bono and their two children. The family was spending the day skiing when he suffered a terrible accident. Bono had skied into a wooden area and collided with a tree. The crash caused extensive head trauma, which resulted in Bono's death. He was survived by wife Mary, their children Chesare and Chianna, and his two daughters from previous marriages, Chastity and Christy.
Not long after his passing, his widow agreed to run for his congressional seat. She won election to Congress and served their district until 2003. Mary represented California's 45th district until 2013.
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