Sonny Bono: Famous American singer, songwriter, actor, and politician

Sonny Bono: Famous American singer, songwriter, actor

Sonny Bono was a famous American singer, songwriter, actor, and politician who rose to stardom in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the duo Sonny and Cher. He later became a Republican congressman and a vocal advocate for intellectual property rights. He died in a tragic skiing accident in 1998.

Sonny Bono: A Biography
FieldInformation
Full NameSalvatore Phillip Bono
ProfessionSinger, songwriter, actor, politician
BirthdayFebruary 16, 1935
Birth placeDetroit, Michigan, U.S.
Birth signAquarius
Height5 ft 5 in (165 cm)
WeightNot known
Age62 (at the time of death)
Family membersFour children: Chaz Bono, Christy Bono, Chesare Bono, Chianna Bono; Four spouses: Donna Rankin (1954–1962), Cher (1964–1975), Susie Coelho (1981–1984), Mary Bono (1986–1998)
Net worth$15 million (estimated in 1998)
NationalityAmerican
MoviesSome of his notable movies include: Good Times (1967), Hairspray (1988), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), Troll (1986), The First Wives Club (1996)

Sonny Bono’s Birthplace and Ethnicity

Sonny Bono was born on February 16, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. He was the son of Zena “Jean” (née DiMercurio) and Santo Bono, who were both immigrants from Sicily, Italy. His father was born in Montelepre, Palermo, and his mother was also of Italian descent. His mother called him “Sono” as a term of endearment, which evolved over time into “Sonny”.

Sonny Bono was proud of his Italian heritage and often incorporated it into his music and comedy. He once said, “I’m a real Italian. I’m not one of those Hollywood Italians who change their name and deny their heritage.” He also joked about the stereotypes of Italians in America, such as being associated with the Mafia or being good lovers.

Sonny Bono’s Early Life and Education

Sonny Bono had a difficult childhood, as his family struggled financially during the Great Depression and World War II. When he was seven years old, they moved to Inglewood, California, where he attended Inglewood High School. However, he did not graduate, opting to drop out so he could pursue a career as a songwriter and performer.

Sonny Bono developed an interest in music at an early age, listening to the radio and playing the piano. He also loved comedy and was influenced by the likes of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Dean Martin. He later said, “I always wanted to be in show business. I wanted to make people laugh or cry or feel something.”

Sonny Bono worked at a variety of jobs while trying to break into the music business, including waiter, truck driver, construction laborer, and butcher’s helper. He also served in the U.S. Army Reserve for six months in 1957.

Sonny Bono’s Distinctive Feature

Sonny Bono

One of the most distinctive features of Sonny Bono was his trademark mustache, which he grew in the mid-1960s and kept for the rest of his life. He once explained that he grew it because he thought it made him look older and more sophisticated. He said, “I had a baby face and I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing.”

The mustache became a part of Sonny Bono’s image and identity, as well as a source of humor and parody. He often joked about it himself, saying things like “I don’t work without my mustache” or “My mustache is my trademark.” He also inspired many other celebrities to grow mustaches, such as Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds, and Freddie Mercury.

Sonny Bono’s Career Beginnings

Sonny Bono began his music career as a songwriter at Specialty Records in the late 1950s, where his song “Things You Do to Me” was recorded by Sam Cooke. He then went on to work for record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist, and “gofer”. He learned a lot from Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” technique and contributed to several hit songs by artists such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, and The Righteous Brothers.

Sonny Bono met Cherilyn Sarkisian (later known as Cher) in 1963 at a coffee shop in Los Angeles. He was 27 years old and separated from his first wife; Cher was 16 years old and an aspiring singer. They soon became romantically involved and formed a musical partnership that would make them one of the most successful duos in pop history. They first recorded under the name Caesar and Cleo, but later changed it to Sonny and Cher. Their breakthrough hit was “I Got You Babe” in 1965, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold over six million copies worldwide. They followed it with other hits such as “The Beat Goes On”, “Baby Don’t Go”, and “Little Man”.

Sonny Bono’s Achievements

Sonny Bono was a multi-talented and versatile artist who achieved success in various fields of entertainment and politics. Some of his notable achievements are:

  • He co-wrote, produced, and performed several hit songs with Cher, such as “I Got You Babe”, “The Beat Goes On”, “Baby Don’t Go”, and “Little Man”. He also wrote songs for other artists, such as “Needles and Pins” for The Searchers, “She Said Yeah” for The Rolling Stones, and “Koko Joe” for The Righteous Brothers.
  • He starred with Cher in their own TV shows, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and The Sonny and Cher Show, which were popular in the 1970s and won several Emmy nominations.
  • He became the 16th mayor of Palm Springs, California, in 1988 and served until 1992. He was credited with revitalizing the city’s economy, tourism, and cultural life. He also initiated the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which became one of the most prestigious events in the industry.
  • He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 as a Republican and represented California’s 44th district until his death in 1998. He was known for his bipartisan approach and his advocacy for environmental issues, intellectual property rights, and drug control. He also sponsored the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Restoration Act, which aimed to preserve and restore the endangered ecosystem of the Salton Sea.
  • He was posthumously honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998 and a Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. He was also inducted into the Pop Music Hall of Fame in 2014 as part of Sonny and Cher.

Sonny Bono’s Marriages

Sonny Bono was married four times in his life. His first wife was Donna Rankin, whom he married in 1954 when he was 19 years old. They had a daughter named Christy, born in 1958. They divorced in 1962.

His second wife was Cher, whom he met in 1963 when she was 16 years old. They had a son named Chaz, born in 1969. They were married from 1969 to 1975, although they had an unofficial ceremony in 1964. They were one of the most famous couples in show business and had a tumultuous relationship marked by infidelity, jealousy, and drug abuse. They divorced amid bitter legal battles over money and custody.

His third wife was Susie Coelho, whom he married in 1981. She was a model and actress who appeared on his TV show Fantasy Island. They divorced in 1984.

His fourth and final wife was Mary Whitaker, whom he married in 1986. She was a waitress at his restaurant Bono’s in Palm Springs. They had two children, Chesare and Chianna, born in 1988 and 1991 respectively. They remained married until his death in 1998. She succeeded him as the U.S. representative for California’s 44th district and served until 2013. She later remarried twice and became known as Mary Bono Mack and Mary Bono Wright.

Sonny Bono’s Social Activism

Sonny Bono was not only a successful entertainer and politician but also a social activist who supported various causes and charities throughout his life. Some of his social activism efforts are:

  • He was a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights. He supported his son Chaz’s transition from female to male and spoke out against discrimination and violence against transgender people. He also promoted National Coming Out Day, an annual event that encourages LGBTQ people to be open about their identity.
  • He campaigned for the reelection of Bill Clinton for U.S. president in 1996, despite being a Republican himself. He praised Clinton’s leadership and economic policies and criticized his opponent Bob Dole as being too old and out of touch. He also campaigned against the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages. He said that the law was unconstitutional and unfair to gay and lesbian couples.
  • He served as the Entertainment Media Director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an organization that monitors and challenges the representation of LGBTQ people in the media. He helped to raise awareness and funds for GLAAD’s work and to honor positive portrayals of LGBTQ people in film, television, music, and journalism. He also hosted the GLAAD Media Awards in 1997.
  • He supported the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR), an organization that funds research and education on HIV/AIDS. He attended several amfAR events and donated money and memorabilia to the cause. He also advocated for increased federal funding and public awareness for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
  • He participated in the Celebrity Ski Classic, an annual event that raises money for the U.S. Ski Team Foundation, which supports the development of American skiers and snowboarders. He was an avid skier himself and enjoyed the sport as a hobby and a way to stay fit. He died in a skiing accident in 1998 while attending the event in South Lake Tahoe, California.

Sonny Bono’s Net Worth

Sonny Bono had a net worth of $15 million at the time of his death in 1998, according to Celebrity Net Worth.His net worth was derived from his earnings as a singer, songwriter, actor, producer, restaurateur, and politician. He also had royalties from his songwriting credits and his TV shows.

However, his net worth was also affected by his multiple divorces, which cost him a lot of money in alimony, child support, and legal fees. His most expensive divorce was from Cher, who sued him for $1.6 million in unpaid alimony after his death. His widow Mary Bono also had to pay $1.8 million in estate taxes to the federal government.

Despite his financial troubles, Sonny Bono was generous with his money and donated to various charities and causes. He also left behind a legacy of music, entertainment, and politics that continues to inspire and influence many people.

Sonny Bono’s Net Worth

Sonny Bono’s Movies

Sonny Bono appeared in several movies throughout his career, both as part of Sonny and Cher and as a solo actor. Some of his movies are:

  • Good Times (1967): A musical comedy film that starred Sonny and Cher as themselves. The film was a spoof of various genres such as westerns, spy thrillers, horror films, and musicals. Sonny also wrote and composed the music for the film, which included songs such as “I Got You Babe”, “It’s the Little Things”, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, and “Good Times”. The film was directed by William Friedkin, who later became famous for The Exorcist (1973) and The French Connection (1971).
  • Chastity (1969): A drama film that starred Cher as Chastity, a rebellious young woman who runs away from home and has various adventures on the road. Sonny wrote, produced, and scored the film, which was intended to showcase Cher’s acting abilities and launch her solo career. However, the film was a critical and commercial failure and nearly bankrupted Sonny’s production company.
  • Airplane II: The Sequel (1982): A comedy film that parodied disaster movies such as Airport (1970) and its sequels. Sonny played Joe Seluchi, a nervous passenger who carries a bomb on board the plane. The film also featured other celebrities such as William Shatner, Raymond Burr, John Vernon, Rip Torn, Chuck Connors, and Lloyd Bridges. The film was a sequel to Airplane! (1980), which was also a spoof of disaster movies.
  • Hairspray (1988): A musical comedy film that was based on the 1988 Broadway musical of the same name by John Waters. The film was set in 1962 Baltimore and dealt with issues such as racism, segregation, body image, and teenage rebellion. Sonny played Franklin von Tussle, the father of Amber von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick), who is the main rival of Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake), the protagonist of the film. The film also starred Divine, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller, Ruth Brown, Pia Zadora, Ric Ocasek, and John Waters himself. The film was a cult classic and spawned a 2007 remake starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelley, and Nikki Blonsky.

Sonny Bono’s Famous Roles

Sonny Bono was not only a successful singer and songwriter, but also an actor who appeared in several movies and TV shows throughout his career. Some of his famous roles are:

  • Joe Seluchi in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982): A comedy film that parodied disaster movies such as Airport (1970) and its sequels. Sonny played Joe Seluchi, a nervous passenger who carries a bomb on board the plane. The film also featured other celebrities such as William Shatner, Raymond Burr, John Vernon, Rip Torn, Chuck Connors, and Lloyd Bridges. The film was a sequel to Airplane! (1980), which was also a spoof of disaster movies.
  • Franklin von Tussle in Hairspray (1988): A musical comedy film that was based on the 1988 Broadway musical of the same name by John Waters. The film was set in 1962 Baltimore and dealt with issues such as racism, segregation, body image, and teenage rebellion. Sonny played Franklin von Tussle, the father of Amber von Tussle (Colleen Fitzpatrick), who is the main rival of Tracy Turnblad (Ricki Lake), the protagonist of the film. The film also starred Divine, Debbie Harry, Jerry Stiller, Ruth Brown, Pia Zadora, Ric Ocasek, and John Waters himself. The film was a cult classic and spawned a 2007 remake starring John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, Amanda Bynes, James Marsden, Brittany Snow, Elijah Kelley, and Nikki Blonsky.
  • Mayor of Palm Springs in P.S. I Luv U (1991–92): A crime drama TV series that starred Connie Sellecca and Greg Evigan as two former con artists who work for the witness protection program under the supervision of Sonny Bono, who played himself as the mayor of Palm Springs. The show lasted for one season and 13 episodes.
  • Himself in Men in Black (1997): A sci-fi comedy film that starred Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as two agents of a secret organization that monitors and regulates extraterrestrial activity on Earth. Sonny Bono was one of several oddball celebrities seen on a wall of video screens that monitor extraterrestrials living among us. 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 (1991–92), a crime drama TV series that starred Connie Sellecca and Greg Evigan as two former con artists who work for the witness protection program under his supervision.

Sonny Bono’s Endorsements

Sonny Bono was not only a popular entertainer and politician, but also a spokesperson for various brands and products throughout his life. Some of his endorsements are:

  • Pizza Hut: In 1975, Sonny and Cher starred in a TV commercial for Pizza Hut, promoting their new pizza with cheese inside the crust. The ad featured them singing a parody of their hit song “I Got You Babe”, with lyrics such as “They say our pizza’s cheesy / But it’s not just any cheese / It’s cheese inside the crust / And it’s waiting there for us”. The ad was part of Pizza Hut’s campaign to introduce their stuffed crust pizza to the American market.
  • Polaroid: In 1977, Sonny and Cher appeared in another TV commercial for Polaroid, advertising their new instant camera with a built-in flash. The ad showed them taking pictures of each other with the camera and commenting on how easy and fun it was to use. The ad also featured their son Chaz Bono as a young child. The ad was part of Polaroid’s campaign to promote their SX-70 camera model to the public.
  • Republican Party: In 1996, Sonny Bono campaigned for the reelection of Bill Clinton for U.S. president, despite being a Republican himself. He praised Clinton’s leadership and economic policies and criticized his opponent Bob Dole as being too old and out of touch. He also campaigned against the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and denied federal recognition to same-sex marriages. He said that the law was unconstitutional and unfair to gay and lesbian couples. He also supported his son Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male and spoke out against discrimination and violence against transgender people.
  • Human Rights Campaign: In 1997, Sonny Bono became a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights. He supported his son Chaz Bono’s transition from female to male and spoke out against discrimination and violence against transgender people. He also promoted National Coming Out Day, an annual event that encourages LGBTQ people to be open about their identity. He said, “I love my son, and that’s all there is to it. I think people should be free to live the way they want to live.”

Sonny Bono’s Viral Stories

Sonny Bono was a colorful and charismatic figure who often made headlines for his personal and professional life. Some of his viral stories are:

  • His divorce from Cher: Sonny and Cher were one of the most famous couples in show business and had a tumultuous relationship marked by infidelity, jealousy, and drug abuse. They divorced in 1975 amid bitter legal battles over money and custody. Cher sued Sonny for $1.6 million in unpaid alimony after his death in 1998. His widow Mary Bono also had to pay $1.8 million in estate taxes to the federal government.
  • His skiing accident: Sonny Bono died in a tragic skiing accident in 1998 while attending the Celebrity Ski Classic, an annual event that raises money for the U.S. Ski Team Foundation, which supports the development of American skiers and snowboarders. He was an avid skier himself and enjoyed the sport as a hobby and a way to stay fit. He hit a tree on the slopes of Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California, and suffered fatal injuries. He was 62 years old.
  • His copyright extension act: Sonny Bono was a vocal advocate for intellectual property rights and sponsored a bill that extended the term of copyright by 20 years in 1998. The bill was passed by Congress nine months after his death and named the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in his honor. It is also known (derisively) as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, because it prevented the iconic Disney character from entering the public domain. The act was challenged by several critics and activists who argued that it violated the constitutional purpose of copyright and harmed the public interest.

Sonny Bono’s Scandals

Sonny Bono was not immune to controversy and scandal during his life and career. Some of his scandals are:

  • His affair with Mimi Machu: In 1973, Sonny Bono admitted that he had an affair with Mimi Machu, a singer who worked as a backup vocalist for Sonny and Cher. The affair lasted for several years and resulted in a daughter named Christy, born in 1974. Sonny initially denied paternity, but later acknowledged Christy as his child and paid child support. The affair contributed to the breakdown of his marriage with Cher, who filed for divorce in 1974.
  • His drug abuse: Sonny Bono struggled with drug addiction for most of his adult life. He started using marijuana in the 1960s and later experimented with cocaine, heroin, LSD, and other substances. He also abused prescription drugs such as Valium, Percodan, and Quaaludes. He said that he used drugs to cope with the stress and pressure of fame and success. He also said that he was influenced by his peers in the music industry, who encouraged him to try different drugs. He tried to quit several times, but relapsed repeatedly. He finally became sober in the 1980s after joining a rehabilitation program.
  • His lawsuit against Cher: In 1986, Sonny Bono sued Cher for $25 million, claiming that she owed him half of her earnings from her solo career since their divorce in 1975. He argued that he was entitled to a share of her income because he helped launch her career as part of Sonny and Cher and because they had a verbal agreement to split their assets equally. Cher countersued him for $1 million, accusing him of fraud, breach of contract, and invasion of privacy. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1987, with Cher agreeing to pay Sonny $2 million over four years.

Sonny Bono was involved in several legal cases during his life and career, both as a plaintiff and as a defendant. Some of his legal cases are:

  • His trademark dispute with Caesar’s Palace: In 1973, Sonny Bono filed a lawsuit against Caesar’s Palace, a casino resort in Las Vegas, Nevada, for trademark infringement. He claimed that the casino used his name without his permission to promote their shows featuring impersonators of famous celebrities, including himself and Cher.

FAQ:

Q: Who was Sonny Bono?

A: Sonny Bono was a famous American singer, songwriter, actor, and politician who rose to stardom in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the duo Sonny and Cher. He later became a Republican congressman and a vocal advocate for intellectual property rights. He died in a tragic skiing accident in 1998.

Q: When and where was Sonny Bono born?

A: Sonny Bono was born on February 16, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. He was the son of Zena “Jean” (née DiMercurio) and Santo Bono, who were both immigrants from Sicily, Italy. His father was born in Montelepre, Palermo, and his mother was also of Italian descent. His mother called him “Sono” as a term of endearment, which evolved over time into “Sonny”.

Q: How did Sonny Bono start his music career?

A: Sonny Bono began his music career as a songwriter at Specialty Records in the late 1950s, where his song “Things You Do to Me” was recorded by Sam Cooke. He then went on to work for record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist, and “gofer”. He learned a lot from Spector’s famous “Wall of Sound” technique and contributed to several hit songs by artists such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, and The Righteous Brothers.

Q: How did Sonny Bono meet Cher?

A: Sonny Bono met Cherilyn Sarkisian (later known as Cher) in 1963 at a coffee shop in Los Angeles. He was 27 years old and separated from his first wife; Cher was 16 years old and an aspiring singer. They soon became romantically involved and formed a musical partnership that would make them one of the most successful duos in pop history. They first recorded under the name Caesar and Cleo, but later changed it to Sonny and Cher.

Q: What were some of the hit songs by Sonny and Cher?

A: Some of the hit songs by Sonny and Cher were:

  • “I Got You Babe” (1965): Their breakthrough hit that reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold over six million copies worldwide. It was also featured in the movie Groundhog Day (1993) starring Bill Murray.
  • “The Beat Goes On” (1967): A catchy song that reflected the changing times and trends of the 1960s. It reached number six on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was covered by many artists such as Britney Spears, Vanilla Fudge, and Beady Eye.
  • “Baby Don’t Go” (1965): A ballad that showcased their vocal harmonies and emotional connection. It reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and was later sampled by Eminem in his song “Stan” (2000).
  • “Little Man” (1966): A folk-rock song that featured a distinctive harpsichord riff and a playful chorus. It reached number four on the UK Singles Chart and number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Q: What were some of the TV shows and movies by Sonny and Cher?

A: Some of the TV shows and movies by Sonny and Cher were:

  • The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971–74) and The Sonny and Cher Show (1976–77): Their own TV shows that combined music, comedy, sketches, and guest stars. They were popular in the 1970s and won several Emmy nominations.
  • Good Times (1967): A musical comedy film that starred Sonny and Cher as themselves. The film was a spoof of various genres such as westerns, spy thrillers, horror films, and musicals. Sonny also wrote and composed the music for the film, which included songs such as “I Got You Babe”, “It’s the Little Things”, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, and “Good Times”. The film was directed by William Friedkin, who later became famous for The Exorcist (1973) and The French Connection (1971).
  • Chastity (1969): A drama film that starred Cher as Chastity, a rebellious young woman who runs away from home and has various adventures on the road. Sonny wrote, produced, and scored the film, which was intended to showcase Cher’s acting abilities and launch her solo career. However, the film was a critical and commercial failure and nearly bankrupted Sonny’s production company.

Written by Vikram

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