Sunday, January 5, 2014

Remembering Salvatore "Sonny" Bono February 16, 1935 - January 5, 1998

"He had a vision of the future and just how he was going to build it, and his enthusiasm was so great that he just swept everyone along with him.  We didn't know where he was going, but we just wanted to be there."  -Cher

Sonny the Congressman
These were the words spoken by his former wife and singing partner at the funeral of Sonny Bono, the recording artist, record producer, actor, and politician whose career spanned over three decades.

Savatore "Sonny" Bono was born in Detroit, Michigan to Italian immigrants.  He was the youngest of three children that included his two older sisters.  Sonny attended Inglewood High School in Inglewood, California but did not graduate.

Sonny the performer
He always had a love for writing music.  Initially he wrote music for other performers.  He penned a popular song in 1965 called "Needles and Pins" that was recorded by The Searchers.  He also wrote "Things You Do to Me" for the late, great Sam Cooke.  He soon began performing with his then wife, Cher and the duo "Sonny and Cher" became a huge hit with such songs as "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." He later was instrumental in Cher's solo career with the writing of songs "Bang Bang" and "You Better Sit Down Kids."  Bono co-wrote "She Said Yea" for the Rolling Stones and he solo recorded another song he wrote named "Laugh At Me" that rose to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

As their popularity continued to rise, they became stars on their own variety show on Sunday evenings called "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" that ran on CBS from 1971-74.  It was during that show that their daughter, Chastity was introduced to the world.  In 1974, Sonny and Cher's marriage faltered and the show ended.  Cher's music career continued to flourish after their divorce.  Sonny's life began to change direction. Sonny continued doing some acting doing small roles on television including "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat" He also played a mad bomber in "Airplane II: The Sequel" and in the horror film "Troll"  He poked fun at himself on an episode of "The Golden Girls."  Sonny would eventually open two restaurants in the Palm Springs, California area. After having some difficulty with City Hall on zoning and other issues, Sonny decided to run for mayor.  He was successful when he was elected in 1988.  He soon aspired to a higher challenge in politics when he ran for the U.S. Senate.  He lost in the primaries but waged another campaign for a congressional seat in 1994 that resulted in him becoming Congressman Sonny Bono.  Sonny became very effective and was popular on Capitol Hill.  He remarried for the fourth time to his wife, Mary and they had two children.  While in office, Sonny championed the restoration of the Salton Sea that brought national attention.  He became good friends of Newt Gingrich and would often give Newt advice on dealing with celebrity status.  Sonny Bono remains the only member of Congress to have scored a #1single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Sonny was married a total of four times.  He had a daughter to his first wife, Donna and was married  twice after his marriage to Cher.  Sonny and his wife, Mary became interested in Scientology even though Sonny was of the Roman Catholic faith.

While vacationing on the Nevada side of the Heavenly Ski Resort, Sonny decided to take in some snow skiing on January 5, 1998.  While traveling down the slope, Sonny veered off course and hit a tree that proved to be fatal.  His wife, Mary claimed that Sonny was addicted to prescription drugs that caused the accident.  However, no drugs were found in his system during the autopsy and Sonny's mother and several friends disputed Mary's claim.

Congressman Sonny Bono's funeral program at prayer card
The 62 year old Congressman Sonny Bono's funeral was held on Friday, January 9, 1998 at the St. Theresa Catholic Church in Palm Springs, Florida (program pictured) under the direction of Wiefel's & Son Funeral Directors.  Among those who paid tribute to Sonny was his former singing partner and wife, Cher along with then Governor of California, Pete Wilson and the Honorable Newt Gingrich.  The funeral was nationally televised on CNN.  Gingrich said of his friend and colleague "In some way, Sonny was a living beatitude.  He walked up, you looked at him and you thought to yourself, "This can't be a famous person.  He smiled, he said something, and then you said to yourself, He can't be a serious person.  Four jokes and two stories later, you were pouring your heart out to him, he was helping you solve a problem, and you began to realize this was a very hard working, very thoughtful man who covered up a great deal of his abilities with his wonderful sense of humor."

Following Sonny's funeral mass, the funeral procession carried his remains to the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California to his place of rest after he was given military honors.

 Sonny's epitaph reads "And The Beat Goes On"

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