Obituary: Sonny Bono

Salvatore Phillip Bono (Sonny Bono), singer, songwriter and politician: born Detroit, Michigan 12 February 1935; three times married (two sons, two daughters); died Lake Tahoe, California 5 January 1997.

Although Sonny Bono became a well-known Republican politician in the 1980s, he is best remembered as part of the hippie duo that he formed with his wife Cher and for their transatlantic 1965 chart-topper "I Got You Babe".

Sonny Bono's story is typical of the American dream - he was born Salvatore Bono in 1935 into a poor family of Sicilian immigrants in Detroit. The family moved to Inglewood, California, when he was seven and from an early age he set his sights on the film and music industry in Hollywood. He wrote his first song, "Ko Ko Jo", while working at a grocery store: its title came from a brand of cookies and it was subsequently recorded by the Righteous Brothers.

In 1957 he began working for the independent record label Speciality, where part of his job was as chauffeur to Little Richard. Bono wrote two frenzied rock 'n' roll songs, "She Said Yeah", which was later recorded by the Rolling Stones, and "You Bug Me Baby", which was the B-side of Larry Wiliams's rock 'n' roll classic "Bony Moronie".

By the early Sixties, Bono was hiring musicians and promoting records for the legendary producer Phil Spector. Bono brought his girlfriend, Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPierre, known as Cher, to the sessions and they sang backing vocals on "Da Doo Ron Ron", "Be My Baby" and Spector's famed album A Christmas Gift to You (1963). Cher said of Sonny, "He was kinda ugly and short and strange-looking, but there was something about him."

Sonny and Cher were married in 1963 - it was his second marriage - and, using their own money, released "Baby Don't Go", as Caesar and Cleo. It later became a Top Ten record in the wake of "I Got You Babe". Sonny's best song, "Needles and Pins", written with Spector's arranger, Jack Nitzshe, became a No 1 for the the Searchers in 1964.

Sonny and Cher's manager hired out props for Hollywood productions, which prompted them to experiment with their own clothing. Spurred by the folk- rock boom, Sonny wrote "I Got You Babe", which became a hit in 1965, and they played the part of loving, rebellious, teenage hippies. Sonny's first marriage and true age of 30 were never mentioned.

The tall Cher and short Sonny stole the headlines wherever they went. When they came to the UK later that year, Sonny wore a fur jerkin, an oversized shirt, and striped pants with Eskimo boots; at the time, the Beatles were still wearing suits. Sonny and Cher's UK publicist, Larry Page, recalls, "I arranged for them to be thrown out of the Dorchester Hotel and they then pitched a wigwam on Hyde Park. It was excellent publicity."

Their follow-up, "But You're Mine", also made the Top Twenty and has arguably the worst B-side of all time, "Hello", in which Sonny and Cher do nothing but say hello to their fans. They had another Top Twenty hit with Gilbert Becaud's "Et Maintenant", now called "What Now My Love", but the song's nuances were beyond Sonny's vocal ability. They recorded a best-selling album, Look At Us (1965) and made a film, Good Times (1966).

Sonny and Cher also had solo hits. Sonny produced Cher's hit records "All I Really Want To Do" and "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)", the latter, written by Sonny, was also recorded by Frank Sinatra. On his own, Sonny recorded the risible though successful "Laugh at Me", while the resulting album, Inner Voices, was rejected by even their staunchest fans.

In 1966 Sonny and Cher returned to the Top Ten with "Little Man" but "The Beat Goes On", which is now regarded as a classic Sixties single, only made No 29 in the UK. In 1968 Sonny invested their money into an unwatchable film, Chastity, also the name of their daughter. They lost the money, but Sonny tried to shield Cher from the disaster by buying her expensive presents with loans. By the time she finally discovered what was happening, their financial position was even more precarious.

The couple reinvented themselves to suit the Las Vegas showrooms. Instead of loving sweet talk, they had argumentative banter between songs, and the audiences loved it. CBS television gave them a primetime slot for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971-74) and they returned to the charts - Cher with "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" and Sonny and Cher with "All I Ever Need is You" and "A Cowboy's Work is Never Done". Once again, they blew it by releasing dross, this time the two-part single, "Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer - Papa Used to Write All her Songs".

Sonny and Cher's marriage split up in 1974 (Cher later had a much-publicised nine-day marriage with Gregg Allman), but they continued to work together until 1977, the year that Smokie took "Needles and Pins" back into the Top Ten.

Sonny Bono took occasional acting roles, appearing in episodes of the television series Fantasy Island and The Love Boat, as well as the 1988 film Hairspray. He opened an Italian restaurant in 1982 and, when his expansion plans were nixed, moved into politics. He was the mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992 and was elected to Congress in 1994.

In 1985 "I Got You Babe" was a No 1 for Chrissie Hynde with UB40. In 1994, Cher, by then an Oscar-winning film star, made the charts via a new version with the cartoon characters Beavis and Butt-Head. The original Sixties version was a key song in the 1993 film Groundhog Day.

Bono was a popular politician - Newt Gingrich asked him to sing "I Got You Babe" in the Senate - and was planning to fight for re-election.

- Spencer Leigh

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
i100
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown, daughter of the late singer Whitney Houston, poses at the premiere of
people
News
people
News
The frequency with which we lie and our ability to get away with it both increase to young adulthood then decline with age, possibly because of changes that occur in the brain
scienceRoger Dobson knows the true story, from Pinocchio to Pollard
Voices
The male menopause: those affected can suffer hot flushes, night sweats, joint pain, low libido, depression and an increase in body fat, among other symptoms
voicesSo the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen