When it comes to mastering the art of diversified trades, Salvatore Philip is in a league of his own. Popularly known as ‘Sonny Bono’, he was an eminent American singer, producer and politician. He rose to fame with the song “I got you Babe” which he sang in collaboration with his then girlfriend Cher. He began his career as a songwriter and moved on to acting in various television shows. His entry into the world of politics stems from his frustration regarding the local government bureaucracy he faced while trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. However, his life came to an abrupt end in a tragic skiing incident on the Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort, California. Till today, the world has not stopped speculating about his death. Bono still remains as the only Congressman to have scored a number one pop single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Childhood & Early Life
Salvatore Philip Bono was born on 16th February, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan to Santo Bono and Zena Jean who were immigrants from Sicily. It was his mother who gave him the nickname “Sonny”, and he became famous with this name later in life. He was the youngest of the three children; the other two being his two elder sisters, Fran and Betty.
When he was seven years old, his family moved to Inglewood, California, where he completed his school but did not attend college.
Soon after attending high school, Bono dropped out and tried his hands at song writing. In the meantime, he took up a number of odd jobs like that of a waiter, truck driver, and construction worker.
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Bono’s first tryst with the entertainment industry came as a songwriter at Specialty Records in the early years of the 1960s. Sam Cooke, who was already an influential singer at the time, recorded ‘Things You Do to me’, which was written by Bono. This put him in the music industry and Phil Spector picked him up for doing promotion for his company. He also worked with the likes of Jack Nitzsche, also a part of the same team, with whom he wrote ‘Needles and Pins’.
However, the major breakthrough in his career and his life came when he met his future wife, Cherilyn Sarkisian, around the same time. Cherilyn or Cher, as she is popularly called, was a young singer and performer and together the couple went on to record a number of songs that were extremely popular at the time and continue to remain so even today.
The couple’s biggest hit came in the year 1965 with the song ‘I Got You Babe’. The song topped the billboard charts in both the US and the UK and made the singing duo, ‘Sonny and Cher’, a household name.
Their association continued to produce many songs and other performances for the better part of a decade. Other hits of the duo include ‘Bang Bang’, ‘The Beat Goes On’, ‘You Better Sit Down’ and ‘Baby don’t Go’.
Apart from singing, the couple also started a popular television show in 1971- ‘The Sonny and Cher Show’- where singing was accompanied by light comedy. The show was a quite successful initially but it was taken off air in 1974.
He wrote songs for other artists as well, such a ‘She said yeah’, which he wrote for The Rolling Stones’ 1965 album ‘December’s Children’. He also enjoyed quite a bit of popularity as a solo artist. His first single, ‘Laugh at Me’, reached the 10th spot on the US billboards in 1965. Two years later, he released his only solo album named ‘Inner Views’.
Sonny was a man who liked wearing many hats and it is evident from the fact that apart from writing, singing, producing and arranging songs, he also appeared in films and television shows on multiple occasions. He was majorly a guest star who would appear for a brief time on television shows such as ‘Fantasy Land’, ‘The Love Boat’, ‘Top of the Hill’, ‘P.S I Luv U’ and ‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’. He also played some small roles in movies such as ‘Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and ‘First Kid’ (1996).
Bono’s television and musical career was on a downward spiral in the 1980s. He found his new purpose in life in politics. In 1988, he ran for the office of the Mayor of Palm Springs, California and won it. As the mayor, his longest serving legacy is the formation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which runs even today. He served as the mayor for four years, before stepping down in 1992.
Following his stint as the mayor of Palm Springs, he decided to contest for the US Senate as a Republican candidate. He was unsuccessful in securing a nomination from the party, which eventually went to his close friend, Bruce Herschensohn.
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In 1994, he was elected as the representative of California’s 44th Congressional District to the US House of Representatives. He was a popular figure in the house and was instrumental in bringing a copyright extension bill, which was later dedicated to his memory and named after him.
Sonny and Cher’s ‘I Got you Babe’ reached the top spot in the billboards of both America and Britain.
The duo’s ‘Bang Bang’ sold over a million copies worldwide.
Personal Life & Legacy
Bono married four times in his life. His first wife was Donna Rankin, whom he married on November 3, 1954. They had a daughter together by the name of Christie.
His second marriage was with co-artist Cher, with whom he enjoyed a long personal and professional relationship. They married in 1964 and had a daughter, Chastity, in 1969. They divorced in 1975.
His next marriage with Susie Coelho in 1983 lasted just over a year and the couple split in 1984. They had no children together.
His fourth and final marriage in 1986, with Mary Whitaker, bore him two children, a son named Chesare Elan and a daughter named Chianna Maria, born in 1988 and 1991 respectively. The couple stayed married until his tragic death in 1998.
He died on January 5, 1998, after sustaining major injuries from a skiing accident near South Lake Tahoe, California. His death caused a controversy after his wife, Mary, claimed that he was heavily on painkillers at the time of his death. Although the autopsy came back clean, but many believe that Bono was high at the time of his death.
There is a park near the Salton Sea in California named in Bono’s honor. There is also a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars dedicated to him.
He was also awarded a star on Hollywood Walk of Fame for Television posthumously in 1998.
Bono is the godfather of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers artist, Anthony Kiedis.