Sonny Bono died aged sixty-two on 5th of January 1998 of injuries sustained when he hit a tree while skiing on the Nevada side of Heavenly Ski Resort near South Lake Tahoe, California, U.S.A.
After Sonny's death, Mary Bono told an interviewer from TV Guide that Sonny had been addicted to prescription drugs, mainly Vicodin and Valium. Though Mary claimed that Sonny's drug use caused the accident, the autopsy performed by the Douglas County Coroner showed no indication of any substances or alcohol.
At Mary Bono's request, Cher gave a eulogy at Sonny's funeral. Sonny's remains were buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California. The epitaph on Sonny Bono's headstone reads: "AND THE BEAT GOES ON"
Sonny was born Salvatore Phillip Bono on 16th February, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A to Santo Bono and Zena "Jean" (née La Valle). His mother gave him the nickname "Sonny", which lasted his lifetime. Sonny was the youngest of three siblings; he had two older sisters, Fran and Betty. The family moved to Inglewood, California when he was seven. He attended Inglewood High School but did not graduate.
Sonny began his music career as a songwriter at Specialty Records, where his song "Things You Do to Me" was recorded by Sam Cooke, and went on to work for record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist and "gofer". One of his earliest songwriting efforts, "Needles and Pins" was co-written with Jack Nitzsche, another member of Spector's production team. Later in the same decade, Sonny achieved commercial success with his then-wife Cher in the singing duo Sonny and Cher. Bono wrote, arranged, and produced a number of hit records including the singles "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On". Although Cher received more attention as a performer, He played a major part in Cher's solo recording career, writing and producing singles including "Bang Bang" and "You Better Sit Down Kids".
Sonny Bono co-wrote "She Said Yeah", covered by The Rolling Stones on their 1965 LP December's Children. His lone hit single as a solo artist, "Laugh at Me." released in 1965, peaked at Number 10 on the USA's Billboard Hot 100. In live concerts, Sonny Bono would introduce the song by saying "I'd like to sing a medley of my hit." His only other single as a solo artist, "The Revolution Kind," reached Number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that year. His solo album, 'Inner Views', was released in 1967.
Sonny continued to work with Cher through the early and mid-1970s, starring in a popular television variety show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974. From 1976 to 1977, the duo, since divorced, returned to perform together on The Sonny and Cher Show. Their last appearance together was on Late Night with David Letterman on November 13th, 1987, on which they sang "I Got You Babe".
Sonny Bono's acting career included bit parts as a guest actor in such television series as 'Fantasy Island', 'The Love Boa't and the 1980 mini-series 'Top of the Hill'. He played the role of mad bomber 'Joe Selucci' in 'Airplane II:The Seque'l (1982) and appeared in the horror film 'Troll' (1986). He also portrayed racist entrepreneur 'Franklin Von Tussle' in the John Waters film 'Hairspray' (1988). In 'Men in Black' (1997), Sonny Bono is 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' during the 1991–92 TV season, and on 'Lois & Clark': 'The New Adventures of Superman' (in Season 1, Episode 9, which aired November 21, 1993), in which he played 'Mayor Frank Berkowitz'. He also made a minor appearance as himself in the comedy film 'First Kid' (1996).
Sonny Bono guest-starred as himself on The Golden Girls episode "Mrs. George Devereaux" (originally broadcast November 17, 1990), in which he vied with Lyle Waggoner for Dorothy's (Bea Arthur) affection in a dream sequence. In Blanche's (Rue McClanahan) dream, her husband is still alive, and Sonny Bono uses his power as Mayor of Palm Springs to have Waggoner falsely arrested so he could have Dorothy to himself. After Blanche awakens, Dorothy is thrilled to learn that she picked Sonny Bono this time.
Sonny Bono married his first wife, Donna Rankin, on November 3rd, 1954. Their daughter Christine was born on June 24, 1958. They divorced in 1962. In 1964, Sonny Bono married singer and actress Cher. They had one child, Chaz (born Chastity), born March 4th in 1969. In 1975 the duo divorced. Sonny Bono then married Susie Coelho but divorced her in 1984. He wed Mary Whitaker in 1986 and they had two children, son Chesare Elan in 1988, and daughter Chianna Maria in 1991.
Sonny Bono was named a godparent of Anthony Kiedis, who would go on to become a musical artist with his band, Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sonny was a close friend of Anthony's father, Blackie Dammett, and would often take the boy on weekend trips.
Sonny Bono was a champion of the Salton Sea in southeastern California, where a park was named in his honor. The 2005 documentary film Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea (narrated by John Waters) features Sonny Bono and documented the lives of the inhabitants of Bombay Beach, Niland and Salton City, as well as the ecological issues associated with the Sea. In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.
Sonny became interested in Scientology and took Scientology courses partly because of the influence of Mimi Rogers, but stated that he was a Roman Catholic on all official documents, campaign materials and websites. His wife Mary also took Scientology courses. However, after his death, Mary Bono stated that "Sonny did try to break away from the Church of Scientology at one point, and they made it very difficult for him."
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Song: Laugh At Me by Sonny Bono