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Tuesday, January 6, 1998 Published at 16:46 GMT


Sonny Bono - a life in the fast lane
image: [ Sonny and Cher were among the first pop singers to speak out against drugs ]
Sonny and Cher were among the first pop singers to speak out against drugs

Sonny Bono enjoyed celebrity in the 1960s as half of the singing and acting duo Sonny and Cher and later became a Congressman.

Born in 1935, to a first generation Sicilian-American family, he moved to the Los Angeles area when he was seven years old.

Bono's parents encouraged him to become a doctor, but his heart was in show business.

Following high school, Bono took a job driving a meat delivery truck along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.

Between deliveries, he would leave songs with the record companies on his route before continuing his day's work.

A career is born

He started to write songs and sing for Dig Records, which was owned by rhythm and blues legend Johnny Otis. Sonny's first big hit was the classic 'Needles and Pins'.

[ image: Sonny met Cher on a blind date in 1964]
Sonny met Cher on a blind date in 1964
Sonny met 16-year-old Cherlyn Sarkistan, his future wife and singing partner, on a blind date in 1964.

The couple took to the road under the name of Caesar and Cleo and later Sonny and Cher.

In 1965 the couple recorded 'Baby Don't Go' which shot to the top of the charts and was followed by a string of major hits.

Their second record, 'I Got You Babe', sold three million copies, and their first album went to number two.

Couple anti-drugs

Sonny and Cher were among the first pop singers to speak out against drugs.

Bono reworked their act for nightclubs, where he and Cher developed their famous stage repartee. Sonny played straight man to Cher's 'put downs'.

The act was so successful that the two moved to television with 'The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour'. It was picked up by CBS as a summer replacement show.

It gained huge popularity, and the 'Sonny and Cher Show' became a top-rated show every season from 1971 until the act ended in 1974 when the two divorced.

End of partnership

On screen they appeared to be a happy couple, but off-screen their relationship fell apart.

After 12 years together, Cher divorced Sonny in 1975 in a bitter bust-up on the grounds of "involuntary servitude". Both performers went solo.

Cher's career took off. While she became one of the world's top stars, her ex-husband fell out of the spotlight and eventually, out of the business.

In 1982, Bono opened his first 'BONO' restaurant in West Hollywood, California.

He went on to own and manage a successful chain of Bono outlets, which have received critical acclaim for Sicilian-style Italian cuisine based on his family's recipes.

Political career beckons

Frustration with a "failure of leadership" and government bureaucracy in Palm Springs inspired Bono to enter politics in 1988, when he was elected Mayor by the largest margin in the city's history.

As Mayor, Bono wanted to bring a combination of civic pride and economic rejuvenation to Palm Springs.

He encouraged commercial development and launched an innovative special events programme including a 'Palm Springs International Film Festival'. He held the post for four years.

[ image:  ]
In 1991, Bono ran for the United States Senate, and when the 44th Congressional District became open in 1994, Bono entered the campaign.

He was elected to the 104th Congress with a 16 point margin of victory.

From 1994, he represented the district, which includes the resort, Palm Springs.

A conservative Republican, Bono believed in reducing federal bureaucracy and cutting taxes.

During his time in Congress he served as Chairman of the Entertainment Task Force and at one point was the second most requested draw at members events after house speaker, Newt Gringrich.

In 1997, in response to the death of Princess Diana, he introduced the Protection from Personal Intrusion Act, making harassment by overly intrusive paparazzi a federal criminal offence.

Critics of the bill said the offence should have been a civil charge.

Bono married his fourth wife, Mary Whitaker, in 1986. They have two children, Chesare Elan, who was born in 1988, and Chianna Maria, who was born in 1991.

He had two children with Cher, one of whom is lesbian activist Chastity Bono.

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