Sonny Salvatore Bono was born February 12, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan to a butcher and his homemaker wife. At the age of 7, his family relocated to Southern California. The young Bono was a talented writer, and penned songs and poems in his spare time. The third child of Sicilian immigrants, Bono was a poor student and dropped out of high school to write music, supporting himself as a waiter, construction worker, truck driver and butcher's helper.
Sonny spent years writing and trying to sell his music. He took a job with Specialty Records, writing music and directing. He pursued a solo career, using such aliases as Don Christy, Sonny Christy and Ronny Sommers, but couldn't make a go of it.
During this same time, Sonny met Cherilyn Sarkisian, then a 16 year old nightclub singer who longed to be an actress. Married already, Sonny left his wife and took up with Cher. Cher gave birth to daughter, Chelsea in 1964, and the two married shortly thereafter. A few months after exchanging vows, the duo recorded the love song, "I Got You Babe." Cher abandoned her dreams of becoming an actress and dedicated herself to singing with her new husband. First known to the world as "Caesar and Cleo," the pair and changed their name to "Sonny and Cher." Bono wrote and recorded songs for the duo, driving them to almost instant stardom. In 1965, they had five songs ranked in the Billboard Top 100, an achievement matched at that time only by the Beatles. By the end of 1967, Sonny and Cher had sold 40 million records worldwide and had become the newest, freshest faces of rock music.
By the end of the 1960s, broke and no longer in the media spotlights, Sonny developed their on-stage act into a nightclub performance. By 1971, the act had become so popular, they were asked to bring their talents to television, starring in CBS's Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. The one-hour variety show, written almost entirely by Sonny, was a mass-market hit, playing Sonny's buffoon character against Cher's smart aleck TV persona. Often pitting himself as the butt of the joke, Sonny continued to write the popular hit show until Cher left him in 1974. They would divorce later the same year.
Tired of Hollywood, Bono left show business and became a restaurateur in the early 80s, marrying Susie Coehlo. Now at home in Palm Springs, California, Bono ran into trouble with the city zoning officials after trying to revamp his popular restaurant. Sonny took on city hall, not only winning his own personal battle and professional battle, but also running for Mayor in 1988, and winning. Despite the fact that Bono had never bothered to register to vote until the age of 52, he was a natural when it came to politics, approaching issues head on and gaining the respect and admiration of his peers. Sonny made an unsuccessful bid for Senate in 1992, but two years later, was elected into the House of Representatives in California's 44th Congressional District. He was re-elected to the position in 1996. Bono also sat on the House Judiciary Committee as one of the group's two non-lawyers.
In Congress, Bono adhered to a conservative Republican agenda and though the focus of many late night television jokes, he was considered to be a well respected candidate, running mate and government official. Often befriending his allies, Sonny was known as a gentleman on the job.
While his new life in the political spotlight suited him well, all was not so rosy at home. Sonny and wife, Susie, divorced in 1984. The following year, he met his future and fourth wife, Mary Whitaker, as she dined in his restaurant. They would marry in 1985 and have two children.
On January 5, 1998, Sonny Bono was killed in a skiing accident while on vacation with his fourth wife, Mary, in Nevada. He was 62 years old. His wife has now assumed his seat in the House. Sonny Bono is survived by three children.