Audacious Facts About Sonny Bono, Cher’s Worse Half

August 1, 2023 | Alicia B.

Audacious Facts About Sonny Bono, Cher’s Worse Half

Sonny Bono and Cher's celebrity romance wasn't the fairytale it seemed to be. But that wasn't all. Fate had the darkest twist in store for Sonny—and he never saw it coming.

1. He Started From The Bottom

Born in 1935, Sonny Bono’s dreams were too big for his humble beginnings. Sonny always knew he wanted to work in music and was willing to do whatever it took. This included dropping out of school and working as a butcher’s assistant. He eventually worked his way up, landing a job working behind the scenes.

But Sonny found out the hard way that this industry was hard—a lesson he’d soon learn about love.

sonny bono

2. He Married The Wrong Woman

A cute girl and a meet cute, what could go wrong? Turns out, everythingSonny and Donna Rankin’s run-in at a drive-in theater turned into marriage and a baby by 1959. But their heartwarming beginnings turned ugly once they couldn’t ignore their differences. After calling it quits, Sonny didn’t waste any time.Sonny Bono in 1966 at an airportJoop van Bilsen / Anefo, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

3. He Was Too Old For Her

In 1963, Sonny met his destiny in a coffee shop—but had no idea at the time. Sonny was 27 and technically still married to Donna. Cher was sweet and 16. She was already dating Red Baldwin, an older man also in the music industry. However, none of these dealbreakers stopped the teenage girl from falling head over heels. Music would never be the same.Cher photographed in 1965 sitting on a chairAvalon, Getty Images

4. He Didn’t Feel The Same Way

It was straight out of a movie…well it almost was. When Cher first laid eyes on Sonny, she thought to herself, “That's the strangest man I’ve ever seen in my life”. Still, she couldn't deny that she felt drawn to him instantly, later describing the experience, she said, “everyone else in the room disappeared".

But shockingly, the feeling was not mutual.Public domain photograph of Sonny and Cher, circa 1968Tower Comics, photographer unknown., Wikimedia Commons

5. He Wanted The Wrong Girl

There’s love at first sight, and then there’s whatever Sonny’s deal was. He asked the smitten girl to set him up with her roommate Melissa. Sonny didn’t just think Melissa was prettier, he even had the audacity to tell Cher, “I don’t find you particularly attractive”. But Cher, Red, Sonny, and Melissa went on a double date that changed everything.Sonny Bono  and his wife, U.S. singer and actress Cher circa 1965Redferns, Getty Images

6. He Warmed Up To Her

In no time, this double date turned upside down. After ditching their dates, Sonny and Cher laughed and danced the night away. It was a magical night straight out of a movie. No wonder Cher became even more attracted to Sonny. She dumped Red the very next day. But Sonny still didn’t return her feelings. At least, not until fate pushed them even closer together. Sonny & Cher performingPhotographer A. Vente, CC BY-SA 3.0 NL, Wikimedia Commons

7. He Got An Unexpected Roommate

And by fate, I mean Cher’s roommates kicking her out. Sonny had recently moved nearby so they struck a deal: Cher could move in as long as she cleaned the apartment. Sonny thought he was getting a roommate and a housekeeper. He never expected that Cher would become so much more (and that she’d end up not cleaning a single thing).Photo of Sonny and Cher in 1971.CBS Television, Wikimedia Commons

8. He Fell Slowly

Everything changed after Sonny and Cher kissed on a movie night. But it was still far from happily ever after for these roommates turned lovers. Their relationship somehow became even more problematic. You see, Cher’s father abandoned her, and Sonny just happened to look exactly like him. This “coincidence” raised eyebrows.Photo of Sonny and Cher looking at camera smilingABC Television, Wikimedia Commons

9. He Alarmed People

Mom knows best—especially Georgia Holt. Cher’s mother noticed these daddy issues but felt helpless: “I didn’t think it would have helped if I’d told that to Cher. When a girl is as much in love with a man as she was, not much can be done about it”. Cher even admitted that their relationship was more “paternal” than “fiery”. Sonny went even further.

Sonny Bono In LondonIcon and Image, Getty Images

10. He Was An Oversharer

Sometimes sharing isn’t caring, but Sonny clearly didn’t get this memo. He revealed that there were “no fireworks” in the bedroom. Turns out, this legendary couple didn’t have much traditional spark. But Sonny and Cher shared something even better and longer lasting. What heated up their relationship instead was burning ambition.Sonny And Cher David Mccallum Man From Uncle 1967NBC Television, Wikimedia Commons

11. He Mixed Business and Pleasure

Thanks to Sonny’s connections, Cher got her foot in the door as a backup singer. They didn’t just want more. They knew Cher was destined for greatness. There was just one thing in the way: her stage fright. Sonny began performing with Cher to ease her nerves. But this stuck, and they became a duo.

For better and for worse, Sonny and Cher became a package deal.Photo of Sonny and Cher performing live in 1971Kapp Records, Wikimedia Commons

12. They Became A Power Couple

Sonny and Cher—the romantic relationship and the pop duo—took off at the same time. Thanks to hits like “I Got You Babe," “Baby Don’t Go," and “The Beat Goes On," they became stars in the 1960s. We’re talking about over 40 million albums sold and two Grammys. Sonny was the boss on and off stage, but Cher didn’t mind…for now.Sonny and  Cher holding an awardBen Merk / Anefo, CC0, Wikimedia Commons

13. He Wasn’t Romantic At All

Sonny’s proposal—if we can even call it one—was many things, and none of them were romantic. As Sonny and Cher walked through a park, he casually asked her, “Don’t you think it’s time you asked me to marry you?” Unsurprisingly, Cher didn’t swoon. Surprisingly, she did agree. It got even weirder when they got home.Sonny & Cher 1973 singingCBS Television, Wikimedia Commons

14. He Got Fake Married

What Sonny wants, Sonny gets. This time, he wanted to make their marriage official. Instead of a normal wedding, Sonny and Cher squeezed into their tiny bathroom. Side note: their apartment had more room. This choice still baffles Cher. Anyway, they had a ceremony with rings, vows, “and that was it”.

Sonny and society had very different definitions of official because this ceremony was anything but.Sonny Bono And Cher At A Press Conference For The Movie Good TimesSanti Visalli, Getty Images

15. He Finally Got Married For Real

In 1969, Sonny and Cher officially married. This was a long time coming—four years after their bathroom ceremony, to be exact. They welcomed their child in the same year, so it’s no mystery as to why they suddenly made it official. Unfortunately, career disasters disrupted the newlyweds. Even worse, Sonny and Cher caused their own downfall.Sonny and Cher at Home, Los AngelesFairchild Archive, Getty Images

16. He Destroyed His Career

The times changed, but Sonny and Cher did not. Even after music and the public’s taste changed, the duo stayed the same. Cher admitted, “That was really wrong”. The nail in the coffin was Sonny investing in the film Chastity, only for it to flop. The new parents needed money, and they needed it now. Sonny and Cher began performing in clubs, and hit a jackpot.Photograph of Sonny and Cher during their visit to Helsinki 8 September 1966Unknown author, Wikimedia Commons

17. He Reinvented Himself

Audiences went wild for Cher roasting Sonny. A TV executive was in the audience one night and threw them a lifeline. In 1971 to 1974, they starred in The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. At the end of every episode, they sang “I Got You Babe” to each other. The show was a hit largely because Sonny and Cher seemed like the perfect couple. Key word: seemed.The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Sonny & Cher on stage in yellow clothesThe Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971–1974), CBS

18. He Was Overbearing

Once again, times were changing, but Sonny wasn’t. Thanks to motherhood, Cher matured and saw him in a different light. Her favorite qualities about Sonny—like his paternalism—became her least favorites. Cher didn’t see him as her husband anymore. He became the strict and intimidating father you were scared to open up to. The worst was yet to come.Sonny & Cher on stage in black formal clothes looking displeasedThe Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971–1974), CBS

19. He Was A Philanderer

Cher walking in on Sonny doing the horizontal tango with his secretary was awkward—but it wasn’t the dealbreaker. She knew that “One woman, or even five, was not enough for him," but put up with these betrayals for the sake of their career. But Cher had no idea just how many mistresses Sonny had. Cher didn’t just get mad. She got even.Sonny And Chastity Bono 1974CBS Television, Wikimedia Commons

20. He Was Cheated On

What happened in Vegas, didn’t stay in Vegas. Cher threw Sonny out of their Sin City hotel room. She refused to sleep with him and confessed why. Turns out, Cher was having an affair with Bill Hamm, their band’s young guitarist. While Sonny and Cher appeared to be couple goals on screen, their marriage took a bizarre turn behind the scenes.publicity photo of Cher circa 1970sCasablanca Records, Wikimedia Commons

21. He Had An Open Marriage

Sonny messed around, and found out why you don’t mix business and pleasure. Sonny and Cher kept up the facade, but had an open marriage. They dated other people—and it got serious. In one 1973 diary entry, Sonny wrote, "Connie and I live together as husband and wife. But my public wife is still Cher in order to maintain all the things I want right now. That’s the way it has to be".Sonny Bono and Cher in Hamburg, Germany in 1966K & K Ulf Kruger OHG, Getty Images

22. He Called It Quits

Early in 1974, Sonny decided to destroy everything and filed for separation. It was the beginning of the end. This move set Cher off. In response, she filed for divorce. It was already shaping up to be a nasty battle. It became a nuclear war after Cher’s boyfriend David Geffen encouraged her to look into their business affairs. What she discovered was gut-wrenching.Sonny Bono wearing a brocade suitFairchild Archive, Getty Images

23. He Played Dirty

Cher made a horrifying discovery that put their whole marriage into question. She knew that Sonny created a corporation to manage their finances. What she didn’t know was that he owned 95 percent of the company, while their lawyer owned the other 5 percent. Cher realized that Sonny treated her more like the "golden goose than like his wife”. It gets even worse.Photo of Cher from The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour  in white topCBS Television, Wikimedia Commons

24. He Took Advantage Of Her

The love story of Sonny and Cher turned out to be a tragedy—and he was the villain. Cher thought she could trust him. She thought wrong. Cher discovered that on top of the financial deception, she'd also made a grave mistake: She'd signed a contract that banned her from working without him. She made Sonny a stunning offer.Sonny Bono in The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in suit sitting on a green benchThe Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour (1971–1974), CBS

25. He Could’ve Saved Everything

Cher gave Sonny the chance he might not have deserved. Sonny could’ve patched things up if he just made her a business partner, but he refused. Sonny even warned her not to leave because “America will hate you and you won’t have a job”. Sonny thought Cher didn’t have the guts to leave and fight back after he backed her into a corner. He thought wrong.Singer Sonny Bono poses in patterned clothes sitting on an armchair speaking to someoneWWD, Getty Images

26. He Got Kicked Out

Sonny and Cher’s mansion became a key battleground in their divorce battle. Both sides refused to surrender this valuable territory. So a victory required some tricks. Cher’s boyfriend David pounced after Sonny went to the recording studio. He hired security guards to collect Sonny’s things—including his girlfriend Connie—and toss them out. This didn’t exactly help.Singer Sonny Bono and girlfriend Connie Foreman on April 3, 1975Ron Galella, Getty Images

27. He Left Her With Nothing

Cher insisted that Sonny tricked her into “involuntary servitude”—but the judge might not have agreed. A year after he started this mess, they divorced. But any victories Cher might’ve won turned out to be hollow. She wasn’t just walking away with nothing. Turns out, she’d broken contracts with Sonny’s company.

She walked away with millions in debt to her ex-husband and current enemy.Cher in The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour sitting on a desk in blue suit and glassesThe Sonny and Cher show (1976–1977), CBS

28. He Won The Upper Hand

Once again, Sonny found himself in control—and boy was he going to take advantage of this. After deceiving her and sucking her dry, Sonny still had the audacity to demand even more from poor Cher. At this point, she was literally and figuratively poor. She wound up doing over a $1 million worth of performances and appearances with Sonny. It didn’t end there.Sonny Bono in  The Sonny and Cher show wearing orange suitThe Sonny and Cher show (1976–1977), CBS

29. He Couldn’t Make It On His Own

After America’s power couple called it quits, America wondered “Who is Sonny without Cher?” They soon got their answer, but they didn’t like it. Sonny’s solo television career flopped, as did Cher’s. The desperate exes revived The Sonny and Cher Show. But the magic was gone, and audiences knew it. The divorce did a number on both of them.Sonny & Cher Show, Sonny & Cher sitting on chairs and speakingThe Sonny and Cher show (1976–1977), CBS

30. He Left His Mark On Her

Without one another, the couple seemed lost at sea. Cher confessed that Sonny “had made every decision for me. I knew how to sing and how to be a mother. I didn’t know anything else”. But Cher refused to give up and became an even bigger star. Success really is the best revenge—not that Sonny would know.Sonny and Cher on stageThe Sonny and Cher show (1976–1977), CBS

31. He Couldn’t Move On

The break-up might’ve taken an even bigger toll on Sonny, even though he initiated it. He confessed, “I enjoyed the power of Sonny and Cher so much. That took years and years to let go”. When things got really bad, Sonny couldn’t help but regret it all. The way everyone responded to their break-up only made it worse for him.Singer Sonny Bono on March 17, 1976 getting in a car wearing brown shirtRon Galella, Getty Images

32. He Got Bad Press

Public opinion can be vicious, and Sonny learned that the hard way. The public and press took sides in Sonny and Cher’s divorce. He soon found out that he’d fallen from grace and no one was on his side. The media even portrayed him as the idiot character he’d played on TV. Was Sonny actually an idiot? Probably not. Was he a bitter ex? 100%.Sonny Bono and Family  at Palm Restaurant in Beverly Hills June 10, 1977, wearing blue shirtRon Galella, Getty Images

33. He Threw A Lot Of Shade

Sonny and Cher used to make hits together, but now they just made drama. Whenever people asked Cher to share the happiest moment in her life, she always had the most brutal answer: “When I left Sonny”. In response, he accused her of playing the victim. In return, others accused Sonny of excessive whining. Things got even shadier—and funnier—after Sonny published a tell-all book. Photo of Farrah Fawcett and Cher in white dressesCBS Television, Wikimedia Commons

34. He Spilled The Beans

Sonny’s autobiography And The Beat Goes On fanned the flames of this feud even more. He didn’t hold back, but neither did Cher. An interviewer asked for her thoughts on the book. Cher responded, “I think he should stick to writing songs. He does that better,” and, “Of all the people who have known me well, Sonny knew me the least”.Cher signs an autographmark reinstein, Shutterstock

35. His Solo Career Was A Disaster

People couldn’t help but wonder if this was the end of Sonny Bono—and for good reason. While Cher had a glow-up, he had a glow-down of catastrophic proportions. As one-half of Sonny and Cher, he sold 40 million albums and millions watched him on TV. But after going solo, Sonny played to audiences as small as 10 people. Many would’ve quit.

Sonny was many things—and not all of them were good—but he wasn’t a quitter.Singer Sonny Bono on June 12, 1977 looking sad in suit and gold chainsRon Galella, Getty Images

36. He Didn’t Learn His Lesson

Third time’s the charm? On New Year’s Eve 1981, 46-year-old Sonny married 28-year-old Susie Coelho, an actress and model. Because Sonny never learned, he went into business with another wife. This time, they opened restaurants together. Sonny and Susie divorced after three years of marriage. For Sonny, it was onto the next young woman.Singer Sonny Bono and girlfriend Susie Coelho on June 23, 1977Ron Galella, Getty Images

37. He Had Questionable Taste In Women

Sonny had a type: young and younger. In 1986, the now 51-year-old married Mary Whitaker, a 25-year-old gymnast turned cocktail waitress. They had two children together. In case anyone’s keeping count, we’re at four wives and four children. But Sonny still looked to the past and it called out to him like a siren. Poor Mary.Sonny Bono, wife Mary Bono and son Chesare Elan looking at the camera smilingJim Smeal, Getty Images

38. He Couldn’t Let Go Of The Past

A year later, Sonny and Cher traded their swords for microphones. They reunited on Late Night with David Letterman to perform “I Got You Babe”. It was emotional since this was their first performance together in years. Neither had any idea that this would be the very last time they’d perform together. This time, it wasn’t by choice.Sonny & Cher singingNBC, Late Night with David Letterman (1982–1993)

39. He Reinvented Himself

In 1988, Sonny made a shocking announcement: He was in the running for Mayor of Palm Springs. But this made complete sense to him. He had to deal with the city’s infuriating bureaucracy when opening a restaurant. He actually won and served for a whole term. But Sonny still wasn’t satisfied. His mayorship smashed expectations and he wanted to do it again.: Sonny Bono is seen during a boxing match circa 1988Focus On Sport, Getty Images

40. He Was The Black Sheep

Unfortunately, failure hit Sonny like a freight train. His run for the senate was unsuccessful, but he didn’t give up. Two years later, he headed to The Capitol as the nation’s most unconventional congressman. And boy did he know it: “I feel kind of like the black sheep in Congress, but here I am”. The Republican Party’s newest star quickly won people over with his humor and public speaking—but not everyone was a fan. President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan are greeted by Sonny Bono and Mary BonoWhite House Photographic Collection, 1/20/1981 - 1/20/1989, Wikimedia Commons

41. He Had Problematic Views

For one, Sonny supported extending copyright, which totally isn’t a conflict of interest. That raised some eyebrows, but nothing like his opposition to marriage equality. Let’s just say politics was another battleground for Sonny and Cher. But he was still on track for a promising second life in politics...until tragedy struck.US Congressional picture of Sonny BonoUser Raul654 on en.wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons

42. He Was A Risk Taker

Sonny loved skiing, but hated helmets and regulations. His stance wavered after Robert F Kennedy's son tragically died in a skiing accident. This prompted a somber discussion between Sonny and Mary. The 62-year-old promised to finally get a helmet before their family’s upcoming ski trip to Lake Tahoe. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.Sonny Bono 1995 Sonny Bono 1995 in suitJohn Mathew Smith & , CC BY-SA 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

43. He Ignored Safety Precautions

Once the Bonos got to the resort, the helmetless Sonny took another risk. Ski shops required older skiers to set their ski bindings more loosely. If an accident occurred, they could get out of their skis more quickly and easily. This avoided a lot of serious injuries. The anti-regulation Sonny refused and signed a waiver. It only goes downhill from here.congressman Sonny Bono, R-CA, waves to the galleryDAVID AKE, Getty Images

44. He Went Missing

Tragedy struck in the blink of an eye. As the Bono family prepared to ski together, Sonny encouraged his son Ches to follow him. But Ches fell onto his sister Chianna. Mary rushed to deal with their kids. By the time she looked up, Sonny had already skied down the slope. Mary didn't know that was the last she'd see Sonny.Sonny Bono  October 16, 1996Jim Smeal, Getty Images

45. His Family Started Freaking Out

When Mary and the kids made it to the first rest stop, they didn’t see Sonny. Mary was convinced that he’d skied to the bottom and was waiting for them. She began panicking once they got there and couldn’t find Sonny anywhere. His disappearance sparked a three-day manhunt and media frenzy. Then her worst nightmare came true.Relatives of Sonny BonoLUCY NICHOLSON, Getty Images

46. His Body Was Finally Discovered

After three agonizing days, Mary finally got answers. They discovered Sonny’s body with no signs of life. There was nothing they could’ve done for him: Sonny collided into a tree with so much force that a helmet might not have helped anyway. January 5, 1998 marked the end of Sonny Bono’s life but the beginning of a media circus.-Sonny Bono, R-Calif., and Motion Picture Association of America President Jack ValentiScott J. Ferrell, Getty Images

47. His Funeral Was Unforgettable

After Princess Diana’s passing a few months prior, networks realized that celebrity funerals were big business. So they descended on Sonny’s grieving family and friends. Everyone was on the edge of their seats for Cher’s eulogy, and she didn’t disappoint. But she had no idea that her speech would be broadcast to the nation.Funeral of Sonny Bono in Palm SpingsAxel Koester, Getty Images

48. His Ex-Wife Made Waves

Cher spent days writing a eulogy she hoped would "repair all the damage and misconceptions about Sonny”. It did at the time. Cher ended her speech with: "When I was a young there was this section in Reader's Digest called 'The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met'. No matter how old I get, no matter how many people I meet, that person will always be Son for me”.Cher at the Los Angeles premiere of 'The Promise in black jacketTinseltown, Shutterstock

49. He Didn’t Have A Will

Sonny left behind a nearly $2 million estate, a music catalog, and no will. Oh no. After the funeral, Mary praised Cher for being “a constant source of comfort to me”. Naturally, Cher then sued her for $1 million over royalties. It gets even crazier. A man named Sean Machu also came out of the woodwork, claiming to be Sonny’s secret love child and heir. He promised to withdraw his lawsuit if his DNA didn't match Sonny's, but these results were kept confidential. Relatives of Sonny BonoLUCY NICHOLSON, Getty Images

50. He Has A Complicated Legacy

The government passed The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act shortly after Sonny’s accident. They chose this law because Sonny advocated for copyright extensions. People also called it the Mickey Mouse Protection Act—but not in a good way. This law, like the man it honors, is complicated.Grave of Sonny BonoLiam Hughes from Milwaukee, WI, USA, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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