Sonny Bono Dies

Sonny Bono Dies in Skiing Accident by Joal Ryan January 6, 1998, 6:40 a.m. PT Sonny Bono, who sang "I Got You, Babe" to Cher and called Newt Gingrich a colleague during a remarkable career that saw him morph from unlikely, thirtysomething hippie to unlikely buttoned-down Congressman, has died on the ski slopes at South Lake Tahoe, California. He was 62. Bono's body was found Monday night at the Heavenly Ski Resort--little more than two hours after his family reported him missing. The death has been officially ruled accidental. The House of Representatives Republican was last seen skiing under a lift on an intermediate hill in an area along the California-Nevada border. Bono glided off the trail and collided with a tree, causing fatal head injuries, officials said Tuesday. Bono is the second notable politico to be killed in a skiing accident in less than a week. Michael Kennedy, of the Kennedy family dynasty and last summer's babysitter-affair scandal, died New Year's Eve in Aspen, Colorado, after he, too, ran into a tree. "Sonny was a very warm, very open human being...There's a hole left in this Congress," U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said of his comrade's death on CNN this morning. The former pop star was vacationing in South Lake Tahoe with his wife, Mary, and their two children, Chianna, 6, and Chesare, 9. Ex-wife Cher, with whom Bono shared recording and TV success in the 1960s and 1970s as the irrepressible duo Sonny & Cher, was in London when she learned of the accident. She canceled a planned personal appearance at Harrods department store and is said to be on her way back to the United States. No statement yet from the Academy Award-winning actress. Tributes to Bono are coming in from two very different power centers--Hollywood and Capitol Hill, the best example of the far-flung worlds that the erstwhile Salvatore Phillip Bono inhabited. Born February 16, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, Sonny Bono was the pre-Madonna master of the Art of Reinventing Self. In the late 1950s, he was a struggling songwriter. By 1964, he was a successful songwriter (penning "Koko Joe" for the Righteous Brothers). Audio Clip: Sonny and Cher, "I Got You, Babe" RealAudio | Install It In 1964, he wed the former Cherilyn Sarkisian and took their act public--first as Caesar & Cleo, then, as Sonny & Cher. In 1965, he became a chart-topping songwriter--cranking out upbeat hits like "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." In that age of Don't Trust Anyone Over 30, Bono shed his Depression Era-roots and became a born-again flower child, donning suede-fringed vests and adopting a Beatles-esque 'do. In the 1970s, he added TV star to his résumé. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour ran on CBS-TV from 1971 to '74. The variety series ended as Sonny and Cher ended personally. Their divorce was final in 1975. In 1976, the duo reunited for The Sonny and Cher Show. The chemistry wasn't the same; the show failed its first season. Bono next became a local businessman. He opened two restaurants in 1985--one in West Hollywood, California, the other in Palm Springs, California. It was in Palm Springs that Bono began his transformation into Citizen Bono. He was elected mayor of the Southern California desert town in 1988--shortly after Cher nabbed her Oscar for Moonlighting. In 1992, his political ambition led him to enter the race for the U.S. Senate in California. He bottomed out in the G.O.P. primary. But in 1994, Bono was back--elected to the House of Representatives from the Palm Springs district. He won a second term in 1996. Other survivors include: Chastity Bono, his child with Cher, who as a toddler was a frequent guest star on their TV shows, and another adult daughter from his first marriage.

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