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Sonny & Cher were an American rock and roll duo, made up of husband and wife team Sonny Bono
in the 1960s and 1970s. They were among the first hippie personas with mainstream appeal.
Cher first met Sonny Bono in a Los Angeles coffee shop in November 1962, when she was sixteen. Sonny was already twenty-seven and working for record producer Phil Spector at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. The two became fast friends, eventual lovers, and later, husband and wife. Through Sonny, Cher (as she was called early on for short) eventually got to sing back-up on several of Spector’s classic recordings, including the monumental "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes.
With Sonny continuing to write, arrange and produce the songs, Sonny and Cher’s first incarnation was as the duo "Caesar and Cleo". They received little attention. They later re-emerged as "Sonny and Cher", and released their first album Look at Us in the summer of 1965. This album contained the overnight smash and eventual number-one single "I Got You Babe" (1965). Cher was nineteen years old. Several more top forty hits would follow, most famously "Baby, Don’t Go" and "The Beat Goes On."
The two became a quick sensation, travelling and performing around the world. Periodic solo releases continued during the Sonny & Cher days, including a major success with "Bang Bang" for Cher in 1966. They did become briefly controversial in Los Angeles for siding with the young people being harassed on the Sunset Strip; as a result, they were removed from their promised position of honor in the Tournament of Roses Parade in January of 1967.
In an attempt to capitalize on the duo’s success, Sonny penned their first feature film (themed similarly to The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine) Good Times in 1967, in which the duo starred. The film was a flop.
Sonny and Cher's career had stalled by 1968, as album sales quickly dried up. Their gentle, easy-listening pop sound and drug-free life had become unpopular in an era becoming increasingly consumed with the psychedelic rock that came with the overall evolutionary change in the landscape of American pop culture during the late 1960s.
Sonny and Cher also welcomed their first child, Chastity Bono, born on March 4, 1969. The duo made another unsuccessful foray into film later in 1969 with Bono writing and producing the film Chastity, intended as a dramatic debut for Cher as an actress. That film (directed by first and only-time director Alessio De Paulo) was also a commercial failure.
In 1970, Sonny and Cher starred in their first television special, The Sonny and Cher Nitty Gritty Hour. A mixture of slapstick comedy, skits and live music, the show was a critical success, which led to numerous guest spots on other early 70’s hit television shows.
Sonny and Cher caught the eye of CBS head of programming Fred Silverman while guest-hosting on The Merv Griffin Show, and Silverman offered the duo their own variety show. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuted in 1971 as a summer replacement series. It returned to primetime later that year and was an immediate hit, quickly reaching the top ten. The show received numerous Emmy Award nominations throughout its initial four seasons on CBS. The duo also revived their recording career, releasing four albums and charting two more top ten hits: "All I Ever Need Is You," and "A Cowboy's Work Is Never Done" (1972).
Sonny and Cher's dialogues were patterned after the successful nightclub routines of Louis Prima and Keely Smith: the happy-go-lucky husband squelched by a tart remark from the unamused wife. The show featured a stock company of zany comedians, including Freeman King, Ted Ziegler, and Murray Langston (later The Unknown Comic on The Gong Show). One sketch satirizing CBS's detective show Cannon and its portly star William Conrad was so successful that Sonny and Cher staged several follow-ups, with Tony Curtis as "Detective Fat." Everybody in these sketches wore wide-waisted "fat suits" (similar to hoop skirts), so Detective Fat and his clients and his suspects would spend most of the time bumping each other and bouncing across the crowded room.
By the third season of the Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour in early 1974, the marriage of Sonny and Cher began to fall apart; the duo separated later that year. Therefore the show also fell apart, while still in the top 10 of the ratings. What followed was a nasty and very public divorce (finalized on June 27, 1975).
Bono launched his own show, The Sonny Comedy Revue, in the fall of 1974, retaining the "Sonny and Cher" troupe of comedians and writers. Cher also announced plans to star in a new variety series of her own. Critics, surprisingly, predicted that Sonny would be the big winner with a solo comedy vehicle, and didn't hold much hope for Cher's more musical showcase. After only six weeks, however, Sonny's show was abruptly cancelled. The Cher show debuted as an elaborate, all-star television special on February 16, 1975 featuring Flip Wilson, Bette Midler and special guest Elton John. Cloris Leachman and Jack Albertson both won Emmy Awards for their appearances as guest-stars a few weeks later, and the series received four additional Emmy nominations that year. The first season ranked in the Top 25 of the year-end ratings.
As a result of the divorce, Sonny and Cher went their separate ways until Cher attended the opening of one of Sonny's restaurants in something of a reconciliation. The Sonny & Cher Show returned in 1976, even though they were no longer married. After struggling with low ratings through 1977, Sonny and Cher finally parted ways for good. Sonny went on to an acting career and later entered politics, eventually becoming a U.S. Representative, Cher continued a successful singing career.
The couple made two surprise impromptu reunion performances: the first in 1979 on The Mike Douglas Show and the second in 1987 on Late Night with David Letterman where they performed their hit song "I Got You Babe".
On January 5, 1998, Bono died of injuries after hitting a tree while skiing at the Heavenly Ski Resort near South Lake Tahoe, California. He was 62 years old. Bono's death came just days after Michael Kennedy died in a similar accident. Bono's widow, Mary, was elected to fill the remainder Congressional term. She has since been re-elected in her own right. She continues to champion many of her late husband's causes, including the ongoing fight as how to best save the Salton Sea.
Cher gave a tearful eulogy at Bono's funeral, after which the attendees sang the song "The Beat Goes On." His final resting place is Desert Memorial Park in nearby Cathedral City, California, the same cemetery in which Frank Sinatra was laid to rest later that same year. The epitaph on Bono's headstone reads: "And The Beat Goes On."
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