The official story is that Salvatore Phillip Bono met Cherilyn Sarkisian in an LA coffee shop in November of 1962.
She was 16, he was 27 and working for record producer Phil Spector at Gold Star.
The couple became “best friends,” moved onto lovers, and told folks they were married in 1964.
Years later, Bono would admit that it wasn’t an “official” marriage, as in a legal one, and they did really tie the knot until after their daughter, now son, Chastity, now Chaz was born.
Sonny got Cher work with Spector as a session singer where she sang back UP on Spector classics such as Be My Baby by the Ronettes, You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling by the Righteous Brothers and even Darlene Love’s A Fine, Fine Boy.
As the 60s got stranger and stranger, so did the couple. Sonny wrote, arranged, and produced songs, while the couple started performing as Caesar and Cleo.
No one noticed even though they released singles, Do You Wanna Dance and Love is Strange.
With their outlandish clothes and $100 Hippie lifestyle, most people thought they were too – strange that is.
Realizing that only Liz could pull off a great Cleo, they fell back on their true identities and released Baby Don’t Go as Sonny & Cher.
Actually it was Sonny & Cher and Friends because it included the Letterman and the Blendells.
A year later in 1965, their first album, Look at Us came out.
It contained the hit single and their most identifying song, I Got You Babe.
The album sold well, peaked at number two on Billboard, and stayed there for eight weeks.
They were a hit.
As Ed Sullivan used to say, they were popular with the kids, and made the rounds of TV shows including Sullivan’s, American Bandstand, Shindig!, and Top of the Pops.
They even appeared in a movie, playing themselves and singing It’s Gonna Rain.
Their second album, The Wondrous World of Sonny & Cher, “skyrocketed” all the way to number 34.
So, they went on tour.
They were a pretty hot ticket on the tour circuit, and teens lined UP to see them. Sonny in caveman boots, Cher barefoot, and both of them in animal skins were quite the attraction.
In 1965, five of their songs made the top 20.
The only other person to do that was Elvis.
Cher made a few singles, sang the theme from the film “Alfie,” and pissed off the Rose Bowl Parade committee by siding with protesters in LA.
Dumped from their promised spot in the Parade, they headed for Europe, right after releasing their third album, which stalled at # 45.
Hoping to rev things UP, Sonny arranged a film project for them to star in; it was a bomb, and the studio sold the rights to the planned sequel to MGM who promptly replaced Sonny and Cher with Elvis and Nancy (Sinatra).
Sonny, not reading the handwriting on the wall, dove into another film, Chastity, which starred Cher solo and flopped like a fish on the wharf.
As album sales stalled when their middle of the road style was replaced by acid rockers, Bono, ever the optimist, looked to the greener pastures of Las Vegas.
It was show biz college for the couple and they created new public personas for themselves while they honed their act with Sonny as the straight man and the brunt of Cher’s wisecracks.
But, Sonny was in complete control. The arrangements, the jokes, the costumes – Sonny had final approval.
It wasn’t long until their success was noticed and TV came calling.
Meanwhile, Chastity Sun Bono was born in March of 1969.
In 1970, my senior year in high school, The Nitty Gritty Hour, their first special debuted. A mix of slapstick, skits, and music, it was a critical success, and all the sudden, they were guest starring on all the variety shows.
Fred Silverman, CBS programming head saw them on the Merv Griffin Show and offered them their own show.
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour went live in 1971 as a summer replacement and returned in the fall.
It was in the top ten, was nominated for 15 Emmy awards and lasted for four seasons.
Everything looked rosy.
Well, everything but their personal relationship.
By the time the third season rolled around Sonny and Cher were constantly fighting. Their neighbors complained about the battles, called the cops, and their public arguments in restaurants got them banned from more than one five star Hollywood Hot Spot.
Later that year they separated and the show took the brunt of it.
A nasty divorce ensued, the headlines were epic, and Cher won a Golden Globe!
CBS thinking Sonny was the brains behind the act handed him his own show. Meanwhile, Cher announced plans for her own comedy hour as well. The buzz was that Sonny would win out, but after six weeks, his show was cancelled without explanation.
Cher’s show first ran on February 16, 1975 and contained an all star cast including Flip Wilson, Bette Midler, Elton John, and Cloris Leachman.
But, the public didn’t want Sonny OR Cher, they wanted Sonny AND Cher.
Sonny went into acting, and that failing, politics, eventually winning a seat from California in the US House of Representatives.
Cher won a Grammy and an Academy Award, and the couple seemed to be moving on and apart.
But in the spring of 1979, they showed UP on the Mike Douglass Show and sang a medley of songs. Alas, fans’ hopes were dashed when they continued separate careers, forged new relationships, and even got married a time or two, or three.
In 1987, they tweaked our hopes again by singing I’ve Got You Babe on the Letterman show.
But it was just a tease.
Sonny died in a skiing accident on January 5, 1998. His wife, Mary Bono, asked Cher to speak at the funeral. Unbeknownst to Cher, the funeral was broadcast live on CNN. Her tearful eulogy, containing the line “…Sonny was the most unforgettable character I’ve ever met…” was met with derision causing Cher to contemplate suicide and retirement.
Rather than retire, she just re-invented herself once again.
Yes, we were young and we didn’t know then, but Sonny and Cher and their songs are part of the soundtrack of our lives.
Well, at least for my generation
I find it almost impossible to believe that Sonny Bono died 20 years ago last month…but he did.