Sonny and Cher were both
inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1998, right after Sonny's
death in a skiing accident.
Sonny & Cher were an
American pop music duo, actors, singers and entertainers made up of
husband-and-wife team Sonny and Cher Bono in the 1960s and 1970s. The
couple started their career in the mid-1960s as R&B backing
singers for record producer Phil Spector.
Cherilyn Sarkisian first met Salvatore
Bono in a Los Angeles coffee shop in November 1962, when she was
sixteen. The older Bono (11 years her senior) was working for record
producer Phil Spector at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood. The two
became best friends, eventual lovers, and were supposedly married in
1964, but Bono says in his autobiography that it was not an official
marriage (they actually were legally wed after Chastity was born).
Through Bono, Cher started as a session
singer, and sang backup on several of Spectors classic
recordings, including "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes,
"You've Lost That Loving Feeling" by The Righteous Brothers
and Darlene Love's "A Fine, Fine Boy".
In the composition by Darlene Love, the
listener can clearly hear Cher and Sonny close to the mic (along with
Love, who recorded her own backing vocals).
With Bono continuing to write, arrange and
produce the songs, the couple's first incarnation was as the duo
"Caesar and Cleo". They received little attention, despite
releasing some singles in 1964: "The Letter", with Vault
Records, and "The Letter", "Do You Wanna Dance"
and "Love Is Strange", with Reprise Records.
In September 1964, they released "Baby
Don't Go" under the name of Sonny & Cher, which became
their first regional hit. The song was later included on the 1965
Reprise compilation Baby Don't Go Sonny & Cher and
Friends, which also included songs from artists such as Bill Medley,
The Lettermen and The Blendells.
The duo released their first album Look at
Us in the summer of 1965. The album contained the smash hit and
eventual number-one single "I Got You Babe". Look at Us
sold briskly, peaking at number two on the Billboard chart for eight
weeks in the later part of 1965.
The couple soon appeared on many of the
top television shows of the era including The Ed Sullivan Show,
American Bandstand, Where The Action Is, Hollywood A Go-Go, Hollywood
Palace, Hullabaloo, Beat Club, Shindig!, Ready Steady Go! and Top of
the Pops. They also appeared as themselves in the film Wild on the
Beach, singing "It's Gonna Rain". They also appeared in a
third season episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,"The Hot Number
Affair" , playing Jerry and Ramona (below).
During 1965, five of their songs were in
US Billboard Top 20, a record passed only by Elvis Presley and behind
famous artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and others.
Periodic solo releases by Cher continued during this period,
including major successes with "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me
Down)", and Burt Bacharach & Hal David's theme from
"Alfie" (as heard in the motion picture Alfie, as well as a
single release), both 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 1967.
As the followup to the success of Look at
Us, they released their second studio album in April 1966, The
Wondrous World of Sonny & Chér, which peaked at number 34.
The couple also traveled and performed around the world, and tickets
were some of the hottest at the time. Fans lined up to buy Sonny and
Cher tickets for their first tour, the Wondrous World Tour. The two
became a quick sensation, dressed in animal skins with Bono wearing
knee high caveman boots and Cher going barefoot.
In 1967 Sonny and Cher released their
third album, In Case You're In Love. It peaked at number 46 in the
U.S. charts. It contained two hit singles, both written by Bono,
"The Beat Goes On" (#6 on the Billboard Hot 100) and
"Little Man" (#21 on the Billboard Hot 100), that peaked at
the number one in five European countries.
In an attempt to capitalize on the
duos initial success, Bono speedily arranged a film project for
the duo to star in. But the 1967 feature, Good Times, was a major
bomb, despite the efforts of fledgling director William Friedkin and
co-star George Sanders. After Good Times flopped in 1968, Columbia
Pictures immediately sold rights to their intended follow-up film
Speedway to MGM. The couple were replaced by Elvis Presley and Nancy
Sinatra. In 1969, another film, Chastity, starring Cher, written and
produced by Sonny, was also another commercial bomb.
Sonny and Cher's career had stalled by
1968 as album sales quickly dried up. Their gentle, easy-listening
pop sound had become unpopular in an era of psychedelic rock. Bono
decided to forge ahead, carving a new career for the duo in Las Vegas
resorts, where they sharpened their public persona with Cher as the
wise-cracking singer, and Bono as the good-natured recipient of her
insults. In reality, Bono controlled every aspect of their act, from
the musical arrangements to the joke-writing. While success was slow
to come, their luck improved when network TV talent scouts attended a
show, noting their potential appeal for a variety series.
In 1971, Sonny and Cher had
stopped producing hit singles. Cher's first feature film, Chastity,
was not a success, and the duo decided to sing and tell jokes in
nightclubs across the country. CBS head of programming Fred Silverman
saw them one evening and offered them their own show. The Sonny &
Cher Comedy Hour was originally supposed to be a summer replacement
series, but high ratings gave Silverman sufficient reason to bring it
back later that year, with a permanent spot on the schedule.
Taped at CBS Television
City in Hollywood, the show was a Top 20 hit in the ratings for its
entire run. Every episode, Sonny would exchange banter with Cher,
allowing Cher to put down Sonny in a comic manner. Comedy skits would
follow, mixed in with musical numbers. Three of the regular cast
members who regularly appeared in sketches were Teri Garr (Young
Frankenstien), Murray Langston (below left, who later found brief
fame as "The Unknown Comic" on The Gong Show), and Steve
Martin (below middle,who also served as one of the show's writers).
Other writers included: Chris Bearde, Allan Blye (Canadian writer and
producer, known for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour (1967), and
Bizarre (1980), Bob Einstein (AKA Super Dave Osbourn), Jim Mulligan
(who had worked on Lagh-In) and George Burditt (a writer-producer who
wrote dozens of episodes of the hit sitcom "Three's Company"
and served as its executive producer from 1981-84). Terri Garr
(below right) was also a regular cast member on The Sonny and Cher
Comedy Hour, dancing and acting in comedy sketches. Garr is best
remembered for roles in: Mel Brooks comedy Young Frankenstein (1974)
as Inga, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Oh, God! (1977)
and Tootsie (1982) for which she was nominated for an Academy Award
for her supporting actress. Garr was also featured as secretary
Roberta Lincoln in the Star Trek Original Series episode
"Assignment: Earth" (1968). The episode was designed as a
backdoor pilot episode for a proposed new series, produced by
Roddenberry, to be called Assignment: Earth featuring the adventures
of Gary Seven and Roberta Lincoln. Though the series never sold the
characters have turned up in various Star Trek novels and comic books.
The show was scheduled to
return for a fourth season in October 1974. However, Sonny and Cher
separated that fall, resulting in the cancellation of the show. They
both starred in separate variety shows over the next two years. Sonny
Bono's 1974 variety series, The Sonny Comedy Revue, led off the ABC
Sunday night lineup, but lasted just 13 episodes. While it retained
the creative team behind The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Bono's
solo effort was largely a victim of the show's weak time slot and the
established hits it faced on NBC and CBS. Starting in early 1975,
Cher also returned to network television with her solo variety show,
entitled Cher. It did well during its abbreviated run and was renewed
for the 1975-76 season. However, during the second season Cher
herself decided to end the show to work with Sonny again. Although
Sonny's show had all the cast and crew from the comedy hour and was
expected to be the bigger hit, Cher's show easily became the greater
success in the ratings. Due to contracts, Cher was unable to perform
many of her sketches and characters from the comedy hour on her show;
Sonny had them on his show, instead. In February 1976, the bitterness
of their divorce behind them, the couple reunited for one last try
with The Sonny and Cher Show. It was basically the same as their
first variety series but with different writers to create new
sketches and songs. The revived series garnered enough ratings to be
renewed for a second season, but by this time, the variety show genre
was already in steep decline, and Sonny and Cher finally ending its
run in 1977.
In the decade they spent
together, Sonny and Cher sold 40 million records worldwide.
Performing under her first name, Cher went on to a highly successful
career as a solo singer and actress, appearing in the films Silkwood
(which earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best
Supporting Actress in 1983), Mask, The Witches of Eastwick, and
Moonstruck, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1988.
Cher is the only certified
female performer in music history to have had a US #1 single in the
1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. She is one of only six
actors/actresses to have both a number one single and an Oscar for
acting. The others are Frank Sinatra (1954), Barbra Streisand (1968),
Judy Garland (Honorary Oscar) (1940), Jamie Foxx (2005) and Bing
Cher was the subject of an
episode of The X-Files (1993) called "The Post-Modern
Prometheus" (November 3rd, 1997). This episode concerned a
deformed man who adored Cher because of her role in Mask (1985), in
which her character cared for her deformed son. Several Cher songs
appeared on the soundtrack of this episode, including "Gypsies,
Tramps and Thieves" and "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine
Anymore". At the end of the episode, Mulder and Scully take the
Cher fan to a Cher concert, where they hear her sing her cover of
"Walkin' in Memphis". Cher, a huge fan of "The
X-Files", was asked to play herself in this scene but declined
the producers' offer. However, she revealed on The X-Files Movie
Special (1998) that once the episode aired, she regretted not having
appeared in it.
decided he had had enough of show business the day he was on the set
of Fantasy Island (1977), shooting a scene with Hervé
Villechaize as Tattoo, and misremembered Tattoo's name. Villechaize
flew into a rage, sputtering at Bono, and Bono (as he related later)
literally asked himself what the hell was he doing there. He became
interested in politics rather late in life, when he decided he wanted
a bigger sign for the restaurant he had opened in Palm Springs
(California) and ran straight into red tape, dealing with the city
government. Bono had never voted or registered before, but resolved
to change things by running for mayor. He won the election, served a
successful four-year term (lending his name and fame to the local
economy), and wound up pursuing a whole new career as a politician.
Later he was eventually elected to Congress as a U.S. Republican
Representative from California.
Sonny and Cher's only child, Chastity Sun
Bono (right), was born on March 4th, 1969. In April
1995, Chastity Bono came out as a lesbian in an
interview with The Advocate, a national gay and lesbian magazine. The
1998 book Family Outing detailed how Bono's coming out
"catapulted me into a political role that has transformed my
life, providing me with affirmation as a lesbian, as a woman, and as
an individual." In the same book, Bono reported that Cher, who
was both a gay icon and an ally of LGBT communities, was quite
uncomfortable with the news at first and "went ballistic"
before coming to terms with it. Cher has since become an outspoken
LGBT rights activist.
relationship with her father became strained after Sonny became a
Republican Congressman. The differences in their political views
separated them, and the two had not spoken for more than a year at
the time of Sonny's fatal skiing accident in January 1998.
Chastity Bono worked as a
writer at large for The Advocate, as a social activist, became a
spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, promoting National Coming
Out Day, and served as Entertainment Media Director for the Gay and
Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). In mid-2008, Chastity
Bono began undergoing a physical and social gender transition from
female to male. This was confirmed in June 2009 by his publicist, who
identified Bono's preferred name as Chaz Bono and said, "It is
Chaz's hope that his choice to transition will open the hearts and
minds of the public regarding this issue, just as his coming out
did." GLAAD and the Empowering Spirits Foundation were quick to
offer praise and support for the announcement. Bono's legal
transition was completed on May 8th, 2010, when a California court
granted his request for a gender and name change. He chose the name
"Chaz Salvatore Bono" in honor of his parents. Bono made
Becoming Chaz, a documentary film about his gender transition that
premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.