Sonny and Cher — they spent over a decade making sweet, sweet music together while forging an empire. But the beat did not go on.
How Did Sonny and Cher Meet?
November 1962: A then-16-year old Cherilyn Sarkisian, having recently reinvented herself into Cher LaPiere, made the acquaintance of Sonny Bono, a promotions man, percussionist, lyricist, and gofer for record producer Phil Spector.
Though it was far from love at first sight as far as Sonny was concerned — in fact, he was more entranced with the girlfriend accompanying the future superstar — for Cher, it was something all together ethereal.
“I had never seen anything like him before in my life… He had this thing about him. He walked into this room, and I swear to God I saw him and like everybody else in this room was just washed away in this soft-focus filter.”
When she found herself in need of living accommodations, Cher said that Sonny made her an offer she couldn’t refuse – but it was one tempered with what she could only assume was an unintended slight. “You know, you can come and live with me because I have twin beds and really don’t find you attractive.”
A Duo Is Born
Despite that less than auspicious start, Sonny and Cher did eventually transition from platonic roommates to something more intimate — but sex wasn’t the most vital component to the pair’s relationship.
“It wasn’t a fiery sexy thing with us,” Cher remembered, “but rather paternal, like we were bound together, two people who needed each other, almost for protection.”
Thanks to Sonny’s connections with Spector, aspiring singer Cher was able to finally parlay her talents into a career – albeit as a backup vocalist. In time, Sonny and Cher became a vocal duet under the stage names Caesar and Cleo.
Success – In Business and At Home
October 24, 1964: Sonny and Cher exchanged unofficial wedding vows in Tijuana Mexico. In 1965, the nom de plumes were scuttled and the couple released the popular I Got You Babe under their own names.
Recalls Cher, “One day were poor. Two days, three days later, we were famous.” But fame is fickle. A downturn in their careers, the result of two failed forays into the feature film business, forced the two to travel the Vegas lounge circuit and appear on television talk shows.
Their set, which consisted of multiple duets interspersed with good-natured ribbing, was eventually adapted into the mega-popular Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. But trouble was brewing.
In 1972, Cher informed infidelity-prone Sonny that she was seeing a crew member. Two years later, Sonny filed for legal separation, citing “irreconcilable differences.” Cher countered with a divorce suit alleging “involuntary servitude.”
Sonny and Cher – Moving Forward
June 26, 1975: Sonny and Cher are officially divorced. Cher was granted custody of their daughter Chastity (now a transgender man who goes by Chaz, born to the couple on March 4, 1969, and the impetuous for a legally-binding marriage) and the former marrieds each headlined their own eponymous variety series. Though the show Cher would outlive The Sonny Comedy Revenue, both performers realized that in order to succeed, they needed each other – like it or not.
February 1976: The Sonny and Cher Show debuts. Despite the excellent ratings for its premiere episode, the series was, ultimately, deemed a failure. The caustic banter that had been so appreciated by the audience when the performers were still Mr. and Mrs. now seemed awkward and forced – “That’s not what you said in the courtroom!”
Subsequently, the duo would reunite, on a strictly professional basis, on two separate occasions. First on the Mike Douglas Show (1975) and then again on Late Night with David Letterman (1995).
The years that followed were acrimonious, especially after the publication of Sonny’s autobiography, And the Beat Goes On. However, the animosity that passed between them seemingly evaporated on January 5, 1998, when the news of Sonny’s passing reached Cher.
At his funeral, she named Sonny the Most Unforgettable Character she had ever met. “And no matter how long I live or who I meet in my life, that person will always be Sonny for me.”
Decades after his passing, Sonny is still synonymous with Cher and vise versa. In a 2010 interview with Vanity Fair, Cher revealed that Sonny had once said to her, “One day you are going to leave me. You are going to go on and do great things.”
And then she made quite the confession, “I wouldn’t have left him if he hadn’t had such a tight grip…” but he treated her, “more like a golden goose than like his wife…. I forgive him, I think. He hurt me in so many ways, but…He was so much more than a husband – a terrible husband, but a great mentor, a great teacher.”