January 5, 1998: Sonny Bono Skis into a Tree and Dies!

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A Brief History

On January 5, 1998, former rock and roll star and current Congressman from California, Salvatore “Sonny” Bono, died when he skied into a tree at a Nevada ski resort.  Sonny, former member of rock duo Sonny and Cher, was 62 years old when he died.

Digging Deeper

Born in Detroit to a Sicilian family, Sonny moved to California at the age of 7.  Bono’s first foray into the music business was as a songwriter, with the hit song “Needles and Pins” to his credit (#13 in US and #1 in the UK in 1964 by The Searchers).  Bono married his second wife, Cher (Cherilyn Sarkisian) in 1964 and the pair became a rock and roll mainstay as the duo, Sonny and Cher until their divorce in 1975, although they did sometimes perform together after the divorce.  Sonny also was a television host and film actor.

Sonny began a new career in politics when he encountered problems attempting to open a Palm Springs, California restaurant, and he was elected mayor of that city in 1988, serving until 1992.  In 1994 Bono was elected (as a Republican) to the US House of Representatives (California 44th district), becoming the first ever member of Congress to have had a #1 music hit (“I Got You Babe,” 1965).

When Sonny tragically died, his widow (Mary nee Whitaker Bono) became his successor in Congress, and she went on to 7 more terms until her defeat in 2012.  Sonny had been married 4 times and had 4 children, including daughter Chastity Bono with Cher, a daughter that later became national news by changing gender identity to male as “Chaz” Bono over a 2 year period from 2008 to 2010.

Sonny had been born and raised Roman Catholic, but in later years became interested in Scientology, taking instruction in that system, as did his wife, Mary.  Mary later reported that when Sonny tried to back away from Scientology, the church hierarchy “made it very difficult for him.”

Sonny Bono is one of many American entertainers that went on to a career in politics, including notables such as Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger,  Clint Eastwood, Fred Thompson, Al Franken, Shirley Temple, Jesse Ventura, Melissa Gilbert, and a host of others.

Sonny and Cher sold 40 million records as a duo, highly successful, but nowhere near the most successful duo in music history, The Carpenters, who sold 150 million records!  (Note: Billboard magazine calls Hall and Oates the most successful charting duo in music history.) Question for students (and subscribers): Who is your favorite musical duo?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

People Weekly Magazine EditorsSonny Bono: His Improbable Life and Sudden Death.  People Weekly Magazine, January 1998.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Liam Hughes from Milwaukee, WI, USA of the grave of Sonny Bono in Desert Memorial Park Cemetery, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.