Sonny Bono's Four Grown-Up Children: Meet Them All
Sonny Bono had a career that just wouldn’t quit. He was a classic example of a man who evolved from one of the most famous singing and acting sensations, alongside his glamorous ex-wife, Cher, to a respected congressman and activist mayor. With four failed marriages, constant drug abuse problems, gender confusion, and adultery issues, Sonny was wrecking not only his own life but his children’s as well. Today, we’ll cover everything from the singer’s tumultuous personal life, the impact it had on his kids, and a tragic, fatal ski trip.
A Legend was Born
On February 16, 1935, Salvatore Philip Bono was born in Detroit, Michigan to parents Santo Bono and Zena Jean Bono. His mother was the one who came up with the name Sono, and after a while, it developed into Sonny. Sonny was the third and only male child of his parents among two other sisters; Fran and Betty. His parents made their way to Inglewood, California when Sonny was only seven, and after a while, his parents filed for divorce.
It did not take Sonny long to realize that he had a dream in the music business, and he began to work towards it. His career kicked off as a singer and songwriter with a lot of passion, and that’s when he joined a record label owned by Johnny Otis Dig. Sonny tried to make it through high school, but he was unable to.
Hence, he dropped out. The menial jobs he took included; truck driver, a construction worker, and waiter. He took on these jobs to be able to feed himself and pursue his music career. Life began to get better for the singer, and soon he did what every man in his age would have done, fell in love. In his case, he fell in love too often.
Sonny’s First, Third And Fourth Marriage
On November 3, 1954, Sonny met, fell in love and married his first wife Donna Rankin. Four years later, the couple welcomed their first daughter named Christine. Everything was going well until they divorced in 1962. In 1981, New Year’s Eve to be precise, Sonny married another woman called Susie Coelho.
The couple did not have any children together and divorced in 1984. Two years after his divorce from Susie Coelho, Sonny Bono got married to his fourth wife, Mary Whitaker, in 1986. The couple had a son and daughter, born in 1988 and 1991 respectively.
The Cher Affair
After his divorce from his first wife, Donna Rankin, Sonny Bono met another woman known as Cherilyn Sarkisian, popularly known as Cher who was only 16, while he was 27. According to the Grammy and an Academy Award-winning singer and actress, she was not the singer’s first choice, as he had eyes for her best friend. She was at a party with her friend when Sonny showed up and started engaging her friend in a conversation. They spent the rest of the night dancing with one another while Cher watched from a distance.
Fortunately, Sonny moved into her former neighborhood at the same time she was looking for a place to stay. Her roommates had kicked her out from their apartment, and she was left stranded. She went to him and told him about her dire situation, and he asked her if she could cook and clean. Sonny allowed her to share his apartment with him because to him, she was not attractive. It was not long before they became professionally and romantically bonded with one another.
Together, they made two debut songs that put them at the peak of their careers. The songs were titled; 'I Got You Babe' and 'Baby Don’t Go'. The super couple went from being roommates to tying the knot in 1964, two years after Sonny’s first divorce. A few years later, they welcomed their first daughter, Chastity.
What Went Wrong With Power Couple?
In 1971, Sonny and Cher began a television show called The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, which became a huge hit. The couple was excelling in their music career, and this television show gave them an edge in the industry. It is safe to say that Sonny and Cher were swimming in wealth. The couples’ careers were skyrocketing, but their personal life was slowly going down the drain. There were cases of infidelity on Sonny’s part, and Cher had once mentioned that five women were not enough for her husband.
In 1975, Cher recounted that she was attracted to Sonny because he believed that women were to be taken care of always. However, this belief began to choke her as it seemed like Sonny was still interested in anything dressed in skirts. In 1972, Cher got involved with the guitarist in their band, and she told Sonny about it, but that did not break their relationship. Their relationship was the highlight of their careers, so to keep that going, they decided to remain married while having other sexual partners.
After pretending for a long time, the couple could not handle it; hence, Sonny filed for divorce in February 1974. Cher had once referred to their union as involuntary servitude, and she gave her consent for the divorce. During the divorce process, Cher found out that 95% of their company shares was owned by Sonny, and their lawyer owned the remaining 5%. Due to the love and trust between the couple, while they were together, Cher signed a restrictive contract which stated that she could only take jobs that her husband, Sonny, gave his consent on. On June 26, 1975, Cher’s divorce to Sonny was finalized, and the couple went their separate ways.
Bono’s first daughter also inherited his passion for food and the namesake of his thriving restaurant in Long Beach. “The best time was always in the kitchen,” Christy recalled. “It was where we shared so much family time. It was always based around food.” Generations of family recipes helped Christy in beginning her career in the restaurant business and later named her second eatery in the upscale area of Naples in Long Beach after her 8-year-old son, Nico.
Since Christy’s opening in 1994, business increased with 30% and almost quadrupled in size. “I’m now 41, and I feel much more of a sense of accomplishment doing things on my own,” Christy said. “Yes, [being a Bono] is a part of my life. And yes, it does bring people in here. But it doesn’t really change who I am. I’m a businesswoman and a mother.”
Almost two years after Sonny’s divorce from Donna, he married Cher on October 1964; the dynamic singing duo also had a child, Chaz Bono born on March 4, 1969. Chaz followed his parent’s into showbiz and became an actor but also an acclaimed author of three books that include “Transition”, released in May 2011.
The book gave a candid account of Chaz’s lifelong struggle with gender identity. Born female, Cher and Sonny named him after the 1969 movie “Chastity,” written by Sonny and starring Cher. In his book, Chaz also shared other troubles he faced earlier in life. Sonny’s death hit Chaz hard, and he eventually became addicted to opiates to cope with the loss of his father and his lover Joan Stephens.
"These personal losses triggered a gradual but extreme downward spiral in my life that ultimately led me to develop an addiction to prescription painkillers—the only way I found at the time to take the edge off the searing pain inside of me," Chaz said.
Since then, Chaz underwent gender confirmation surgery and legally changed his name from Chastity Sun Bono to Chaz Salvatore Bono on June 11, 2009. After the death of Joan Stephens, Chaz dated Jennifer Elia, but after their break up in 2011, he feared that love wasn’t in the cards for him. “I seem to repel women I am attracted to,” Chaz commented in 2015. But two years later, everything changed. Chaz met and fell in love with the former child star, Shara Blue Mathes, and the two have been together happily ever since.
Cher and Sonny got divorced on June 26, 1975, and it took six years before Sonny married his third wife, Susie Coelho on December 31, 1981. Their union lasted a mere three years and the couple divorced without any children on November 21, 1984.
Cher's Fear of Losing Chaz
Even though Cher has been an outspoken activist for the LGBTQ community, the singer admitted that even she was left feeling confused and searching for answers, once her son opened up about his sexuality. In an interview with Price Source, she shared that her biggest fear was that she was ‘losing her child.’
The star also opened up about how her role as a parent changed with a transgender child:
"This is what I think, and this is what I would hope: I would hope that, look, I didn't go through it that easily. Both times. When I found out Chaz was gay, I didn't go through it that easily; when I found out Chaz was [transitioning] ... except we talked about it a lot, actually. But then Chaz didn't mention it anymore, so I kind of forgot. And what I think is, there's such a fear of losing the child you love, and what will replace that child."
Cher continued to explain,
"I think it's about the fear, mostly. I felt, who will this new person be? Because I know who the person is now, but who will the new person be and how will it work and will I have lost somebody?"
She also shared,
"And then I thought of something else: I thought, my god, if I woke up tomorrow and I was a man, I would be gouging my eyes out. And so I know that if that's what you feel then that must be so painful that it doesn't make any difference what anyone else feels or what anyone else thinks. Chaz is so happy now and we get along better than ever."
Sonny’s fourth and final marriage to Mary came two years later when the couple wed on March 1, 1986. They had two children, Chesare and Chianna. Nine years old when his father died, Chesare turned to drugs to cope with the devastating loss. Starting with just some harmless, weekly pot sessions with his friends, Chesare had developed an addiction to the painkiller Oxycodone by the time he graduated from high school
One day when I couldn’t get any pot, my friend offered me Oxycontin. I’d never heard of it. But it soon became the perfect drug for me. It was such a mellow feeling. I’d put it in my mouth, suck the coating off, then use a hose clamp to grind it up into a fine powder and snort it.
The hobby soon turned into an addiction, as Chesare's need for the drug only increased with time:
By my senior year, I’d become a fiend. I started stealing from my mom, my sister and friends. I pawned all my video games, guitars, amps, my father’s ring. My room was empty. I even snuck into one of my best friends’ homes and stole his Xbox, then sold it for $100 to get some Oxy. As soon as I’d get a pill, I’d go do it in my car.
And eventually, this led to his experimentation with heroin during his freshman year at the University of California, Riverside:
During my freshman year of college at the University of California, Riverside, I tried heroin. I had always thought heroin was the worst of the worst. But I smoked it off tinfoil and realized it was the exact same feeling as Oxy. At the most, I was spending $120 a day on drugs. I never thought I was addicted. But one morning I ran out of pills and woke up in my dorm room feeling terrible, wanting to rip my skin off.
After getting busted at a rehab center for smoking heroin, Chesare went to Cirque Lodge in Utah in 2007, where he eventually got his drug use under control. “That turned out to be a pretty cool place where I learned all the things you can do to have fun without drugs. I’d do an indoor ropes course, climb and do archery,” Chesare told PEOPLE. “Lindsay [Lohan] and I were in treatment together, and we got pretty close. But most importantly, that’s where it hit me that I can never use again.” Chesare turned his life around and went back to college while he also worked as an assistant to Barry Manilow’s tour manager. “I’ve come a long way, but I never think I have my addiction beat. No matter how good it is, it could all go bad again,” he added.
According to Chianna’s Linkedin profile, she became involved with government support services since 2010 and is a Delivery Support Specialist in the Washington D.C. metro area at Highlight Technologies. While Chianna got named “Rookie of the Year,” she also gave birth to her first child on what would have been Sonny’s 77th birthday and called him Sonny William Hrabe.
After Sonny’s death, his relationships made headlines again when Sean Machu got refused access to his funeral. Claimed to be Sonny’s illegitimate child with the former actress and model, Mimi Machu in 1964, Sean told PEOPLE of his repeated rejection by the Bono family. “I was abandoned and rejected by my father my whole life,” Sean said. “I didn’t want to be rejected again at his funeral.”
Six months after Sonny’s death, Sean filed a claim against his alleged father’s estate and insisted on being his son. However, after the results of the DNA came back, Sean dropped his claim against the $1.72 million estate. Similar to Sonny, Cher also had numerous relationships to date. Even though Sonny was the first man to treat Cher well, we took a look inside the relationships with her famous husbands and boyfriends.
Recalling the tragic event
Although it’s been over twenty years since Sonny's death, Mary Bono, former Congresswoman, recalls that tragedy, on January 5 as if it were yesterday. After their friends had gone home, Sonny, Mary, and their children, Chesare and Chianna, decided to tackle the slopes for the last time at the Heavenly Ski Resort.
With Sonny in the lead, and his kids and wife following behind, the family went out around midday for some skiing fun. “Ches, follow me,” Sonny called to his son, with a huge smile on his face. Ches followed suit, but his ski suddenly caught an edge, causing him to spin around and go straight for Chianna. Mary quickly tended to her kids - and that was when Sonny had vanished.
Mary, alongside her kids, skied to the first stop area, with Sonny nowhere to be found. At this point, curiosity switched to panic. Bono had assumed that Sonny was probably just skiing so fast that he ended up zooming past the first rest area.
In an emotional interview, she opened up about the tragic event:
“We went to the next little spot and waited. We skied to the bottom and he wasn’t anywhere. I was wondering if he fell, or if he went to the right and I went to the left – if he went down to a different chair. You know, all these things can happen.”
After half an hour of searching with no luck, panic struck the family. The ski patrol confirmed that no accidents had been reported on the slope. They waited some more, until Mary took matters into her own hands, and took the ski lift up the hill to look for her husband, scanning the slopes with her children. They looked everywhere but saw nothing. Mary recalled, “The kids were so cold, they were crying. I said, ‘OK. He had to have skied to the very bottom. That’s what happened. He’ll be there waiting for us.”
After searching the mountains up and down, as well as guest services, lodges, and the premises overall, by 4:30 pm, the ski patrol had officially listed Sonny as missing. Mary continued to call her friends and talked to the ski patrol when one officer admitted - “It doesn’t look good.” Around 6 p.m., the sheriff and the president of the ski resort broke the news to Mary - they had found Sonny’s body. Sonny collided with a tree, and with the force of the collision, would have been left brain dead regardless - even if he was wearing a helmet.
After begging them to take her to the scene of the accident, they put her in a snowmobile and they made their way up the mountain one last time. Through tears, Mary said, “It was the longest snowmobile ride, but I never wanted it to end. The minute I got there, I saw his feet and his legs, and I knew it was him.”
When the long trip down the mountain was over, Mary had to go through an even more difficult task - breaking to her children that their father is gone. In a phone interview she shared:
“I was in shock. I didn’t have time to prepare or think about, ‘How do I break this kind of news to my children?’ I didn’t have anybody with me. When I came back down, I just sort of blurted it out: Sonny was dead and had gone to heaven. I don’t know how else you can deliver that kind of news. I don’t know how you sugarcoat it. I don’t know what the hell you can do.”
There is no doubt that Sonny Bono was a great musician with the rarest of talents, who inspired so many people in the world today. Although he did not have a great romantic history as he kept going from one woman to another, and had kids with three of the women he married, he is still a legend in the music industry today. His sudden death while skiing was tragic and sad to everyone, but his music is still a source of inspiration. Let us know your thoughts on the life of Sonny Bono in the comments and share this article with your friends.