Sunny Bono dies in ski accident

By Brendan Riley Associated Press Published:

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. _ Sonny Bono, the mustachioed, self-deprecating straight man for Cher who put together a string of hit songs highlighted by the duo's "I Got You, Babe" before turning to politics, was killed after skiing into a tree. He was 62. Bono, an avid skier, had been reported missing two hours before his body was found Monday afternoon at Heavenly Ski Resort on the Nevada-California state line, some 55 miles south of Reno. An autopsy was planned. It was the second high-profile skiing death in less than a week. Michael Kennedy, the 39-year-old son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, died Wednesday after crashing into a tree in Aspen, Colo., while playing football on skis. Bono had just started to ski down an intermediate slope, Upper Orion, when he hit a tree, said Stan Miller, Heavenly's main lodge manager. Bono _ who had skied at the huge resort for more than 20 years _ was alone at the time of the accident, the resort said. A Bono spokesman, Frank Cullen Jr., said the California congressman was at the resort with his wife, Mary Whitaker, and their two children, 6-year-old Chianna and 9-year-old Chesare. "They were enjoying a family vacation," Cullen said early today. "He was a very proficient skier. He skied frequently with his family and, yes, he was an athletic guy _ he skied and played tennis." Two years ago, Bono received a deep gash on his chin after he and another skier collided at the Big Bear Lake area east of Los Angeles. He ended up with 11 stitches. "I hit somebody or they hit me, so it was their fault," Bono joked at the time. Born in Detroit on Feb. 16, 1935, Salvatore Bono moved to California with his family during the 1940s, when he was 7, and turned to songwriting after high school. He drove a meat delivery truck, squeezing in trips to record companies to drop off songs. As a songwriter and singer, he worked with Phil Spector and the Righteous Brothers. His first hit was "Needles and Pins." It was with girlfriend Cherilyn Sarkisian that things got really big. In 1964 the recording of "Baby Don't Go" turned quickly into huge success for the quirky, offbeat duo. "I Got You, Babe" hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts on Aug. 14, 1965, and other hits followed _ "The Beat Goes On, "It's The Little Things," "It's A Beautiful Story" and "Laugh At Me." Sonny and Cher, now married, turned to television, with a hit variety show, "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," on CBS from 1971-74 and then again during the 1976-77 season, after their divorce. The show, with on-stage bickering between the husband-wife team as much of a show as the music, proved to be a hit. Bono was well-known for his droopy mustache, bell-bottoms and playing the fall guy to his much taller and sharp-tongued wife. After they were divorced in 1974, Bono all but dropped out of show business, other than a few guest spot on shows such as "Fantasy Island" and "The Love Boat." He worked as a restaurant owner and management consultant from 1982 to 1995. Angry at City Hall bureaucrats for stopping his building plans, he plunged into politics. He was elected mayor of Palm Springs in 1988 and served until 1992. He claimed responsibility for erasing a $2.5 million deficit without raising taxes and starting a local film festival. He ran for the Senate in 1992, finishing a weak third in the Republican primary _ and again became the butt of jokes. In 1994, Bono won the GOP primary easily in California's 44th District and rode the Republican tide with a 56 percent to 38 percent win over Democrat Steve Clute. He won reelection in 1996. "The last thing in the world I thought I would be is a U.S. congressman, given all the bobcat vests and Eskimo boots I used to wear," Bono said in January 1995. At one point after going to Congress, he was the second-most requested draw at members' events behind House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Bono married Ms. Whitaker in 1986. He had one child with Cher _ lesbian activist Chastity Bono _ and two children with Ms. Whitaker. Bono had one child, Christy, with his first wife, but details on that marriage were not immediately known. Bono announced last June that he would not run for Senate this year, saying he didn't want to take that much time from his family.

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