When it comes to couples-turned-superstars and their impact on music and pop culture, Sonny and Cher take the cake. They were two of the biggest names of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, mastering both music and TV as a duo. But their tumultuous relationship eventually tore them apart, both privately and professionally. Nearly five decades after they split up, and two decades after Sonny’s death, Cher spoke candidly about what happened and how it all went so, so wrong.
The couple started out as a “pop-rock hippie duo,” with hits like “The Beat Goes On” and “I Got You Babe.” They ended up, however, in a bitter divorce. From how they met, to what they fought about, to why they split up, this is the complicated story of Sonny and Cher.
Salvatore “Sonny” Bono had already been making music for a few years when he met Cherilyn “Cher” LaPierre in a Los Angeles coffee shop in 1962. Cher was only 16 years old, 11 years younger than Sonny. At the time, Bono was 27 and working for producer Phil Spector at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studios. The two became fast friends and eventual lovers.
The romance didn’t come naturally, nor did it happen quickly. According to his biography, Sonny was actually interested in a friend of Cher’s at the time. But when Cher’s roommates kicked her out of their apartment and she needed a place to stay, Sonny offered to let her stay at his place in return for housekeeping duties. It proved to be a good opportunity for Cher, whose father had recently abandoned her family.
According to Sonny, Cher “really wanted to be protected.” He soon took on that role. The two were supposedly married in 1964, but Bono wrote in his autobiography that it wasn’t an official marriage. He was already married when the two met, but he and his wife had separated. They were only legally married after their only child, Chastity was born.
Cher began her music career as a session singer thanks to Bono. She sang backup on some of Spector’s recordings, including the Ronettes’ Be My Baby, The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling, and Darlene Love’s A Fine, Fine Boy. But the young Cher was really hoping to make it in show business as an actress.
When Phil Spector asked Cher to sing backup on a few songs, he couldn’t help but notice her talent. She started singing for different bands, including The Crystals and The Ronettes. She also recorded a solo track called Ringo, I love You. As Cher’s career slowly blossomed, so did the romance between Sonny and Cher.
Their first song together was Baby Don’t Go, which became a top 10 hit by 1964. The following year, they signed with Atlantic Records. But no one will argue the fact that their biggest hit was I Got You Babe – the tune that represented the love between the long-haired beauty and the man with the Peter Tork hairdo.
Sonny and Cher rocketed to stardom with an appearance on Top of the Pops. Even then, it was clear that their relationship wasn’t ideal. Cher would never forget what Sonny told her when they first moved in together. She said he told her point-blank, “I don’t find you particularly attractive.” Ouch.
Kiwi Report claims that Sonny, drunk with fame, started cheating on his partner. How was Cher going to pursue a career with a man who was clearly unfaithful to her? It was only after several years of infidelity and public embarrassment that he finally promised to stop seeing other women. Cher told Vanity Fair in 2010 that despite the fact that Sonny treated her “more like that golden goose than like his wife,” she still forgave him.
Sonny had “a tight grip” on Cher; she worshipped him after all. His promise to be faithful was partly because Cher had become pregnant in 1969. It was no accident that they named the baby Chastity Sun Bono (now Chaz). But, according to The Famous People, the baby was named after a film Sonny had written around that same time, which starred Cher as a bisexual.
After Chaz was born, Sonny and Cher were finally legally married. Chaz grew up a celebrity child to two flamboyant parents who were constantly on the road, so family time was scarce. When they landed a show on TV, Chaz made regular appearances.
Before they had Chaz, Sonny and Cher failed in their attempt to make it big as actors. By 1968, they took a further step in their singing career and moved to Las Vegas to star in a nightclub act. Their act, including songs and “bickering” between them, propelled Sonny and Cher to new levels of fame.
In 1971, Sonny and Cher starred in their own variety series on CBS, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Each week, viewers were entertained in their living rooms as they watched the two sing, dance, and basically replicate their Vegas act on the small screen. What was supposed to be a summer series became a year-round program.
The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour featured actors like Carroll O’Connor, Glenn Ford, Harvey Korman, and others. Cher would sing the hits of the day, including some of her own Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves songs. Sonny would occasionally sing along, but it always ended with the two of them singing I Got You Babe. The show was just the break they needed since their earlier music was becoming a bit passé. Oh, and fun fact: Steve Martin wrote some of the material for the show.
Vanity Fair noted that Sonny had “married a teenager, but soon she became a woman and a mother.” Cher, who was becoming the star of the show, often shone so bright on stage that Sonny got lost in the background.
He was quoted saying, “You are a butterfly, meant to be seen by all, not to be kept by one.” Apparently, he controlled many of her decisions. By 1972, the two began drifting apart and headed in different directions. That year, they started seeing other people. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour was their common bond.
They maintained the “happily married” couple on screen. By 1974, Cher finally filed for divorce on the grounds of “involuntary servitude.” In other words, she was fed up with being told what to do and how to do it. “He never hit me, never really yelled at me,” Cher explained. “I could just never ever talk back to him, and so I never got any of my needs met.”
The divorce and their professional split hurt Sonny deeply. But Cher, upon discovering that her ex-husband owned 95 percent of Cher Enterprises, might have been even more upset. She then learned that his lawyer held the other 5 percent, and thus, she was left with nothing. Cher accused him of reserving her earnings.
Sonny then tried to win custody of Chaz. Eventually, they settled. As soon as the divorce was final, in 1975, Cher married someone else: Gregg Allman, the frontman of the Allman Brothers band. But the truth is Cher had her fair share of men to choose from, even The King himself Elvis Presley. Cher later revealed that Presley invited her to spend the weekend with him. But considering how she was fresh out of her divorce, she wasn’t confident enough to go ahead with it. She also admitted how much she regretted that decision.
When it came to her divorce to Sonny, he may have claimed all of her earnings and left her with nothing, but he couldn’t claim Cher anymore. Now, she was another man’s woman. Cher’s relationship with Allman began not long after she met him backstage at one of his shows. “She smelled like I would imagine a mermaid would smell,” Allman wrote about her. “I’ve never smelled it since, and I’ll never forget it.” At the time, Cher was dating and living with record mogul David Geffen, whom Allman knew.
Unashamed, Cher gave Allman her number. Their first date was remarkable but in a bad way. It ended with Allman passed out on the floor after doing hard drugs. The couple got married quickly, but only nine days in, Cher filed for divorce. To the public, Cher and Allman were seen as an odd couple.
The two were a real “opposites attract” kind of couple. He was a rocker; she was a pop star. He was into drugs and alcohol; she was clean and motivated to revive her variety show. Entertainment Weekly reported that Allman had sobered up long enough to partner with her on an album, Two the Hard Way.
Allman didn’t want Cher to team up again with her ex on the Sonny and Cher Show. By the time Allman filed for divorce, he had discovered that Cher was pregnant again and that he was the father. Now that she was pregnant, she and Allman reconciled. At least until their son, Elijah Blue Allman, was born in 1976.
Later on, they divorced for good. Cher started performing an ode to their relationship in her concerts, called My Song. She would show footage of Elijah on the giant screen behind her, which was shot by Sonny. Cher was worried that Allman’s drug use would affect their son, and so she sent Elijah to boarding school when he was only 8 years old.
Unsurprisingly, Elijah grew to feel as though he had been abandoned. When he was with his mother, he was faced with the daunting task of “trying to bond with the various men his mother dated.” Elijah eventually became a talented musician in his own right, and even made an appearance playing guitar in his mother’s 1989 music video If I Could Turn Back Time. He was just 12 years old.
Cher’s instincts were right: her son started having drug problems of his own. But he managed to get clean in 1995. In 2013, he eloped without even telling his mother. “I wasn’t going to wait for anyone’s approval and congratulations just like I’ve never waited for any of that my whole life,” he admitted.
While he typically flies under the radar, Elijah works as a musician and has said that he actually does admire his mother. “You know she’s really talented,” he said in 2019. “She’s gorgeous—I mean, she’s Cher. What’s not to love?” He must also admire the fact that his mother, after two marriages, two divorces, and two children, is still a megastar.
Cher tried to revive The Sonny and Cher Show, but it didn’t work out. So, she returned to recording music. Then, in 1982, filmmaker Robert Altman cast her in a stage play called Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. It wasn’t her first time acting – she had already appeared in a number of TV shows as well as in a number of music videos.
This time, however, director Mike Nichols was impressed enough with Cher to cast her in the film Silkwood with the one and only Meryl Streep. As it turned out, the pop performer had a knack for acting. Her performance earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the 1984 Academy Awards.
More roles followed afterward, including Mask in 1985, The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect, and Moonstruck – all in 1987. The latter is considered her best work. Everyone remembers the scene where the superstar slaps Nicholas Cage. In 1988, Cher won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. As for Sonny, it is no secret that he has had some bumps in his career over the years.
In 1991, he told People, “I enjoyed the power of Sonny and Cher so much. That took years and years to let go.” It was hard for Sonny to get over the fact that Cher was the one who remained famous while he had to resort to appearing in guest spots on shows like The Love Boat.
Sonny was also struggling with his love life. Still, he and Cher remained friends. Their last appearance together on stage was in 1987 when they did a rendition of I Got You, Babe, on Late Night with David Letterman. A year later, Sonny ventured off almost completely and was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California.
Sonny dipped his feet into politics. He even remarried. But it would all come to a crashing halt, quite literally, in January 1998. During a ski vacation with his family at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Sonny hit a tree. The 62-year-old pop star turned politician died instantly.
Oddly enough, Bono’s death occurred just days after Michael Kennedy died in a similar accident. Mary Bono, Sonny’s widow, was selected to fill the rest of his congressional term. Then, she was re-elected, serving until her defeat in 2012. She continues to fight for many of her late husband’s causes, like saving the Salton Sea.
Upon hearing of his death, Cher was devastated. She gave a touching, yet funny tribute at Sonny’s funeral, which she apparently didn’t know was being broadcast live on CNN. After a tearful eulogy, the attendants sang The Beat Goes On. In front of millions, Cher praised Sonny, calling him “the most unforgettable character” she had ever met.
The epitaph on his headstone reads: “And The Beat Goes On.”
“I don’t think of him in the past tense, like if I’m talking about him,” she later divulged. “I feel somehow closer to him now than I’ve felt in a really long time, and so he has more relevance to me now than he has in quite a long time.” The year of his death, both Sonny and Cher received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Cher attended the ceremony with Mary Bono, who accepted the award on her husband’s behalf. Cher paid tribute to Sono in the CBS special Sonny and Me: Cher Remembers. She referred to her grief as “something I never plan to get over.” That same year, she released her 22nd album Believe, which was highly influenced by Sonny’s death. In the CD’s booklet, she wrote: “In Memory of Son.”
In 2018, Cher told her story on The Cher Show, a Broadway musical featuring lots of song and dance that recounts Cher’s life. In it, she revealed her strange and turbulent relationship with Sonny. The show featured a seasoned cast and won two Tony Awards. After 296 performances, The Cher Show was “slipping at the box office,” as the Hollywood Reporter noted.
Cher revealed that creating the show “was not easy” and that exploring her relationship with Sonny was “painful.” She said that despite the fact that Sonny wasn’t portrayed in such a positive light in the show, she still believed that he “would like it.” The short-lived Broadway show came right after Cher suffered another blow to her heart.
In 2017, Gregg Allman passed away from liver cancer. His death might have inspired her to work harder at closing the gaps between herself and her adult children. Now in her mid-70s, Cher does what she knows best – she just keeps ongoing. She received a lifetime-achievement nod from the Kennedy Center.
“There are no other careers remotely like hers,” the magazine noted.
In October 2019, she launched a new perfume called Cher Eau de Couture. Apparently, the perfume was four years in the making. She described it as “genderless.” It’s actually her second fragrance, after 1987’s Uninhibited. In May 2020, she released her first song in Spanish, a cover of ABBA’s Chiquitita. Proceeds were donated to UNICEF in light of the pandemic.
Sonny and Cher were one famous couple, but another duo that people to this day still refer to is John and Yoko. And their relationship was anything but smooth…