Thousands Mourn Sonny Bono
Jan. 10, 1998
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Wracked by sobs, Cher eulogized her ex-husband Sonny Bono on Friday as ``the most unforgettable character,'' and told a unique gathering of mourners from Hollywood and Washington how the entertainer-turned-congressman beat the odds with his joking personality.
``Some people were under the misconception that Sonny was a short man, but he was heads and tails taller than anyone else, '' Cher said tearfully.
``He could see above the tallest people. He had a vision of his future and just how he was going to build it,'' Cher told some 1,400 mourners at St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church.
A large color portrait of a grinning Bono hung near his flag-draped mahogany casket. Outside, another 2,500 mourners clutched umbrellas in a light drizzle, listening to the services on a loudspeaker.
The two-term Republican congressman and former mayor of Palm Springs died Monday when he skied into a tree at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe. He was 62.
Mourners included House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a dozen congressmen, former Vice President Dan Quayle, former President Gerald Ford, California Gov. Pete Wilson, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who represented President Clinton, and singer Tony Orlando.
In a ceremony marked by tears and laughter, Bono was remembered as a gregarious man whose accomplishments were more remarkable given his self-deprecating sense of humor.
Cher, Bono's long-time singing and stage partner, described first meeting him, then traced the formation of their professional and romantic partnerships.
``When I was 16, I met Sonny,'' she recalled. ``I never saw anything like him before in my life. He walked into this room and I swear to God, I saw him and everybody else was washed away.''
Laughs filled the church when Cher lovingly recalled Bono's ``weird hairdo _ between Caesar and Napoleon.''
``One of the first things he told me was he was a descendant of Napoleon and his father shortened the name to Bono, but he didn't want to make a big deal of it,'' she said.
Calling him ``a scrappy little Italian guy with a bad voice,'' Cher said he purposely decided to cast himself as the duo's straight man.
``What people don't realize is he created Sonny and Cher,'' the Academy Award-winning actress said. ``He had the confidence to be the butt of the joke because he created the joke.''
On the career change that propelled him to Washington, Cher said, ``I know someone doesn't decide in the middle of their life to become a congressman, but that's so typically Sonny.''
Leaving most of the congregation in tears, Cher ended her eulogy by recalling a Reader's Digest feature called, ``The Most Unforgettable Character.''
``That person will always be Sonny for me,'' she said.
In his eulogy, Gingrich told mourners how members of Congress had gathered before dawn in Washington for the trip west.
``It was the sort of group Sonny would have liked, a lot of people, important, early in the morning being inconvenienced for him,'' Gingrich said
Gingrich said Bono never took himself seriously and never acted like a celebrity. Behind his jokes, however, was a dedicated politician who was able to disarm his critics, Gingrich said.
California Gov. Pete Wilson said Bono's candor and tenacity were his greatest gifts.
``A lot of us will remember a man who beat the odds because he refused to let the odds beat him. He refused to accept it when somebody told Sonny he couldn't do something,'' Wilson said.
After the funeral Mass, a cortege of several hundred cars drove to the cemetery at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City for the burial. There, as the sun broke through the rainy skies, Bono was given a 21-gun salute from a military color guard.
Bono's wife Mary, and their children _ daughter Chianna, 6, and son Chesare, 9 _ then released several dozen doves into the sky.
Bono was married four times and had one other child, with Cher, Chastity Bono.