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Hundreds Mourn Sonny Bono

January 9, 1998

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ Through tears and recollections, Cher today eulogized Sonny Bono as a man whose savvy and stature gave him confidence to endure her stage barbs and succeed in politics.

``Some people were under the misconception that Sonny was a short man, but he was heads and tails taller than anyone else. 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 thousands of mourners at St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church.

Cher said her ``stupid″ eulogy, which took her 48 hours to prepare, was ``probably the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life.″

And she noted: ``I know that this would make Sonny really happy.″

A grinning image of Bono radiated from a large color portrait near his flag-draped mahogany casket. Mourners included House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Vice President Dan Quayle and Gov. Pete Wilson.

As a choir sang ``Amazing Grace,″ a military honor guard carried Bono’s coffin into the church, where mourners included Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, representing President Clinton, and dozens of members of Congress.

In an upbeat eulogy, Gingrich told mourners how Congress members had gathered earlier in the day in Washington for the trip west.

``I couldn’t help to think that as I chatted with Mary (Bono) the other night, 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.

About 1,400 people crammed into the church. Outside, 2,500 more mourners clutched umbrellas in the drizzle, listening to the services on a loudspeaker.

``We’re here to pay our respects to a dear friend and his family. ... We’re all saddened and shocked,″ Quayle said before entering the church. ``It’s a sad day for all of us, very surprising and very shocking.″

The two-term congressman from Palm Springs died Monday at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, where he was on vacation with his wife, Mary, and their children _ daughter, Chianna, 6, and son, Chesare, 9. Bono plowed into a pine tree on an intermediate slope and died instantly. He was 62.

During the funeral Mass in this small desert resort that Bono adopted as his home in 1979, the Rev. David Andel recalled Bono’s humor in poking fun at himself and his role as a peacemaker.

``Not just as a dad, he sometimes reconciled arguments between children, but also as a politician, someone who very much was able to ease tension between groups of people by being funny,″ Andel said.

On the eve of the funeral, Bono’s wife was among the hundreds of mourners who filled the little church to pay respects to Bono. Many knelt and whispered prayers at his flag-draped coffin.

Bono’s widow made an unannounced visit to the four-hour vigil Thursday night. Wearing a long black coat, Mrs. Bono knelt before the casket and clasped her hands in prayer before going back to a pew, where she sat for about 10 minutes.

As she left with family friend Bruce Herschensohn, a conservative commentator who ran against Bono for U.S. Senate, Mrs. Bono embraced, kissed and shook hands with mourners outside.

They began lining up outside the church more than two hours before the vigil. Some people drove three hours to this desert resort, 100 miles east of Los Angeles.

Clutching Sonny and Cher dolls, Donna Berry of Victorville said she used to enjoy watching ``The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour″ during which the droopy-mustachioed Bono played the bumbling sidekick to his sharp-tongued, striking wife. The variety show ran from 1970 to 1974.

``It was her glamor, his sense of humor, the way they worked together,″ Berry said.

Bono was elected to Congress as a Republican representing the Palm Springs area in 1994.

Though the politician had gone a long way toward shedding his comical TV image, his down-to-earth qualities endured from Hollywood to Washington.

``He was such a nice man,″ said Jeannie Stone, 44, of Los Angeles, who attended the vigil. ``I grew up with his music, and I’ve watched him grow as a person.″

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