The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Sonny & Cher

Meet Sonny and Cher Bono, the dynamic couple who brought a lot of love, laughter, and light to mainstream media during the late 1960's and 70's. The couple first made the scene as a "pop-rock hippie duo," belting out such charismatic hits as "The Beat Goes On" and "I Got You Babe," the latter which sold more than three million copies according to Britannica. These were truly feel-good tunes, and it didn't hurt that the pair stood out: Cher, lanky and beautiful, towered over her cherub-like mate. But they were funny, and nice, and really cool in a time when America needed someone like them. 

In the following decades, fans would languish over Sonny and Cher as their public life included the birth of a child, television's classic and highly entertaining Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and a very tumultuous divorce. Even Cher's Oscar-winning acting career, wild lifestyle, and marriage to rocker Greg Allman (producing a second child) were a needed antithesis to the stereotypical American lifestyle. Other life complications also kept the Bonos in the public eye. It was a lot for anyone to handle, even a couple of five-star celebrities who let the world in on their private lives. Here are the ups and downs of Sonny and Cher.

A couple of kids with beatnick style

Salvatore "Sonny" Bono had already been working in the music industry for a few years, says All Music, when he met Cherilyn "Cher" LaPierre in about 1964. The young songstress was just 16-years-old in comparison to the 27-year-old Bono, who was already married but separated from his wife. Romance did not come naturally; rather, Sonny was actually pursuing a friend of Cher's, according to Biography. But when Cher's roommates kicked her out of her apartment, Sonny kindly offered her a place to stay in return for housekeeping duties. The situation was ideal for Cher, whose father had abandoned the family. Cher, according to Sonny, "really wanted to be protected."

Way Back Attack states that Cher was hoping to become an actress. But when Gold Star Studios recording artist Phil Spector asked her to sing backup on a few songs, her true talent came through. Bands she sang for included The Crystals and The Ronettes, plus a solo recording titled "Ringo, I love You." As Cher's singing career slowly blossomed, so did her relationship with Sonny. Their first song together, "Baby Don't Go," was a top 10 hit by 1964. A year later they were signed by Atlantic Records. But their biggest hit by far was "I Got You Babe," which became a mantra for the long-haired beauty and her man with the Peter Tork haircut.

The cost of fame and fortune

As Sonny and Cher (shown here with Bob Dylan) soared to stardom with an appearance on the British show Top of the Pops, it was soon clear that their relationship needed work. Cher would never forget that when they first moved in together, Sonny told her point-blank, "I don't find you particularly attractive." That changed when the pair found success, although Kiwi Report claims that Sonny, blinded by fame, began cheating on his mate. Also, their "marriage" in 1964 wasn't even legal. How could Cher pursue her mutual career with a man who was unfaithful to her? She couldn't, and it was only after several years of infidelity that Sonny promised to stop seeing other women.

Cher would tell Vanity Fair in 2010 that although Sonny treated her "more like that golden goose than like his wife," she had forgiven him. And she remembered her "hero worship" of Sonny and how their home life differed little from that of a typical young couple. But Sonny had "a tight grip" on Cher as the couple foundered at trying to gain more fame as actors. In 1968, according to History, the duo furthered their singing career instead by moving to Las Vegas and working as a nightclub act. Not surprisingly the show included singing, with good-natured "bickering" between songs—the act which would later propel the couple to television fame.

A Sonny and Cher production: Chaz

Part of Sonny's pledge to be faithful was because in 1969, Cher became pregnant. So perhaps it was no accident that the baby was named Chastity Sun Bono, now Chaz. The Famous People, however, says that the baby was actually named after a film which Sonny wrote around that time that starred Cher as bisexual. Soon after Chaz was born, Sonny and Cher legally married at last. For Chaz, life as a celebrity child could not have been easy. What with flamboyant folks constantly busy and on the road, there was little room for any real family time.

Chaz continued to be raised "in Hollywood amid all the trappings of wealth and fame." And when Sonny and Cher finally landed a show on national television, Chaz was of course included on a fairly regular basis.

The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour

Beginning in 1971, Sonny and Cher starred in their own variety series, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour on CBS. For 60 minutes each week, folks were entertained in their very own living rooms as the new show featured song, dance, and sketches packed with plenty of talent. Rhino explains that the show was initially meant as a "summer replacement series" that was supposed to run until the fall lineup began. But Sonny and Cher, replicating their Las Vegas act with good-humored jabs and music, were such a hit that CBS decided to include the show during the winter months starting in December.

For about three glorious years, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour hosted stars like actors Carroll O'Connor and Glenn Ford, Harvey Korman of The Carol Burnett Show, and a host of others. Their skits were fresh, funny, and even campy, interspersed with Cher singing hits of the day like her own "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" but also "One Tin Soldier" and more. Sometimes Sonny sang along, and the show always ended with the couple singing "I Got You Babe." It was really the break the couple needed, since their early music was now becoming a bit passé, according to Lifetime. Also, it didn't hurt that soon-to-be comedic star Steve Martin wrote some of the material. Add the occasional cameo by their young son, Chaz, and here was a fun family show that everyone could enjoy.

Sonny and Cher's ugly divorce

As Vanity Fair put it, Sonny "had married a teenager, but soon she became a woman and a mother." Cher also became a superstar, often shining so brightly that Sonny got lost in the background. "You are a butterfly, meant to be seen by all, not to be kept by one," he admitted, even as he controlled Cher's decisions. The two began drifting in different directions in 1972. That year, says Biography, both began seeing other people. But The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour remained their common bond as they presented themselves as happily married to the public. Finally, in 1974, Cher filed for divorce on the grounds of "involuntary servitude."

Indeed, Cher was tired of being controlled by Sonny. "It wasn't like, I mean, he never hit me, never really yelled at me," Cher explained (via Blank on Blank). "I could just never ever talk back to him, and so I never got any of my needs met." But the divorce, and the loss of the Sonny and Cher duo, hurt Sonny deeply—but perhaps not so much as when Cher discovered that her husband owned 95 percent of Cher Enterprises, and that his attorney held the other 5 percent. She accused him of withholding her earnings; he went after custody of Chaz. In the end, both of them settled. And just days after the divorce was final in 1975, Cher married Gregg Allman, the front man of the Allman Brothers band.

Cher's life with Gregg Allman

Cher's relationship with Gregg Allman began shortly after she met him backstage during one of his shows, according to Country Living. "She smelled like I would imagine a mermaid would smell," Allman later wrote. "I've never smelled it since, and I'll never forget it." Cher was actually living with record mogul David Geffen at the time, whom Allman also met. Unabashed by her boyfriend, Cher gave Allman her phone number. What followed was an amazingly bad first date which ended after the musician passed out from shooting heroin. Nine days into their sudden marriage, Cher filed for divorce, according to Blank on Blank. The couple eventually reconciled for a time, but both incidents would be characteristic of Cher's relationship with Allman.

To the public, the pairing of Cher and Allman was odd indeed. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the facts were these: He was a rocker. She was a pop star. He was into liquor and drugs. She was clean and trying to revive her variety show. And although Entertainment Weekly says Allman sobered up long enough to partner with Cher on one album, Two the Hard Way (as "Allman and Woman"), he couldn't handle Cher re-teaming with Sonny for the Sonny and Cher Show. Allman had already filed for divorce when he learned that Cher was pregnant again, this time with his child.

Little boy blue: Elijah Blue Allman

With Cher pregnant, she and Allman reconciled—at least until Elijah Blue Allman was born in 1976. They later divorced for good. Cher began performing an ode to the relationship, "My Song," in her concerts—and notably, footage of little Elijah on the giant screen behind her was shot by Sonny Bono.  Fearful that Allman's drug use would affect her son, Cher sent Elijah to boarding school when he was 8-years-old. But the effort, according to Who, left Elijah feeling abandoned. And when he was with Cher, the boy was faced with "trying to bond with the various men his mother dated."

At the very least Elijah did grow up to be a talented musician and even made a cameo as a guitar player in his mother's 1989 video, "If I Could Turn Back Time" when he was just 12-years-old. Also, according to Monagiza, he had his share of drug problems before getting clean in about 1995. And he suffered a bout with Lyme disease in 2007. Then in 2013, he eloped without his mother's knowledge. "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 said. And although he has "flown under the radar" for the last several years, Elijah continues his work as a musician and admires his mother. "You know she's really talented," he was quoted by Fabiosa in 2019. "She's gorgeous—I mean, she's Cher. What's not to love?"

Cher and her newfound freedom

Two marriages, two divorces, two children, a slew of relationships and a megastar career—it's enough to exhaust anybody, but not Cher. After her divorce from Sonny, she tried reviving The Sonny and Cher Show with her ex. But it didn't work out. Cher had returned to recording music, according to Vanity Fair, when filmmaker Robert Altman cast her for the stage play Come Back to the Five & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean in 1982. It was not Cher's first time acting; Internet Movie Database shows her appearing in a number of television shows besides her own, as well as a series of music videos. But this time, director Mike Nichols was impressed enough to cast her in the movie Silkwood with Meryl Streep.

It turned out that Cher, pop performer extraordinaire, had a real talent for acting. Her role in Silkwood netted her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the 1984 Oscars. More roles followed: she was the distraught biker mom in Mask in 1985. She did three films in 1987: The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect, and Moonstruck. The latter movie was her best work; who wouldn't want to see the superstar slap the hell out of Nicholas Cage? Cher's hard work paid off, and she won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1988. She has since appeared in several more films and television shows.

The tragic death of Sonny Bono

Long before Chaz Bono officially emerged on the scene, he and his family dealt with the sudden, untimely, and tragic death of Sonny. It was no secret that Sonny had his own career bumps over the years. "I enjoyed the power of Sonny and Cher so much," he told People magazine in 1991. "That took years and years to let go." Part of the issue was that Cher had remained famous while Sonny was relegated to guest roles on shows like The Love Boat and struggled with his love life. But he also remained friends with Cher. Their last appearance together was a rendition of "I Got You Babe" on Late Night with David Letterman in 1987.

The next year, Sonny was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California. He continued dabbling in politics, and remarried. Then, in January 1998, the New York Times announced that Sonny was with his family on a ski vacation in South Lake Tahoe, California when he hit a tree. He died instantly. Cher was naturally devastated, and gave an emotionally poignant, touching, and funny tribute at his funeral which was shared on Blank on Blank. "I don't think of him in the past tense, like if I'm talking about him," she said later. "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 Cher Show tells all on Broadway

In 2018, Cher had a unique opportunity to tell her story with The Cher Show, a Broadway musical which opened at New York's Neil Simon Theater. As the show's website explained, "Superstars come and go. Cher is forever." Nothing to disappoint fans, the production, according to Playbill, featured plenty of song and dance as Cher's biography was revealed—including her strange and tumultuous relationship with Sonny. The show featured a competent, seasoned cast and won two Tony Awards.

By 2019, after 296 performances, it became apparent that The Cher Show was "slipping at the box office," according to the Hollywood Reporter. The show closed that August. It was just as well: Cher later revealed to Meaww that creating the show "was not easy and exploring her relationship with her former husband was 'painful.'" She also said that although Sonny was not necessarily portrayed in a good light for the show, he "would like it." Even so, Cher said, "There were parts that were really hard, and parts that were really painful. Like when Sonny is dead and he comes to talk to me. Oh, I am sobbing. Every time."

Is Cher living happily ever after?

The short-lived life of The Cher Show came just after Cher suffered another blow to her heart. In 2017, Gregg Allman died from liver cancer. Ultimate Classic Rock says that Cher "paid loving tribute to her former husband, saying 'words are impossible.'" Allman's death perhaps inspired the star to begin working harder to close the gaps between herself and her children, the latter whom Amo Mama claimed had grown apart as kids but "now have an improved relationship."

As for Cher, what can one do but just keep going? So she has. Rolling Stone magazine gave a detailed update in 2019: She starred in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again and produced a "smash album" of cover songs from the Swedish pop group, ABBA. She also received a lifetime-achievement nod from the Kennedy Center. "There are no other careers remotely like hers," the magazine said, noting that there were no signs Cher intended to slow down: "As she used to sing, the beat goes on. For Cher, it always does and always will." Indeed, Cher continues to announce tours on her website while selling her latest product: Eau de Couture. It's just a guess that it smells like success.