Here's Who Inherited Sonny Bono's Money After He Died

During his life, Sonny Bono was a pop star, a television personality, and represented his state in the United States Congress, according to Biography. For the son of Italian immigrants, Bono's life seemingly encompassed the American dream. After years of struggling as a songwriter, Bono's work finally paid off when he met his second wife, Cherilyn Sarkisian, better known by her stage name, Cher. The duo released a string of successful singles, such as "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On" in the mid and late 1960s. At the same time, the pair became a popular comedic duo, first performing at nightclubs before reaching the small screen in their own show, "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour."

The marriage eventually ended in divorce in the mid-1970s. While Cher moved forward with her own solo music and acting career, Bono stepped away from music and entered the world of politics. Despite being a child of the liberal 1960s counterculture, by the late 1980s, Bono was a conservative Republican. He was elected the mayor of Palm Springs, California, in 1988, and served four years before being elected to the United States House of Representatives in California's 44th Congressional District in 1994.

Sonny Bono died without a will

Unfortunately, Sonny Bono's career in politics would be short. On January 5, 1998, while vacationing with wife Mary Whitaker Bono and their two children, Bono crashed into a tree while skiing down a slope. He would die as a result of the accident at only 52 years old.

The suddenness of his death left Sonny Bono's extended family both in a state of shock and in a legal maze. According to Palm City Lawyer, the congressman, with a net worth around $2 million, had died without writing a will. Aside from his fourth wife, Mary Whitaker, and their two children, Bono also had a child from his marriage with Cher, Chaz Bono, and another child from his first marriage, a daughter named Christy Bono Fasce, the McKenzie Firm reported. Whitaker filed a petition to become the executor of her husband's estate, which led to an extended legal battle with Cher, as told by EA Goodman Law.

When the celebrity couple divorced in 1974, Bono was ordered to pay Cher $25,000 per month for six months, $1,500 per month in child support, and $41,000 in lawyer fees. Cher claimed that her ex-husband did not pay any of the fees.

Cher is fighting to receive music royalties

The two former spouses battled in court for years, and didn't stop, even with Mary Bono being named the executor of her husband's estate. Yet, Cher didn't just fight Bono's widow over child support — she also fought to get her music royalties. According to The Guardian, in 2021, Cher sued Mary Bono, claiming that the estate had denied her half of the royalties agreed upon by Sonny and Cher in their divorce.

According to the complaint by Cher's lawyer, the Bono Collection Trust claimed that under the Copyright Act, their 2016 cancellation of rights to music publishers also rescinded the royalties due to Cher. This also meant that Cher no longer had any approval rights for the use of their songs, according to the lawsuit. Cher is seeking $1 million in the lawsuit, which she claims is the royalty amount that has been withheld from her, according to Rolling Stone.

Mary Bono, however, claimed in her dismissal motion that Sonny Bono's heirs have the right to terminate the publishing agreements. As of this writing, the legal decision is still pending.

Sonny Bono's supposed 'love child' made a claim

During the legal battle for Sonny Bono's estate, it turned into an episode of "The Jerry Springer Show" for a time when a man named Sean Machu made his own claim, stating to be the illegitimate child of Sonny Bono, as told by the McKenzie Law Firm. In Machu's defense, Bono had admitted in his autobiography that he had an affair with Machu's mother, and Machu's own birth certificate had Bono as the father.

Speaking to People in June 1998, Machu said he called Bono's congressional office numerous times stating who he was, but never received a return call. "I was abandoned and rejected by my father my whole life," Machu stated. According to AP News, Machu withdrew his claim in August 1999 following a private DNA test. While the test was not made public, Mary Bono said she would not contest the claim if he was Bono's actual child.

According to the McKenzie Law Firm, Bono's estate was divvied up among Chaz, Christy, and his widow Mary.