The husband and wife singing duo, Sonny and Cher, epitomised true love and romance in the famous decade of love, the Swinging Sixties. Their most famous song, I Got You Babe, released in 1965, became the anthem for a generation.
Cher said that Sonny had written the song for her and they were actually living the lyrics. “It was about our life,” she told an interviewer. No-one could have guessed that just 10 years later, the iconic duo, who had won international stardom and had their own TV series, would go through an acrimonious, ugly and very public divorce.
Did they have solo careers?
When Sonny met Cher, he was a 28-year-old assistant to the famous record producer, Phil Spector, while she was 11 years younger and had dropped out of high school because she wanted to be a star.
Salvatore “Sonny” Bono was born in February 1935 in Detroit and decided in his teens he wanted to be a singer. He started writing his own songs and one he wrote at 16 (called Koko Joe) was later recorded by the Righteous Brothers.
He didn’t graduate and instead dropped out to take a series of casual jobs to pay his way, while writing his own songs and trying to break into the music business. His big break came when he got a job working for Phil Spector in the early 1960s, although he was a promoter rather than an artist.
Cherilyn “Cher” Sarkisian was born in California in May 1946. Her father was a truck driver and her mother a model and actress. She managed to get Cher roles as an extra in TV shows such as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – a sitcom on ABC in the 1950s and ’60s.
Once bitten by the show business bug, Cher, who had produced and starred in a student production of the musical Oklahoma, dropped out of high school at 16 and moved to Los Angeles, where she took acting classes and worked to support herself.
How did they meet?
Cher was very ambitious and approached anyone in the music and film industry whom she thought might help her to realise her dreams. Former classmates described her “striking appearance and outgoing personality” even at 16, when she was already “like a movie star”.
Her glamorous looks and outgoing personality didn’t go unnoticed when she bumped into Sonny in a coffee shop in Los Angeles in 1962. She was still only 16 years old. They hit it off straight away and became best friends before they started dating and eventually married.
Sonny found work for Cher as a session singer and she sang backing vocals on many of Spector’s recordings, including the Ronettes’ famous hit, Be My Baby, the Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling and Darlene Love’s A Fine Fine Boy. Sonny also sang backing vocals on the latter hit single in 1963.
Sonny and Cher first collaborated on their own records in 1964, but their first couple of singles didn’t do much chart-wise. This all changed in September 1964, when they released Baby Don’t Go. It became their first hit and was the start of a highly successful career as a duet that lasted until the mid-1970s.
After they appeared on Top of the Pops in 1965, singing I Got You Babe, they became superstars on both sides of the Atlantic. The song most associated with the couple reached number one on the American Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also topped the singles chart in the UK and Canada and was a top 10 hit all over Europe.
Throughout the 1960s, they had a series of charts hits in the US and UK, including What Now My Love, But You’re Mine, Little Man and A Beautiful Story. Fans loved the fact they were a real-life couple, singing romantic love songs that everyone could relate to. Their daughter, Chastity, was born in 1969.
They became pop superstars and were also given their own prime-time television show, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, which was a big success in the early 1970s. It seemed like pop’s golden couple could do no wrong, until in 1974, cracks started to appear in their relationship.
End of an era
The couple’s relationship began to collapse very publicly, with the eyes of the media upon them. As a result, their TV show was cancelled in 1974. Although the fans could hardly believe this apparently loved-up couple were on the rocks, Cher later explained the reasons why their marriage failed.
She described Sonny as being “like a father” much of the time and being “really tough”, although not in a violent way. He reportedly was the boss in the relationship and liked Cher to do as he expected. She said she never felt able to stand up to him and as she grew older, she felt her needs weren’t being met.
In an interview, she said it didn’t make any difference when she was young, because she was “crazy about” Sonny and he was “everything” to her, but after they had a daughter together, Cher said she felt like she was starting to grow up. Being dominated by Sonny all the time started to kill her spirit, she said.
The painful end of one of the music industry’s closest relationships was played out in the media, which made it all the more difficult. At the age of 27, Cher finally stood up to Sonny and said there must be some changes. His reluctance to accept this led Cher to file for divorce in 1974.
A legal wrangle ensued over custody of their daughter and how to split their earnings. Their divorce was finalised in 1975 and Cher later said it took her a long time to get over everything that had happened.
While Cher relaunched a successful solo career, including her own hit TV show, Sonny’s attempts to go solo were less successful. Eventually, he entered politics, serving as the mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992.
He was behind the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which is held each year in memory of the late star, who died in January 1998 in a skiing accident at a resort near South Lake Tahoe in California.
Cher’s career as an actress and singer has gone from strength to strength. Now aged 73, she has starred in hit movies such as The Witches of Eastwick, Suspect and Moonstruck, for which she won the Best Actress Oscar in 1987.
In 2017, she was booked for a 102-show residency at the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and the MGM National Harbour Theatre, in Washington.
In 2018, she starred in the hit musical film, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. She released a new album, Dancing Queen, on 28th September 2018. Cher remains one of the biggest and most successful recording and touring artists in the world.
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