Twenty years ago today Palm Springs resident, entertainer and political figure, Sonny Bono was killed after hitting a tree while skiing at a resort in South Lake Tahoe. While his wife Mary and their two young children coped with the tragic news our local community quickly came together to support his family and remember a man who changed the face of Palm Springs.
He was bigger than life, Sonny Bono a man who succeeded in both showbiz and politics. A singer, songwriter, actor, and producer mostly known for his role in the singing duo of Sonny and Cher. Recording hit songs like “I got you babe” and “The beat goes on.”
Bono’s widow Mary spoke to me on the phone, reminiscing about her late husband, 20 years after his tragic death at a ski resort in South Lake Tahoe. A funeral that brought entertainers and politicians from across the country to the Desert. She says that every year at this time she feels a bit mopey and melancholy.
“I step back and feel the loss and the pain and I start thinking about all the great joys that I experienced during my life with Sonny and the life after that so it’s a bittersweet day,” according to Mary Bono.
Mary was Bono’s fourth wife, they have two children and were a team while running a restaurant in Palm Springs, when he ran for Mayor and when he successfully became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 44th District. After his death, Mary was elected to fill the remainder of his Congressional term and would go on to serve more than 14 years in Congress. She says, for Sonny showbiz to politics was an easy transition.
“People liked him because he never took himself too seriously and he really appreciated other people’s stories and understood the lives they were living and whatever complications they might be having so I think he prided himself in being a very approachable figure.”
Bono used his likability to get things done as Mayor of Palm Springs and in Congress. Locally, among many issues close to his heart, he worked tirelessly to get funding to help restore the Salton Sea, he led the charge to end what he saw as the mayhem of Spring Break in downtown to help shop owners and restaurants thrive. And, of course, the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
“The film festival certainly was such a great legacy of Sonny’s and he was the first one to recognize that we needed to bring back the glitz and the glamour of Palm Springs and basically restore it as a premier tourist destination as it had lost some of its luster,” according to Mary Bono.
And, the glitz and glamour are definitely back, now in its 29th year the biggest names in Hollywood attend each year and the film festival itself is a money maker for the City.
Sonny Bono was 62 years old when he died. His headstone is located at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City.
If he were still alive today, Sonny Bono would be 81 and enjoying a 5-year-old grandson also named Sonny born on his grandfather’s birthday!