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Bono eulogized as a 'character with character'

Mary Bono
Bono's widow Mary says her final good-bye  

Mourners laugh, cry on his burial day

January 9, 1998
Web posted at: 9:01 p.m. EST (0201 GMT)

PALM SPRINGS, California (CNN) -- With laughter, tears and fond remembrances of an American original, Sonny Bono's family, colleagues and friends said goodbye Friday at his funeral Mass and burial in Palm Springs.

The entertainer-turned-
congressman was described by his former wife and show business partner, Cher, as "the most unforgettable character I've ever met."

"He had a vision of the future and just how he was going to build it, and his enthusiasm was so great that he just swept everyone along with him," said Cher, who fought back tears throughout her eulogy. "Not that we knew where he was going. But we just wanted to be there."

A L S O :

Gallery of photos from the funeral

"In some way, Sonny was a living beatitude," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said. "He walked up, you looked at him and you thought to yourself, 'This can't be a famous person.' He smiled, he said something, and then you said to yourself, 'He can't be a serious person.'"

Scenes from the funeral
video icon 2.6M/33 sec./240x180
1.2M/33 sec./160x120
QuickTime movie

The funeral procession
icon 4 min. 46 sec. VXtreme video

Newt Gingrich speaks at the funeral
icon 7 min. 18 sec. VXtreme video

Cher speaks at the funeral
icon 9 min. 45 sec VXtreme video

"Four jokes and two stories later, you were pouring your heart out to him, he was helping you solve a problem, and you began to realize this was a very hard-working, very thoughtful man who covered up a great deal of his abilities with his wonderful sense of humor."

Ford, Quayle, Wilson among the mourners

Others who paid last respects to Bono were California Gov. Pete Wilson, former President Gerald Ford and former Vice President Dan Quayle. Dozens of Bono's congressional colleagues also attended the service.

About 1,400 people crowded into St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church for the Mass, with another 2,500 listening on speakers set up outside.

At the conclusion of the service, his mahogany coffin, covered with the American flag, was borne out of the church by a military honor guard for the procession to Desert Memorial Park in nearby Cathedral City, where he was buried.

Former wife Cher gives an emotional eulogy  

At the cemetery, his widow Mary and his four children -- Christy, Chastity, Chesare and Chianna -- helped release a small flock of white doves. Bono was also given a traditional salute by military marksmen, and "Taps" was played by a lone bugler. Mary Bono was then presented with the flag from the coffin.

Bono a 'character with character'

Bono, 62, died Monday when he struck a tree while skiing at a resort in South Lake Tahoe.

Speakers at his funeral described him as a "character with character," an ambitious but unpretentious man who carved out successful careers in the highly competitive fields of entertainment and politics against all odds.

"If he really wanted something, he kept going until he achieved it," Cher said. "He was smart enough to take an introverted 16-year-old girl and a scrappy little Italian guy with a bad voice and turn them into the most successful and beloved couple of this generation."

Sonny and Cher rocketed to fame as singers in the 1960s with hits such as "I've Got You, Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." In the 1970s, their television variety show -- where he was most often the butt of her jokes -- was a ratings success.

The Sonny persona created an impression that Bono wasn't very bright. But Cher said that what many people didn't realize was that their highly successful act was his creation.

"He had the confidence to be the butt of the joke, because he created the joke," she said.

Entertainment career followed by politics

By the late 1970s, after Sonny and Cher had divorced and their show went off the air, Bono retreated from show businesses and moved to Palm Springs to open a restaurant.

Sonny Bono

Gingrich recounted how Bono had once broken the tension at a meeting of the House Republican caucus by recounting why he made that decision. Bono told his colleagues that he decided it was time to change careers after "his 47th guest appearance on 'Fantasy Island,'" Gingrich said.

By 1988, upset by edicts from City Hall concerning his restaurant, Bono ran for mayor of Palm Springs. To the surprise of many, he won by a wide margin, beginning a new and improbable career in politics.

In the Republican sweep of 1994, Bono won the House seat from the 44th District of California, which includes Palm Springs and stretches from the far western reaches of metropolitan Los Angeles to the Arizona border.

"A person just doesn't decide to become a congressman in the middle of their life and then be one. But it's so typically Sonny -- to do something so crazy like that," Cher said.

With his celebrity and sense of humor, Bono quickly became one of the GOP's most sought-after fund-raisers. He won re-election in 1996 by a larger margin than he garnered in 1994.

"I think a lot of us will remember a man who beat the odds, because he refused to let the odds beat him," Wilson said. "He just refused to accept it when somebody told him that he couldn't do something, couldn't be something. He just wouldn't accept that."


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