When Sonny Bono died in a skiing accident outside Lake Tahoe Jan. 5, the 62-year-old celebrity turned politician was at the top of his game. He had reinvented himself many times, making the transition from the shorter half of ''The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour'' to conservative Republican politician. Like the Gipper, he had weathered his career and personal ups and downs with a self-effacing sense of humor that had endeared him to millions.
However, he leaves behind a limited legacy online -- there aren't many "official" Sonny Bono websites -- even the one for his congressional office has been taken down, except for a funeral notice and his picture <www.house.gov/bono>. Type his name in any search engine and you can find your way to sites for ordering Sonny and Cher records and collectibles, but not many fan pages.
He mostly shows up on TV nostalgia websites for the variety shows Sonny and Cher hosted in the 1970s. In fact, the "Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" message board at Nick at Nite's America Online site (keyword: Nick), which usually contains TV trivia, became an impromptu online memorial page, as fans left sympathy messages.
The Nick at Nite site has a Sonny Bono Tribute with a history of Sonny and Cher's four musical variety shows, the first of which debuted on CBS in 1971 and is "now regarded as a classic in a genre which has all but vanished from contemporary TV." The show is also remembered for Cher's provocative Bob Mackie gowns, and regulars that included future stars Steve Martin, Teri Garr and Bob "Super Dave Osborne" Einstein.
"The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" ran until May 1974, when it got cancelled, along with their marriage. Two years and separate TV duds later they reunited, professionally, for "The Sonny and Cher Show," which CBS aired from February 1976 to August 1977, but never achieved the popularity of the original.
Another website observing Bono's passing is "TV Classics" <www.tvclassics.com>, the website of Paul Brownstein Productions, which distributes vintage network TV comedy and variety programs. The site has put up a memorial banner and is featuring video clips and an essay by Billy Ingram titled "The Progression of 'The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,' to the 'Sonny Comedy Review,' to 'Cher,' to 'The Sonny and Cher Show' in just six short years."
Written before Bono's death, the essay adds details to Nick at Nite's history, such as how the part of Cher's exposed anatomy that drew the most media attention was her navel, and how their first show marked the transition from the '60s to the '70s at CBS, which cancelled the popular but controversial "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," then hired many of its writers and producers for Sonny and Cher to do a "Smothers Brothers Lite."
The essay also brings back uncomfortable memories of their separate TV shows and the breakup of their marriage, and how it was all played out in front of the TV cameras. Or, as Sonny commented before the premier of their last variety show together: "When we go out there in front of our first audience tonight, we'll be telling them everything they already knew about Sonny and Cher, but were afraid to ask."
He lost a Senate bid in 1992, but was elected to Congress in 1994, where he was on the House judiciary and national security committees, and was active on immigration and Indian gaming issues. A conservative on family issues, he was sometimes in opposition to his daughter Chastity, a gay rights activist. Known more for his ability to fundraise than logroll, he was still considered a political up-and-comer when he died.
While there aren't a lot of websites devoted to Sonny Bono, the outpouring of sympathy attests to his popularity in cyberspace. The sentiments of many is expressed in this message left at the Nick at Nite message board by GA6thDist:
"It is sad to learn about the tragic death of Sonny Bono. I was a
teen watching the Sonny and Cher in the 70's. What a funny show. Lately
I had been impressed by his hard work in Congress. He didn't bitch and
moan about the way things were going, he got up and fought to change things
-- first as a mayor and then a congressman. He was a talented songwriter
and devoted father. He will be surely missed."