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Sonny Bono killed in skiing accident

Sonny Bono dead January 6, 1998
Web posted at: 7:15 a.m. EST (1215 GMT)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (CNN) -- Congressman Sonny Bono, who first stepped into the spotlight as half of the singing duo Sonny and Cher, was killed Monday in a skiing accident, authorities said early Tuesday. He was 62.

Bono, an avid skier, was reported missing about 4:30 p.m. at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, California. The resort is about 55 miles (88 km) southwest of Reno, Nevada, on the California-Nevada state line. A ski patrol searched the Nevada side of the mountain and found the body some two hours later.

Lt. Ross Chichester said the preliminary investigation indicates that it was an accident. He added that the cause of death has not been determined, pending an autopsy.

The main lodge manager at Heavenly Ski Resort, Stan Miller, told The Associated Press that Bono was skiing alone at the top of the Orion slope when he crossed beneath a chairlift and hit a tree.

Sonny and Cher
Sonny with wife Cher and their daughter Chastity on CBS in the early '70s   

The resort said that Bono had been a frequent skier at the slope for more than 20 years.

Bono was on a vacation with his wife, Mary Whitaker, and their two children, 6-year-old Chianna and 9-year-old Chesare, when the accident happened.

"They were enjoying a family vacation," his spokesman Frank Cullen Jr. said Tuesday. "He was a very proficient skier. He skied frequently with his family and, yes, he was an athletic guy -- he skied and played tennis."

Bono was first elected to Congress in 1994 as a Republican from Palm Springs, where he was mayor from 1988-92. At one point after taking office, he was the second-most requested draw at members' events behind House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

"People have said to me, 'You can't write songs. You can't play an instrument.' But I've got 10 gold records. I can do this job," Bono once said of his political duties.

In recent years, Bono became active in local Palm Springs, California politics   

Bono worked as a singer, songwriter and television performer from 1957 to 1982. He was perhaps best known as the straight man to Cher on "The Sonny and Cher Show" on CBS-TV in the early 1970s. Their first big pop tune, "I Got You Babe," was a number one hit in 1965.

During his showbiz days, Bono always portrayed himself as a worse singer than Cher and the object of her putdowns -- an image he sometimes carried over onto the House floor. "I feel kind of like the black sheep in Congress, but here I am," he once said.

Beneath his squeaky voice and sheepish grin, Bono possessed an atypically candid style. When asked to talk about illegal immigration, he once replied, "What's to talk about? It's illegal."

Bono worked to get federal aid to preserve the habitats of various endangered species in Riverside County, California. But when the Endangered Species Act required millions from local government and property owners to protect Stephens' Kangaroo rat in Riverside, he said, "We all love the environment, but we have placed creatures above people. A rat is a rat."

Bono was born February 16, 1935, in Detroit, Michigan, to a first generation Sicilian-American family and moved to the Los Angeles area when he was 7 years old.

Bono married Cher in 1963. They divorced in 1974 and had one child, Chastity, who is now a lesbian activist. He married Whitaker in 1986. In addition to his two children with her, Bono is also survived by another daughter, Christy, from another marriage.


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