Cher, the woman, the myth, the legend, turns 75 today. 75! And in honor of her illustrious career, let’s look back at The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, the early variety show which once starred the pop duo of Cher and her husband Sonny Bono. When the couple divorced in 1974, the show was cancelled but revived in 1976 as the (quite similar) Sonny and Cher Show. The Sonny and Cher Show ran for two additional seasons, ending in 1977. During its disjointed five year run, the Sonny and Cher collaboration won an Emmy, flaunted a gorgeous array of Bob Mackie designs, and featured many popular guest stars. So where are they now?
The Sonny And Cher Comedy Hour Opening
The Start of Sonny and Cher
Cher and Sonny became friends, then lovers, during the early 1960’s. Cherilyn Sarkisian was only 16-years-old when she left home to become a performer in Los Angeles and she met not long after. The older Sonny was a somewhat established songwriter who worked for the (now infamous) pop record producer Phil Spector. Instantly recognizing Cher’s unique talent, Sonny wanted to represent her solo career. But suffering from severe stage fright, Cher preferred when Sonny got on stage with her to sing harmonies. This is also why Cher, so often, performed while looking into Sonny’s eyes.
“I Got You Babe” – Sonny and Cher Top of the Pops 1965
The pair marketed themselves as Caesar and Cleo, but didn’t find much success. In 1965, they rebranded as Sonny and Cher and released their “I Got You Babe.” It reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and remains one of the most treasured love duets of all time. Now superstars, Sonny and Cher’s funky fashions began to catch on. At the start of their career together, they donned bell-bottoms, frilly shirts, and fur vests. With her jet-black, pin-straight hair, Cher’s vamp style instantly influenced trends. And her statuesque figure, next to the short mustachioed Sonny, made for a funny combination. Enhanced by their on-stage banter, it didn’t take long before Sonny and Cher had a television variety show of their own: The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.
Although some of the comedy is pretty cheesy by today’s standards, more than 30 million viewers tuned in weekly on Sunday Nights to The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. The TV show was praised for the central couple’s comedic timing: usually a sarcastic Cher mocking Sonny’s unusual looks. Americans were drawn to the seemingly authentic warmth that radiated from the Bono family, especially during shares musical numbers. The CBS show also marks the early roots of Cher’s illustrious acting career, as she honed a range characters through short, goofy skits. She also emerged, further, a style icon thanks to the immaculate costumes designed by the endlessly creative Bob Mackie; his creations were the highlight of every episode.
You probably know what Cher’s been up to; the Goddess of Pop never seems to lay low for very long. So I’ll be brief. (Or else I could go on about Cher… forever.) Following her divorce with Sonny, Cher briefly wed Gregg Allman and had a son, Elijah. But it was not until the end of The Sonny and Cher Show that Cher would truly embark on her solo artistic journey. Gone were the fur vests and striped pants. Cher aged into new iterations of herself, changing with the decades. She embraced disco, then rock, then modern pop. But it wasn’t always a seamless transition. The songstress went through many career lows, and when she began acting in films, most in Hollywood elites did not take her seriously. But her subtle, transformative performance in Moonstruck earned Cher the Academy Award in 1988.
Cher Wins ‘Best Actress’ At The 1988 Oscars
Now a noted star of the screen, Cher continued her acting career for decades. Musically, she continued to reinvent herself and released the power anthem Believe at the start of the new millennium— when she was 54-years-certifiably-old! Cher became relevant to a world of new, younger fans who also revere her personal life. Cher is a fundamental gay icon who inspires limitless drag impersonations. Even her nonsensical Twitter is celebrated by young fans. Cher is now 74-years-old. She performs regularly in Las Vegas. Her most film appearance was in Mama Mia: Here We Go Again! released with her ABBA cover album, Dancing Queen. The jukebox musical about her life, The Cher Show, premiered in 2018. (And I saw it. Twice.) That same year, she received a Kennedy Center Honor for making “extraordinary contributions to the culture.” And throughout quarantine, Moonstruck has been rediscovered and revered in The New York Times as a timelessly comforting film.
Cher in Moonstruck
Cher divorced Sonny Bono in 1974 on the grounds of “involuntary servitude.” She claimed that he withheld her rightful earnings from various performances, and overworked his wife to point of exhaustion. And although the proceedings were messy, lasting for two years, the couple reunited for the second iteration of The Sonny and Cher Show following their official divorce and remained lifelong friends. (This relationship is explored in-depth in The Cher Show musical.)
Following his relationship with Cher, Sonny Bono left the entertainment industry and remarried. It didn’t take long for the keen businessman to set his sights on a new aspiration: politics. Bono was the mayor of Palm Springs, California, from 1988 to 1992, and the Republican congressman for California’s 44th district, which he served as until his premature death in 1998. Bono died from skiing into a tree in Lake Tahoe, California. His wife Mary Bono has suggested his dependance on prescription drugs caused the accident. And though Sonny found success in politics, he is ultimately remembered for his half of the inspired duo, Sonny and Cher. The epitaph on his headstone reads: AND THE BEAT GOES ON.
Cher & Chaz Bono
Although little Chastity Salvatore Bono was not a regular on the program, Sonny and Cher’s young daughter made many memorable appearances. (See the sweet clip above.) In 2009, Chaz Bono came out as transgender and revealed that he had begun the process of physically transitioning into a man. In addition to appearing in numerous television roles throughout his life, Bono is an outspoken LGBTQ activist. His authentic lifestyle strained his relationship with his father Sonny Bono, and the two had not spoken in more than a year when Sonny died. And despite rough patches in their relationship, Chaz and his mother Cher are now very close.
Guest Stars on ‘The Sonny and Cher Show’
Although Carol Burnett was a regular on The Sonny and Cher Show, she first featured the main couple on her own CBS variety series. Burnett is currently 87-years-old. In 2019, the Golden Globes awarded her with the inaugural Carol Burnett Award.
Bette Midler, in addition to appearing on The Sonny and Cher Show, was a guest on Cher’s solo venture The Cher Show, which ran for a short time between the two versions of her The Sonny and Cher Show and earned rave reviews. Middler is still active as an actress and most recently starred in the Gloria Steinem biopic, The Glorias, and season two of Netflix’s The Politician. This rare clip also features another favorite guest of Cher’s, Elton John.
The comedian Ted Zeigler was a frequent guest on The Sonny and Cher Show. He died in 1999 at the age of 73-years-old.
Before Steve Martin was a famous comedian in his own right, he was a writer for The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. This was a natural transition for Martin who had first worked on the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour. And it was always fun when Martin joined the cast on-screen. Of course, Martin has had an illustrious career of his own following his work with Sonny and Cher. He is a star of stand-up, film, and TV. More recently, Martin has explored his talents writing and released new banjo albums. He is now an accomplished playwright and novelist, and a notable bluegrass musician.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published Dec 17, 2020.