It has been five months since Sonny Bono died in a tragic skiing accident at South Lake Tahoe, Calif. While those closest to him still feel the pain of that loss, the healing has begun: Mary Bono, his widow, handily won Bono’s congressional seat in a special election on April 7. Ex-wife Cher, who so movingly eulogized him at his funeral, will host a tribute to Sonny to be aired on CBS May 20.
In that spirit of affectionate remembrance, Mary Bono has made available to PEOPLE excerpts from her late husband’s diary. Although she notes Sonny lived a full life—he was a successful restaurateur as well as a congressman—the diary covers only a nine-year period. A 1968 birthday gift from Cher, then his wife, the brown leather-covered journal tells the remarkable story of that gilded couple’s rise and fall—both as entertainers and as husband and wife. (Each contributed to the diary sporadically.) At the time of the first entry, the couple, who exploded onto the music scene with their 1965 hit “I Got You Babe,” have nearly disappeared from the pop charts and are struggling to revive their career.
Jan. 16, 1968: Today is my 33rd birthday. I am never sans Cher. She lives inside my body. Cher is truly a star, from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet. Thank God I have Cher. She’s my stabilizer. She’s my generator too. She’s my reason.
In early 1968, Sonny makes a huge financial blunder by investing nearly all their money in Chastity, a coming-of-age movie he has written. During filming, though, Cher becomes pregnant.
Oct. 21, 1968: My wife is in her sixth month, and I’m on a plane headed for Dallas without her. I’m going to help the Vice President [Hubert H. Humphrey, who was running for President against Richard Nixon] campaign.
[I also want] to do as much as I can to [further] my own views and beliefs. I don’t know if the future will find me in politics or not, but I know right now I must do whatever I can. Unless something is done, I doubt there will be a country for my child to live in.
Oct. 23, 1968: The more I see of politics, the less I like it. It seems like a lesser stage of show business and very phony.
Nov. 2, 1968: I’m back at home now. Cher is sleeping. The baby has been kicking very hard tonight. It’s tough for her, but she’s strong, and she’s like me. She’s a fighter.
Nov. 22, 1968 (Entry by Cher): In my whole life I never thought there was happiness like we have. Every morning when I wake up, I say to myself, “Wow, you’re going to have a real-live baby of your own.” I love [Sonny] with all my heart and respect him more than any other human in the world.
Dec. 8, 1968: [Cher] has doubts and a million questions, but I know her better than she knows herself. We have an amazing marriage.
Jan. 7, 1969: It’s a new year, and I think it’s going to be a different year. It’s time, not just for us, but for all people. For some reason I feel I have been chosen to fight for the salvation of Man.
March 23, 1969: Well, our daughter is here. She was born on March 4. Her name is Chastity Sun.
March 28, 1969: Cher gets scared unless she understands my thinking completely. I know she was constantly disappointed most of her youth, and it’s hard for her to understand that I’m not the way she’s been brought up all her life. We have the fame and the greatness now. I must build a foundation so what we have will be strong.
Chastity the movie bombs at the box office. In the summer of 1969, the IRS hits Sonny and Cher with a $200,000 bill for back taxes. To get their finances in order, they put together a nightclub routine and debut as Pat Boone’s opening act at the Flamingo in Las Vegas.
July 4, 1969: We’ve never worked clubs before. It’s very different for us. Two shows a night every night. No days off. So far, so good. My baby is 4 months old today. She’s great. She looks like her mom, thank God.
July 27, 1969: Cher has done so well. As she gets more confidence on stage, the magic grows. She fights me a lot of times, but I never let her get too far out of line. She can be hell when she wants to be. And I’m afraid my daughter will be tougher yet.
Sept. 4, 1969 (Entry by Cher): Sonny, I love you very much, and I’m sorry. I’m unfeeling.
Oct. 9, 1969: Cher said something today that made me stop and think. She said, “You don’t have all the answers.” She’s right. I don’t have all the answers.
The public loves their nightclub act, which features biting repartee, mostly at Sonny’s expense—and all his idea. But the couple’s relationship begins to mirror their act as it deteriorates under the pressure of nonstop touring.
Sept. 8, 1970: It was not a good day for Cher and me. As usual, she thinks I’m wrong and vice versa. Right or wrong, I must command respect. I’m serious when I say there’s only one place for me, and that’s on top.
Sept. 11, 1970 (Entry by Cher): Tonight you are gone, and I’ve missed you so much. I hadn’t read your last few pages until right now and sorry you were hurt, but tonight I remembered a day when I was young and I had to go to school with rubber bands over the toes of my shoes to keep the soles from flapping when I walked. I hurt so much then, and I could feel the hurt now.
Despite an increasingly rocky relationship, their act flourishes in clubs and in concert. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour debuts on CBS Aug. 1, 1971, and the two experience their second ride to the top.
July 5, 1972: This is the loneliest time I know. Cher has been my only friend, so when we fight, I’m completely alone, which is now.
Nov. 4, 1972: The whole world has changed since the last time I wrote. We are now the stars of our TV show. We have a million-dollar house, and I guess you could call us rich. We have a lot of money in the bank. Now for the bad news: Everything exploded between Cher and myself. Chas is 3½ now, and she’s fantastic. She doesn’t know Mom and Dad are on the ropes. For the past five years I’ve been worried about our career, and I never worried about us.
By mid-November 1972, Cher tells Sonny she is in love with Bill Hamm, the guitarist in their band. The marriage is dead, but appearances are maintained for the sake of their careers.
Dec. 9, 1972: We finished our Christmas show tonight. When it’s put together, I’m sure it will look very warm and loving. [But] Cher and I can only talk to each other at certain times.
Dec. 26, 1972: [Cher] is a changed person. Her wants and reasons have changed. I don’t understand them. I don’t know if she does either. I thought I was teaching. She thought I was intimidating.
It’s no longer our house. It’s half mine, half Cher’s. The same with our money, daughter, everything else.
By August 1973, Connie Foreman, a cigarette girl at Pips, a Beverly Hills nightclub, has moved in with Sonny. Cher, who lives under the same roof with them and Chastity, has a lover, too.
Aug. 21, 1973: The last time I wrote, I wanted Cher to come back to me. That’s no longer my desire. The best I can do is be Cher’s friend.
We still have a TV show, and the public still thinks we are married, so we are both very involved in our careers. Connie and I live together as husband and wife. But my public wife is still Cher in order to maintain all the things I want right now. That’s the way it has to be.
July 14, 1974: I’m not writing much. Maybe when my life gets settled again. Things sure have changed. Cher and I are now legal enemies. We are divorcing and suing over the rights. Our TV show is gone [since May], our career as Sonny and Cher is over.
On June 26, 1975, Sonny and Cher’s marriage ends in divorce. On April 11, 1988, she wins the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Moonstruck. The next day Sonny is elected mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., where he had moved in 1986 with Mary, his fourth wife, mother of their son Chesare, now 10, and daughter Chianna, 7. In 1994, Sonny is elected to the House of Representatives.