With a military honor guard in a church filled with Hollywood and Washington dignitaries, friends paid a sometimes lighthearted tribute Friday to Sonny Bono, the singer, the actor and the congressman who was known for his wit.
They came to St. Theresa’s Catholic Church to remember the accomplishments of a man whose career spanned what some people called a most unforgiving group of professions.
Bono died Monday after a skiing accident in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., at the age of 62. Time and again, speakers described him as succeeding with aplomb whether in a hearing room on Capitol Hill, the recording studios where he cut several hit songs with his former wife, Cher, such as “I Got You, Babe,” or in front of a television camera on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.”
Walking down the church aisle to pay respects were many of Bono’s colleagues in the Republican Party. Among them were former President Gerald R. Ford, one of Bono’s constituents, former Vice President Dan Quayle, 1996 Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and dozens of members of Congress who flew in Friday on an Air Force jet. With their wives, the congressmen filled at least 10 pews.
Citing Bono’s conservative ideology and efforts to help clean the Salton Sea, a polluted, land-locked lake in the Mojave Dessert, California Gov. Pete Wilson called him “California’s gift.” Then, speaking of Bono, Wilson joked about the makeup of the crowd assembled in the church by saying, “For sure, he would have looked out over the audience and asked, ‘Who invited all of the lawyers?”“
House Speaker Newt Gingrich talked of Bono’s devotion to his wife, Mary, their two children, daughter, Chianna, 6, and son, Chesare, 9, and his two daughters from previous marriages, Chastity and Christy. He also described Bono, the colleague, as “a hard-working man who covered up his abilities” with self-effacing humor as a way to make opposing lawmakers feel comfortable.
Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt represented the White House at the ceremony.
There was also a touch of Hollywood glitter in the church with entertainers like Tony Orlando, part of a television variety show during the 1970s. When the actress Cher, who was Bono’s second wife, took the church microphone, she dabbed tears from her eyes and remembered her early career with Bono. She said that it was he who was behind their successful entertainment career and that the scatter-brained and chastised character he portrayed on television was nothing like the intelligent man he really was.