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When Sonny And Cher Got Divorced: The Biggest Pop Split Of The 20th Century

Entertainment | February 20, 2020

1974: Entertainers Sonny Bono and Cher attend the circus with their daughter Chastity Bono. Cher performed as ringmaster at the opening day of the Ringling Brothers Circus. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

When Sonny Bono and Cher declared "I Got You Babe" to musical accompaniment, it was more than a #1 single, it was a theme song. Their divorce, a decade later, felt like the end of an era, or even a loss of innocence. Sonny and Cher were in love, dammit! They wrote a song about it and had all that cute banter on stage, and on The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. But on February 20, 1974, Cher filed for divorce, and the feeling was mutual. Sonny and Cher were splitsville. Like Martin & Lewis, like Simon & Garfunkel, the binding "and" was gone. Sonny continued as Sonny Bono, and later won election to the U.S. Congress. Cher continued her rise as a singer and actress.

Sonny And Cher Weren't Just Celebrities, They Were People Too

Sunny and Cher, one of the most iconic celebrity couples (pinterest)

Few relationships stand the test of time but that doesn’t mean they were a failure. The long, complicated, and passionate relationship between Sonny and Cher might serve as the perfect example of such a fruitful but ultimately ill-fated relationship.

Their marriage yielded radio hits, a child, and a very successful comedy hour but it was doomed to fail. Like many marriages, their relationship fell apart as they changed as people. Here’s the topsy turvy story of Sonny and Cher. 

Not Love At First Sight

Sunny and Cher didn't become a power couple overnight (rirocks)

For Sonny, it wasn’t love at first sight but that’s likely due to the fact that Cher was a 16-year old high school student when they initially met. In fact, Sonny was actually more attracted to Cher’s friend. On the other hand, for Cher when she first saw Sonny “Everyone just disappeared. He was the most unusual person I’d ever seen."

When Cher was kicked out of her house by her roommates and reluctant to go back home, Sonny offered her a place to stay if she cleaned the place. 

From Friends To Lovers

The age gap didn't slow them down (youtube)

Cher never got around to the domestics but their relationship shifted from platonic to something more. Describing their early relationship is difficult but for Cher because Sonny was much more than a lover.

"It wasn’t a fiery, sexy thing with us, but rather paternal, like we were bound together, two people who needed each other, almost for protection," said Cher. While the complicated layers of their relationship worked early on, it set a difficult foundation for them to build upon as they grew up. 

The Good Times

Cher, Sunny, and Chastity who would eventually become Chaz (headcramp)

Thanks to Sonny’s connections with Phil Spector, Cher scored some gigs working as a backup singer. As her talent came to the forefront, they performed together as Cher was nervous performing in front of larger crowds.

After a few stops and starts, which included the duo headlining as Caesar and Cleo, they made a huge splash with “I Got You Babe” in 1965. In 2017 Cher told Billboard, "I knew what I wanted to do, but I never would’ve gotten there without Sonny."

Trouble On The Horizon

Sunny became to controlling for Cher (clickamericana)

Problems began to arise as the maturing Cher wanted more control over her life and Sonny was unable or unwilling to cede his control. “He was like the father. You know how you can be frightened of your father even if he doesn’t ever do anything? I couldn’t stand on my own two feet and talk back to him. That was my problem. I could just never ever talk back to him, and so I never got any of my needs met that weren’t what he felt they should be.”

Sonny failed to realize the girl he met had grown into a woman and needed different things than she did when she was a precocious youngster. “When I was young it didn’t make any difference because I was so crazy about him on so many levels. He was really everything to me, and after I had Chaz I started to grow up and he wouldn’t allow it, and I was starting to really … He was starting to kill my spirit.”

An Ugly Divorce

Cher and Geffen (pinterest)

When Cher finally decided she had enough of Sonny’s controlling ways, things really spiraled out of hand. I went to him and said, “Look, break the contract, make it fifty-fifty. You can’t tell me what to do anymore. I’m 27 years old. You can just not tell me what to do, and he wouldn’t do it and he just didn’t count on how tough I could be, because I never argued with him one time. I don’t think we had more than three arguments in eleven years.”

Cher was saddened over the end of their relationship but even more distraught over Sonny’s priorities. “He was crushed because he wasn’t going to be Sonny of Sonny and Cher anymore. That’s what hurt him. That’s what really hurt him, and that was sad because he loved it more than I did, really, but he wouldn’t give me my freedom.”

In her divorce papers, Cher stated “involuntary servitude” as the reason. In the legal preceding Cher went after the money she said Sonny unfairly took from her and Sonny filed for custody of their then daughter, Chastity. At one point they lived in the same house while seeing other people. Cher’s boyfriend, record executive David Geffen, hired two security guards to deposit all of Sonny’s things on the curb, including his girlfriend. 

Sonny and Cher's divorce was finalized in late June, and four days later, Cher married Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers Band. She filed for divorce nine days later, but the couple reconciled and remained married through 1979. They also had a child together, Elijah Blue.

Time Heals All Wounds

Do you believe in love after love? (ilikeyouroldstuff)

Sonny’s 1998 death while skiing hit Cher hard. She “almost moved out of this country and gave up show business when the reports started coming in that I was acting at Sonny’s eulogy.” Today, she thinks of him as if he was still alive. “I don’t think of him in the past tense, like if I’m talking about him, I don’t remember to say he had, I always think he has, but even though I know he’s dead, I feel somehow closer to him now than I’ve felt in a really long time, and so he has more relevance to me now than he has in quite a long time.”

Ultimately, their relationship fell apart because it was built upon strange beginnings and was unable to evolve with their rapidly changing lives. “He was my mentor, he was my father, he was my husband, he was my partner, he was my daughter’s father. They were all equally important, and so much focus was on the marriage but the marriage was the least-working thing. It worked least for us. Out of all of those relationships, it wasn’t the best-working relationship.”

Tags: Celebrity Couples | Cher | Divorces | Sonny and Cher | Sonny Bono

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!