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Bono frequented South Lake Tahoe for three decades

Denise Sloan

His was a familiar, friendly face on the South Shore for

three decades.

Sonny Bono, the mustachioed entertainer-turned-politician, first appeared

at Stateline in March 1972 with his wife, Cher, when the famous duo performed

in Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room.

The husband-wife team were at the height of their career with No. 1 songs

on the charts and a No. 1 television show when they debuted here.

The duo was so popular that when tickets went on sale 30 days prior to

their engagements at Harrah’s, they sold out in the first hour, according

to Gary Zaskoda, Harrah’s stage manager.

“I was on the stage crew when they first came here,” Zaskoda

said. “My first impression was that Cher was the Hollywood stand-offish

type, but Sonny was very personable.

“He was definitely the business end of their act. He took care of

everything,” Zaskoda said.

Sonny and Cher performed on seven occasions at Harrah’s including one

solo performance by Sonny.

Bono married Cherilyn Sarkisian in 1964, even though Bono was 12 years

her senior. That same year their song ”Baby Don’t Go” got Sonny and Cher

a record contract. Their first hit, ”I Got You, Babe,” went to No. 1 on

the Billboard charts in 1965.

”Baby Don’t Go” was re-released and went to the Top 20. ”The Beat

Goes On,” ”It’s the Little Things” and ”Laugh at Me” all followed

up the charts.

The quirky singing duo turned to television, with a hit variety show,

”The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” on CBS from 1971-74. At the time of

their Lake Tahoe engagements, Sonny & Cher were the hottest thing on records,

TV and stage.

“Cher was quite the star but Sonny was a very nice, down-to-earth

person,” Zaskoda recalled.

After they divorced in 1974, the two attempted to revive their partnership

with a new TV show in 1976-77.

Going solo was not in the stars for Bono, unlike his ex-wife’s success.

“It was after they broke up and Sonny played solo (at Harrah’s)

in 1975 with Tim Conway,” Zaskoda said. “It didn’t do very well.”

Cher rejoined Sonny at Harrah’s in a sold-out show in Jan. 1978, their

last local appearance together.

Other than a few acting jobs on “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy

Island,” Bono disappeared from show business.

Still he was a frequent visitor to Lake Tahoe. He lent his name to the

John Denver Celebrity Ski Classic up until 1984, one year bringing his then-wife

Susie to ski at Heavenly Ski Resort and joining the star-studded parties

at Harrah’s.

After four years as mayor of Palm Springs, Bono became a California congressman.

In 1986 he married Mary Whitaker.

Through three decades of marriages, divorces and career changes, Bono

continued to find solace at Lake Tahoe.

Bono, his wife and their two children, 6-year-old daughter Chianna and

9-year-old son Chesare, had been staying at Harrah’s during this fateful

trip as well. The family checked into the hotel on Dec. 26 and were to stay

until Jan. 9.

“He was a frequent visitor who enjoyed staying at Harrah’s and skiing

at Heavenly,” said Joan Skelly, Harrah’s communications specialist.

Bono’s wife and children left Lake Tahoe early Tuesday morning to return

to their Palm Springs home.

Over the years, Bono skied in nearly half a dozen John Denver Celebrity

Ski Classics at Heavenly, the same ski resort where he died.

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