With a string of pop hits in the mid-1960s that began with the career-defining “I Got You Babe” (1965), Sonny and Cher Bono established themselves as the most prominent and appealing married couple in the world of popular music. Hipper than Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, and far more fun than John and Yoko, Sonny and Cher projected an image of marital harmony that a lot of people could relate to—an image not so much of perfect bliss, but of a clearly imperfect yet happy mismatch. Mr. and Mrs. Bono traded on that image professionally for a solid decade, even several years past the point that it was true. After 13 years together as a couple and six years of marriage—the last three for the cameras—Sonny and Cher were legally divorced on this day in 1975.
By the time they were divorced, Sonny and Cher were primarily known as television stars thanks to their hugely successful NBC variety show, but their romantic and professional relationships started in the Southern California music industry in the early 1960s. In 1962, Salvatore “Sonny” Bono was working as a producer, gofer and sometime percussionist for the legendary producer Phil Spector when he met Cherilyn Sarkasian in a Los Angeles coffee shop. Just 16 years old and recently dropped out of her Fresno, California, high school, Cherilyn was soon singing backup on such legendary Spector-produced hits as “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” (Righteous Brothers, 1964), “Da Doo Ron Ron” (The Crystals, 1963) and “Be My Baby” (Ronettes, 1963). The couple released one unsuccessful single under the name “Caesar and Cleopatra” before landing a #1 pop hit in 1965 with “I Got You Babe” under their new name, Sonny and Cher.
Ultimately, Sonny and Cher had only a few memorable hits after their first, the biggest of them being 1967’s “The Beat Goes On.” By 1968, in fact, Sonny and Cher were essentially finished as a viable recording act, and Sonny’s efforts to establish a film career for the pair were foundering. A move to Las Vegas, where they developed a nightclub act featuring playful, between-song bickering, is what ultimately resurrected Sonny and Cher’s career. By 1971, they were starring in a top-10 television program built around that act that would run off and on, in various incarnations, until 1977. Two years later, they would be living in separate homes and with new romantic partners, but it was not until two years after that that their split became public and their divorce final on June 26, 1975.