Why did Cher file a lawsuit against Sonny Bono's widow? Singer wins royalty battle after age-old dispute

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Cher at the amfAR Gala Cannes 2024. (Image by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty)

On May 28, 2024, singer and actress Cher won the civil lawsuit she filed against her first husband and singer, Sonny Bono’s widow Mary Bono in 2021. The pop star sued Mary Bono when she stopped receiving royalties from Sonny’s estate, despite a 50-50 split of the publishing revenues of their joint records, as mentioned in their divorce settlement.

When Sonny Bono passed away in 1998 from a skiing accident, Cher continued to receive the royalties, until 2016 when his fourth wife appealed for a “termination” to reportedly gain complete ownership of her late husband’s intellectual property. Five years down the line in 2021, the royalties completely stopped, prompting the Dark Lady singer to file the case.

Recently, after the years-long dispute, Judge John A. Kronstadt ruled in favor of Cher. He stated that federal termination regulations did not nullify the former couple's divorce settlement and she continued to have a “contractual right to receive financial compensation” from their shared music catalog.

Mary Bono currently owes the Take Me Home singer over $400,000 in past royalties since the lawsuit began.

Exploring Cher and Sonny Bono’s relationship

Cher met Sonny Bony at a party in 1962, when the latter was already a popular singer-songwriter and was working with veteran record producer Phil Spector. Years later, during her SiriusXM special The Cher Show: Making the Musical, she reminisced about their first meet, saying it wasn’t love at first sight as they both were in relationships with other people.

The Burlesque star mentioned that she had just moved to Los Angeles with a friend from her hometown El Centro after dropping out of high school and was looking for career opportunities in Hollywood.

However, she got kicked out of her apartment the next day of the party, only to realize that the 28-year-old Sonny Bono was moving in the next door. Cher recollected:

"I just went up and said, 'Hi, listen, I'm going to have to move out of our apartment cause I'm sick and I don't have any money and I don't want to go home and I just want to get out and do things and I don't know what I'm going to do but I don't have any place to live and blah blah blah.'"

In response, Bono asked whether she could cook and clean. When she lied about the former, he invited her to be his roommate, especially when he claimed that he didn’t find her “particularly attractive.”

Eventually, they began spending a lot of time together and started dating, until they got unofficially married in Mexico in 1964. At this point, Sonny introduced her to Specter and got her the gig of a backup singer for his record label.

The following year, the couple began performing together adopting the stage names Caesar and Cleo and soon the folk-rock musical duo Sonny & Cher became a hit.

Together they released many successful singles and albums including I Got You Babe, Look At Us, All I Ever Need Is You, Baby Don’t Go, The Beat Goes On, and The Sonny Side of Cher among others.

In 1967, they appeared together in the film Good Times, and two years later, their son Chaz Bono was born, following which they officially tied the knot. In 1971, the pair co-hosted the variety show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.

Unfortunately, despite their constant efforts to keep up the sparks, in the early 1970s, their relationship began to crumble, while the Oscar winner went on to achieve solo fame in the field of pop music.

Finally, in 1974, they filed for separation citing irreconcilable differences which ultimately led to their divorce the following year. However, since then, the duo maintained equal ownership of their joint recordings and mutually agreed to receive 50-50 in royalties.

They were also on friendly terms until Sonny’s untimely demise in 1998. During his funeral, the now 78-year-old songstress delivered an emotional speech. In 2018, during an interview with the Daily Mail, the Grammy Winner shared that she and her first husband had a “weird” relationship, which she didn’t expect anybody to understand.

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