In the 1960s, no duo was more striking than Sonny Bono and Cher. On first impression, the real-life couple looked quite incongruous; the young, teenaged Cher was radiant with her long hair, exotic look, and nervous energy, while Bono, who sported a caveman-like bowl cut hairdo and big nose, was outgoing in a very dorky manner that made you groan yet made him impossible to dislike. They would hit the charts with several classic songs such as”I Got You, Babe,” “The Beat Goes On,” and “Baby Don’t Go” and after falling out of favor in the pop charts became a successful nightclub act, before getting a second chance of success with a successful TV show. Yet behind their loving couple appearance was an extremely complex relationship that only grew more dysfunctional with every successful achievement. The latest episode of Reelz’s Breaking The Band (Sunday, June 24, 10pm ET/ 7pm PT) takes a look at what tore this successful duo and couple apart.
Dysfunction almost seemed par for the course when the two met in 1962. Bono, an ambitious but struggling studio producer was in his late 20s and divorce when he met Cherilyn Sarkisian, a 16 year old high school dropout who occasionally worked as a dancer and an extra. Soon she was living with him, and the ambitions she shared with him matched the special talents he saw in her, and it wasn’t long before they were partners both on stage and off.
Yet the documentary shows that things were not going well for the couple backstage. Their sudden success seemed to leave as quickly as it came, and the power dynamic in their relationship change as well. Bono, who was a bit of a womanizer, cheated on Cher left and right–and she knew all about it. He feared that she would become a solo success and leave him behind, so he loaded down their contract with restrictive clauses over her that basically turned her into his employee, taking half of the profits of both the duo and her solo releases. Unsurprisingly, these revelations would soon come to a head, and they would split in 1974 at the height of their successful TV variety show.
This episode of Breaking the Band is illuminating as it examines how romance, business, and Svengali–like control can destroy even the best and most talented couple. It serves as a lesson to all about the dangers of co-mingling ego and love in a band, and how your creative partner’s personal affection for you could be hiding a very dark truth.