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Murder on the ski slopes: The mysterious death of Sonny Bono

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Pop star Sonny Bono offers up "the facts" in the anti-drug film "Marijuana" from 1968.
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OKLAHOMA CITY –  The recent shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others, including Federal Justice John Roll, got me to thinking about the threats that often face public figures like members of Congress.

While attending a press conference with U.S. Reps. James Lankford (R-Oklahoma City) and Tom Cole (R-Moore), Red Dirt Report could hardly ignore the Oklahoma County deputies on hand as part of a newly-formed “Dignitary Protection Unit.” It was formed in the wake of the Giffords assassination attempt.

These are certainly strange times. Uncertain times.

Giffords, thankfully, is on the mend, despite the horrific nature of the gunshot wound she received to the head.

Someone who also received serious injury to the head was U.S. Rep. Sonny Bono (R-Calif.), back in January 1998. I thought of Bono today as I watched an old clip from 1965 of Sonny and Cher performing their hit “I Got You Babe.” And even though Sonny and Cher divorced, they did become successful at these later stages of their lives – Cher in a hugely successful solo pop career and Sonny as a Republican congressman.

Bono was always considered a likable guy and I recall him when I was a kid in the 70’s on the popular variety program, The Sonny and Cher Show. Sonny got picked on by Cher a lot but it was funny and the show was successful, I think, in large part to Bono's self-deprecating style.

And while he had moved on by the 1980’s, a middle-aged man finally out of the entertainment scene, he was still approachable and a seemingly popular guy who became mayor of Palm Springs and later a congressman for his district.

Officially, it was reported that Bono died after skiing into a tree at on a run called “Orion” at the Heavenly ski resort at Lake Tahoe, along the California-Nevada state line.

Interestingly, Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s son Michael Kennedy had a fatal skiing accident in Colorado just days before Sonny Bono. And Sonny’s pal and fellow folk-pop-singer-turned-TV-personality John Denver died in that curious experimental aircraft crash off the California coast a few months earlier. I think there is more to this – and the death of New Age guitarist and Enid, Okla. native Michael Hedges right at that same time, in late ’97 – that I will get into at a later time.

Bono, an experienced skier, was on the Nevada side when his “accident” took place. Over the years there have been reports that punch holes in the official story.

Former FBI Agent Ted Gunderson reported some years after Bono’s death that he believed the pop-star-turned-politician was bumped off on the ski slopes as part of an “evil plot” conducted by “ruthless assassins.”

“It’s nonsense for anyone to now try to suggest that Bono died after crashing into a tree,” Gunderson said in an a piece posted in Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on April 4, 2008.

Said Gunderson:  “There’s zero evidence in this autopsy report to show such an accident happened. Instead, there’s powerful proof he was assassinated.”

But who would want to harm Sonny Bono?

In a report posted on April 6, 2008 at DCDave.com and titled “The Cover-up of Sonny Bono’s Murder,” writer David Martin lambastes the American press for failing to report the huge discrepancies surrounding Bono’s death.

Martin writes that Bono had been approached by an investigator named Bob Fletcher and had approached Congressman Bono about “the activities of high-ranking U.S. military and government officials he claims were raking in millions from arms and drug deals in Central America and Southeast Asia."

Fletcher would also tell the Globe tabloid that upon learning of this high-level corruption, he was “livid” and had said it would investigate further, making it a priority.

But word must have gotten around if Fletcher's sensational story is to be believed. Regardless, it sounds like powerful people didn't want this mustachioed goofball wrecking their scene

And another post that week, this time at Kenny’s Sideshow blog,more is noted on Bono's death and autopsy.

How compelling is the new evidence? The five-page autopsy report prepared by Dr. David E. Palosaari, official pathologist for Washoe County at the time, concluded that the death was caused by "craniocerebral injuries due to blunt force trauma (skiing accident)."

But the Globe reports further:

Other injuries detailed in the document included a black eye, swollen lips, bloody nose, bruised jaw, and two upper teeth knocked out, all on the right side of the head.


But the pathologist also noted a series of small fractures in a "central depressed region" on the right side of Bono's skull and found "some of the fractured bone pieces have a curved configuration."

Fletcher consulted a panel of experts and performed a re-creation to determine how these wounds were caused.

He concludes the depressed area was due to blows from a rounded-edged weapon wielded by a man taller than the 5-foot-nine, 165-pound politician and the killer was left-handed since the wounds are on the right side of Bono's face and head.

He also believes there was a second man who held Bono from behind.

Fletcher thinks the murder weapon was a pistol, but other experts tell Globe that a gun barrel would have left distinguishable marks.

"Sonny was ambushed and viciously battered to death with a billy club or similar weapon," ex-FBI man Gunderson says. "The killers staged the crime scene and made it look like a tragic ski-accident."

And then there is Bono’s beautiful widow, Mary Bono (now U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack) who succeeded her late husband and has been re-elected to serve as a pro-choice Republican for California’s 45th district ever since.

But as a 1999 article titled “Proud Mary Bono,” featured in George magazine revealed that Sonny and Mary’s marriage (this was Sonny’s fourth) was on the rocks.

Notes the George article: “The family breach widened into an abyss after the TV Guide interview, in which Mary Bono charged that Sonny was prone to angry mood swings and abused painkillers that contributed to his death. "I am 100 percent convinced that is why he died, "Bono said. "What he did showed absolute lack of judgment. That's what these pills do." Her marriage, Mary Bono claimed, had problems. "It was a very difficult 12 years of my life. It took a lot to stay." The article also referred to a new boyfriend, whom she began dating nine months after Sonny's death.”

Sonny’s mother Jean is on the record, noted in the ’99 George interview, that she felt Mary Bono’s comments disgraced her son and children. She also said six months before his death, Jean Bono said Sonny called her and said “She kicked me out. She wants a divorce.’ He told me, ‘She’s fooling around.’”

And as for Mary Bono’s suggestion that he abused prescription drugs, it was known that Sonny Bono was an anti-drug guy, so much so that he hosted a squaresville anti-drug documentary in 1968 called Marijuana.

Then there was also the issue of the siege at Waco in 1993, an issue that reportedly troubled Bono to no end. It seems that Rep. Sonny Bono, a member of the full House Crime Committee was critical of the Dept. of Justice and Attorney General Janet Reno regarding her department’s lack of knowledge on the use of CS gas at the Mt. Carmel compound, which hurt and killed kids there.

Bono told Reno during hearings on the Waco siege that “As soon as the child breathes the fumes, the process begins. Soon after that, the child has little lungs left to breathe, and dies. I find it impossible to believe that with the most powerful law firm in the country, the Department of Justice, at your disposal you could not find this information out, that I found out in one day with two staff members .... So I am sorry to say, Madam Attorney General, that I think you failed there."

Bono concluded with the observation that, in his opinion, "it is the responsibility of the Attorney General in cases like this to research every bit of evidence, and if there is counter evidence, then the error should be on the side of the children."

Ms. Reno responded: "Sir, what we did was to consult with the foremost toxicologist in the country. Subsequently other people raised the concern. We consulted with other experts trying to pursue every possible lead, and we will continue to."

Clearly there were dark clouds hanging over Sonny Bono by the late 1990’s. Was there something else going on? It is clear that Bono’s interest in the aforementioned high-level corruption was an issue.

Will there ever truly be justice for Sonny Bono? He is largely forgotten, save for some of his congressional pet projects like saving the Salton Sea in southern California or the posthumously approved Senate bill that passed called the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act.

To most, Sonny Bono is just another Baby Boomer tragedy. A wealthy guy who – if you listen to his widow – was hopped up on painkillers hopped  But we at Red Dirt Report suspect Bono knew a lot more and was going to report on his discoveries. Of course we all know that Gary Webb, the San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter who exposed the government shipping in drugs from Central America, was found “suicided” in 2004 (in Sacramento, Calif., not far from Lake Tahoe where Sonny Bono took his last breath) from two gunshot wounds to the head. And we all know how easy it is to shoot yourself a second time in the head after doing it once before.

Threats to members of Congress have always been there. Rep. Leo Ryan murdered in Guyana in 1978 while investigating the Jonestown mind-control cult. There was the curious circumstances involving Rep. Larry McDonald’s death aboard KAL 007 in 1983.

It is interesting to see the family and friends of politicians who clearly have been murdered. After the crash of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone’s plane in October 2002, which killed Wellstone, his wife, some staffers and the plane’s crew, it was eerie to see the Wellstone family not publicly question issues surrounding the crash. Wellstone was another man in the political realm seeking to do things from the heart, in much the same way Sonny Bono did.

And don’t forget the October 1972 disappearance of U.S. Rep. Hale Boggs (D-La.) and U.S. Rep. Nick Begich (D-Alaska) while flying in a remote portion of Alaska. Boggs’ daughter is successful TV journalist Cokie Roberts and Begich’s son Mark Begich is the junior senator from the Last Frontier. You just don’t hear about these men anymore, even though Boggs was reportedly having second thoughts about what he saw while serving on the Warren Commission following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. Word is that Boggs wanted to come clean on the issue. 

Conspiracy researcher and political and pop-culture analyst Dave McGowan has looked into the mysterious deaths of many pop stars, many in the Los Angeles area and many connected to Laurel Canyon. It should be known that McGowan includes Sonny Bono on his list, noting Bono's connection to psychotic, gun-wielding producer Phil Spector and other 1960's-era pop music luminaries, weirdos and hangers-on.

We hope that the appropriate parties will re-open the case involving Sonny Bono's death and we will one day know the truth. In the mean time - "the beat goes on."

Copyright 2011 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from... read more

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