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California and the West

Family, Colleagues Prepare to Say Goodbye to Bono

January 08, 1998|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALM SPRINGS — On a crisp, high-gloss day, the kind that conjured memories of onetime mayor Sonny Bono rumbling through the streets on his Harley-Davidson, this town was sadly muted Wednesday.

As mourners left flowers, cards and other mementos on Bono's star on a downtown sidewalk, Mary Bono busied herself with details of Friday's funeral for her husband, who was killed Monday when he struck a tree while skiing at South Lake Tahoe.

Among those sharing the family's grief was Bono's second wife and former entertainment partner, Cher, who spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights at the Bono home, family friends said. "These are two grieving women," said one friend who was at the house.

Reflecting Bono's charismatic reach into both Hollywood and Washington, his funeral is expected to be attended by hundreds of celebrities and politicians, leaving only a few hundred seats for local residents who claimed Bono as their favorite son.

More than 60--and perhaps upward of 100--members of Congress are expected to attend Friday's 11 a.m. Mass for Bono at St. Theresa's Catholic Church. House Speaker Newt Gingrich--who embraced Bono as the most famous member of his GOP freshman class in 1994--will lead the delegation, Gingrich's office said Wednesday.

President Clinton, who spoke by phone with Bono's widow Tuesday, is expected to dispatch a Cabinet member to represent the White House at the funeral, a Bono family spokesman said. Gov. Pete Wilson also is expected to attend.

The modern-style church, which Bono and his wife attended, accommodates 1,100 people. About three-quarters of the pews will be reserved for family, friends and associates, who knew Bono as either the goofy 1960s and '70s entertainer or the conservative 1980s and '90s politician. In both roles, Bono delighted his fans with his self-deprecating humor.

Those who cannot gain entrance to the church will be able to hear the service through outdoor speakers.

Bono's body will lie in rest in the church later today, and mourners will be invited to pass by his mahogany casket, draped in an American flag, between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

The Bono home--a 1920s villa built by razor blade baron King Gillette as a series of bungalows that the Bonos transformed into an expansive, gated estate--was filled Wednesday with "love and sympathy," said Frank Cullen, who served as Bono's congressional spokesman and now represents the family.

"Mary is holding up very well, given the circumstances, but she is devastated," he said. "It has helped her to have family and friends at the house."

Many of them were expected to attend a private prayer service Wednesday night, away from the public glare.

"Mary's a real trouper, but at some point this will hit her real hard," Denis Pregnolato, a Spelling Films executive and a friend of Bono for 33 years, said Wednesday. "Right now there hasn't been much time for her to sit. She's dealing with the reality of planning the funeral."

He said Mary and other family members were "absolutely aware" of the outpouring of public sentiment for her and the couple's two children--Chesare, 9, and Chianna, 6. Also in Palm Springs for the funeral was Chastity Bono, Sonny's daughter with Cher, and Christy Bono, from his first marriage to Donna Rankin.

A family friend, speaking to reporters outside the Bono home, quoted Chastity as saying that Wednesday would have been a "perfect day" for her dad: "40 people in the house for him to cook pasta for, and on the front page of every newspaper in the country."

Sonny and Mary Bono and their two children had gone to the Heavenly Ski Resort on Dec. 26--long a favorite skiing destination--for a vacation. On Monday, after the younger child fell on the slopes, Bono skied ahead and was not seen again until his body was found by a ski patrol about two hours later.

An autopsy showed that he died instantly of head injuries after hitting a tree--apparently while trying to ski from one run to another, officials said.

On Wednesday, discreet talk had begun of who will seek election to complete Bono's congressional term. Wilson will call a special election--as required by law--to fill the seat for the 44th Congressional District, which encompasses Riverside County from Hemet and Moreno Valley on the west to the Arizona state line.

The special election is expected to coincide with the June primary elections. But a district primary will be held first, and a candidate who gets a simple majority of votes at that time would win outright.

The seat is expected to remain in Republican hands. "It's GOP territory. Democrats need not apply," said Dick Rosengarten, publisher of California Political Week.

Most observers said two-term GOP Assemblyman Jim Battin, from nearby Desert Hot Springs, probably would emerge as the favorite to succeed Bono--if he can overcome an investigation by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission involving gifts he received from a lobbyist.

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