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California and the West

Mourners Reflect on Breadth of Bono's Appeal

Tribute: Careers as entertainer, businessman, politician touched many. Some bring flowers, others their prayers.

January 09, 1998|TOM GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PALM SPRINGS — If Sonny Bono ultimately fashioned himself as the politician for the common folk, he would have been gratified by the showing of people who offered their quiet farewells Thursday.

Thousands of people gathered in the brisk night to bid Bono their personal, private goodbyes at the church where his funeral Mass will be said today.

They approached his flag-draped coffin--a larger-than-life-color portrait positioned behind it--in ones and twos and small family clusters, paused and offered what was in their hearts.

Some knelt before his coffin for several moments. Many made the sign of the cross. Some people's lips moved in prayer. One woman placed a small bouquet of flowers on the mahogany casket, then stepped back to snap a picture. Nearby lay a spray of red and white carnations, sent by the House of Representatives, where the former entertainer had served for three years.

One man respectfully waved his large black cowboy hat toward the casket, then retreated to a pew. "I told Sonny, 'My hat's off to you, as it's always been,' " the man said, his eyes brimming with tears.

The public vigil for Bono, killed Monday in a ski accident at South Lake Tahoe, was arranged by his family with the realization that many people will probably be turned away at today's funeral Mass at St. Theresa's Catholic Church, which seats only 1,100 people.

Most of the pews are expected to be filled today by different mourners, representing Bono's careers in entertainment, business and politics.

More than 50 members of Congress are scheduled to fly to Palm Springs from Washington on an Air Force jet just before the service, and others may come from the Western states, authorities said.

Among the dignitaries scheduled to attend are Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, representing President and Hillary Rodham Clinton, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Gov. Pete Wilson and former President Gerald Ford, one of Bono's constituents.

The outpouring of sympathy-- and celebrities--has sparked a huge media turnout, forcing the closure of the street in front of the church to accommodate television trucks.

Father David Andel--the 29-year-old pastor of the parish and a priest for just 2 1/2 years--said he was praying for his own peace as he prepared for what will clearly be the largest, and perhaps most intimidating, audience to which he has delivered a homily.

"God will provide," he said Thursday. "I usually speak for 10 or 15 minutes, but I might cut it a little shorter tomorrow. These people won't be here for me."

Thursday's vigil coincided with the opening of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which Bono instituted as mayor in 1990 to return some of the glitz that Palm Springs had lost.

At the church Thursday, people of all ages and backgrounds began lining up an hour before the doors opened to attend the vigil.

Donna Berry drove two hours from Victorville and, in front of the church, clutched a pair of Sonny and Cher dolls dressed in the costumes the couple wore during their television heyday.

In contrast, Aileen Cramer, 78, drove up from her Salton City home a short distance away to pay homage to Bono the politician.

"He was trying to do his best for the [polluted] Salton Sea," she said. "I want to say a prayer for his soul."

Eleanor Davis wasn't fazed by Bono's star power. During the 1960s, she was a manicurist at the exclusive California Club in downtown Los Angeles, tending to such notables as President John F. Kennedy and actor Cary Grant. On this day, she said, "I will pray to God that Sonny's soul rests in peace and goes to heaven, because of all the good he has done."

Of course, she said, she appreciated Bono as an entertainer.

"I loved him and Cher," she said. "I got you, baby."

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