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Mourners Reflect on Breadth of Bono's Appeal

Tribute: Congressman is remembered for '70s TV show, transition to Congress. Funeral will be today.

January 09, 1998| From Associated Press

PALM SPRINGS — Hundreds walked past the flag-draped coffin of Sonny Bono on Thursday, remembering him as the goofy, bell-bottomed foil to Cher and as a conservative congressman who overcame that image to gain respect from the nation's most noted politicians.

"He was such a nice man," said Jeannie Stone, 44, of Los Angeles, who drove with several members of her church to attend the four-hour vigil at St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church on the eve of Bono's funeral.

"I grew up with his music, and I've watched him grow as a person," she said.

Some mourners knelt and prayed in front of the mahogany casket draped with a U.S. flag. A large color portrait of a smiling Bono stood nearby.

The line began building outside the church more than two hours before the vigil. Some people drove for three hours to this desert resort, 100 miles east of Los Angeles, to pay their last respects.

"I followed him through his changeover into politics. I can't believe he was successful in politics," said Eldon Diner, 62, of Simi Valley. "But people talk real good about him. . . . Reagan did it; I guess he could do it too."

Clutching Sonny and Cher dolls, Donna Berry said she used to enjoy watching the 1970s TV variety show featuring Bono and ex-wife Cher.

"It was her glamour, his sense of humor, the way they worked together," said Berry of Victorville.

Reflecting Bono's reach into both Hollywood and Washington, hundreds of celebrities and politicians were expected for today's funeral, including House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a 100-member congressional delegation, a representative of the Clinton administration and Gov. Pete Wilson.

The two-term Republican congressman died Monday at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, where he was on vacation with his wife, Mary, and their two children. Bono plowed into a lodgepole pine on an intermediate slope, dying immediately.

Tourists and residents continued to visit a small shrine of statuettes, candles and balloons that swelled around Bono's star on Palm Canyon Drive, the main street through Palm Springs. Some added their own tributes.

"I was so sorry to hear about this," said Sylvia Waters, a Germantown, Tenn., native who has owned a condominium in the area for 15 years. "After he took office, there was such a change. Things have picked up so much.

"He's done a lot for this city," Waters said, looking around the boulevard filled with window-shopping tourists and cafe patrons.

Hung across the street were banners promoting the Nortel Palm Springs International Film Festival, which Bono founded when he was mayor in a campaign to boost the city's image.

Festival organizers planned to honor Bono at a Saturday awards ceremony. Starting next year, the festival will introduce an award given in Bono's name to a "visionary filmmaker."

The festival showcases international cinema and was scheduled to open Thursday night with the U.S. premiere of the Italian film "The Bride's Journey."

Bono's family attended a private prayer service Wednesday night at Our Lady of Solitude Church. Among those attending were Cher, their daughter, Chastity, and former President Gerald R. Ford.

Friday's nationally televised funeral will begin at 11 a.m. with an hourlong Mass, followed by at least 30 minutes of comment by three speakers, including Gingrich, said Mark Matthews, co-owner of Wiefels & Son Funeral Directors.

About three-quarters of St. Theresa's, which can seat up to 1,100, will be reserved for family, friends and associates who knew Bono. The overflow crowd will be able to hear the service through outdoor speakers.

After the service, police will escort the funeral cortege to Desert Memorial Park in nearby Cathedral City, where Bono's burial also will be public.

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