Sharing Some of Sonny Bono's Most Memorable Acting Performances

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016
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Sharing Some of Sonny Bono's Most Memorable Acting Performances

Salavatore Phillip Bono first entered the world on this date in 1935, and 30 years later he was being lauded for writing “I Got You Babe,” but while everyone knows the work that Sonny and Cher did in music and on their TV variety show, we thought we'd celebrate Sonny's birthday by looking back at some of his work as an actor. We're pretty sure that even Sonny himself wouldn't have claimed that all of the following clips feature performances worthy of Oscars or Emmys, but the man had a presence that was undeniable, and he definitely had a tendency to make an impression, as you'll soon see.

1. Murder on Flight 502 (1974)

Almost certainly the only time when Danny Bonaduce and Walter Pidgeon shared a credit, this made-for-TV disaster flick features what is arguably an all-star cast, with the names of Bono, Hugh O'Brian, George Maharis, Fernando Lamas, Theodore Bikel, Ralph Bellamy, and Polly Bergen all buried on the DVD box beneath a gigantic photo of Farrah Fawcett, who wasn't even that big a name when the film was made. Also getting a photo on the cover, if a much smaller one: Robert Stack. Behold the power of Unsolved Mysteries!

2. Escape to Athena (1979)

Seeing Sonny in the cast of this World War II action thriller brings to mind an old Sesame Street song: “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” That's not to say that he didn't manage to hold his own relatively well in the midst of an ensemble that included Roger Moore, Stefanie Powers, Elliott Gould, Telly Savalas, Richard Roundtree, and David Niven, but even so, he might as well have the words “COMIC RELIEF” stamped on his forehead.

3. The Love Boat (1979)

Sonny did a fair amount of work for Aaron Spelling's '70s anthology series, appearing on five episodes of The Love Boat, not to mention four episodes of Fantasy Island, but it's on the former that he turned in one of the most memorable performances of his career. Truly, you cannot look away from the screen when he turns up on the Pacific Princess and transforms into the glam rock / hair metal amalgam that is…Deacon Dark. It's a must-see, if only because KISS rip-offs simply don't get any more ridiculous than this.

4. The Top of the Hill (1981)

This Wayne Rogers TV-movie vehicle has fallen into obscurity, and that's probably not the worst thing in the world: there's just not a lot of joy to be found in the idea of watching a Sonny Bono movie in which skiing is a major plot point.

5. Airplane 2: The Sequel (1982)

Anyone who suggests that Airplane 2 is as good as-if not better than-the original film has one of three issues: they've never seen both films back to back, they saw the sequel first and are partial to it because of that screening order, or they're completely delusional. Taken on its own merits, though, The Sequel isn't as bad as all that, and Sonny does a great job as the sweaty passenger who couldn't look more guilty yet somehow still isn't recognized as a bomb-wielding maniac until it's almost too late.

6. Troll (1986)

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to get out of your robe. That, in a nutshell, is the lesson that Sonny learns when a troll on a quest to find a magic ring that will turn him back into a human ends up hiding behind his couch, disguised as a little girl. Yeah, it's kind of a weird film, but you don't know from weird 'til you've seen Sonny's transformation scene. Don't view it immediately after you've eaten. It may not end well.

7. Hairspray (1988)

Let's end on a more positive note, shall we? Not that the competition is necessarily all that great, but this is most certainly the most critically acclaimed endeavor in Sonny's solo acting career. Directed by John Waters, the film gives Sonny a chance to play husband to Debbie Harry and father to Ricki Lake, and he gives it his all. Hairspray came out the same year that Sonny was elected mayor of Palm Springs, which in turn led him to run for Congress, so we didn't see much more acting from him before his untimely demise in 1998. Oh, sure, technically he had an episode of Murder She Wrote air a month after this film hit theaters, but on the whole, we'd rather remember Sonny for Hairspray. Wouldn't you?