The Untold Truth Of Cher And Sonny Bono's Only Child, Chaz

Chaz Bono has been famous since the day he was born. That's not surprising, given that his parents are Cher and Sonny Bono, who parlayed their 1960s success as the folk-pop musical duo Sonny & Cher into television stardom in the 1970s. While his dad switched gears into an accomplished career in politics before his accidental ski crash death in 1998, Cher attained even greater musical success as a solo artist, and then expanded her fame even further thanks to an acting career that led her to win an Oscar (for her starring role in the 1987 romance "Moonstruck") after previously receiving an Oscar nomination for the 1983 drama "Silkwood."

Stepping out from the shadow of his parents' fame, Chaz has become a well-known celebrity in his own right. A big part of that had to do with his revelation, shortly after turning 40, that he'd undergone gender-affirming care. His candor about his transmasculine transition, and his willingness to address it candidly in the media, made him one of the most famous transgender celebrities ever. While Chaz weathered backlash from certain sects of society, ultimately his fame only increased, opening doors to a multifaceted career encompassing both showbiz and activism.

To find out more about this fascinating public figure and his amazing journey, read on for a look at the untold truth of Cher and Sonny Bono's only child, Chaz Bono.

Chaz Bono made his TV debut when he was a toddler

It wasn't long after Chaz Bono's arrival on the planet that he began being trotted out in front of TV cameras on "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour," one of the most popular TV variety shows of the early 1970s. In fact, the youngster was all of 2 years old for his TV debut, appearing with his famous folks on "The David Frost Show," and then going on to make 24 appearances on his parents' show between 1972 and 1974. 

When his parents split up and launched their own solo variety shows, he appeared once on his mom's show, "Cher," and then again after the recently divorced couple reunited onscreen for the short-lived "The Sonny and Cher Show" in 1976, appearing there twice.

During those appearances, Bono would often share the stage with his mom, occasionally wearing a tiny version of the same outfit she was wearing and sometimes even singing a duet. But as he grew older, he recalled feeling increasingly less feminine, particularly when relating to other kids his age. "As a child, I always felt there was something different about me," Bono wrote in his 1998 memoir, "Family Outing," as excerpted by PinkNews. "I'd look at other girls my age and feel perplexed by their obvious interest in the latest fashion, which boy in class was the cutest, and who looked the most like cover girl Christie Brinkley."

He was the lead singer in a band

Given that his parents were one of the most iconic pop duos in music history, it shouldn't be surprising that Chaz Bono made an attempt to follow in their footsteps by pursuing a career in music. Inklings of that were evident when the 18-year-old performed with his dad, Sonny Bono, in 1987, joining him for a duet on the Sonny & Cher classic "I Got You Babe." A few years later, Bono began taking his music seriously by forming a band, Ceremony, alongside then-girlfriend Heidi Shink. Signed to Geffen Records — Cher's label — Ceremony released the 1993 album "Hang Out Your Poetry," which included the single "Could've Been Love."

Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Bono insisted that Ceremony's signing to Geffen had nothing to do with nepotism. "Geffen was the last label we wanted to sign with because it is my mom's label," he said. "But [Geffen A&R executive] John Kalodner heard our tape and after a while decided to sign us. Mom wasn't part of that. This is a business. No record company is going to waste money on a group just because it includes the [child] of one of their artists."

While the album flopped and Ceremony subsequently disbanded, Bono recalled working in the studio with legendary Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia on one of the album's tracks. "He couldn't have been sweeter," he later told The Hollywood Reporter. "Sitting there, watching a legend play to your music, it was amazing, completely amazing."

Chaz Bono realized he was a man after 'failing as a lesbian'

Chaz Bono made the decision to come out as openly gay in 1995, announcing the news in the LGBTQ+ magazine The Advocate. As he recalled, he'd been outed by a supermarket tabloid several years earlier, which had done a number on him. "It was one tabloid story after another for the longest time," Bono told the magazine. "I was a f***ing wreck." He added of Cher, "My mom was completely freaked out."

As Bono recalled in a 2011 interview with ABC's "Nightline," coming out as a lesbian didn't bring about the freedom and happiness he'd been expecting from exiting the closet. "I just thought that something was wrong with me," Bono said, as reported by TV Guide. "Like I am not being a good lesbian ... because I was really a man so I never wanted to be a woman. That's how I was failing as a lesbian."

Being an out-and-proud lesbian, however, only led Bono to the realization that he actually wasn't gay after all. Reflecting on his journey during a 2011 interview with Time, Bono revealed he'd come to an epiphany that opened a whole new door. "I realized I was attracted to women and then made the assumption that I was a lesbian, and didn't realize that that wasn't the case," he said. "It was the fact that I was a man and a heterosexual man. The issue wasn't my sexual orientation, but rather my gender identity."

The reason he waited to have gender-affirming surgery

In 2009, TMZ was the first to report that Chaz Bono had been undergoing gender-affirming care. His rep confirmed the news was true. Revealing Bono's new chosen name for the first time, publicist Howard Bragman told the outlet in part, "Chaz, after many years of consideration, has made the courageous decision to honor his true identity."

According to Bono, he'd realized the sex he'd been assigned at birth didn't match his gender identity after he'd become famous, and he knew long before making that knowledge public. There were some reasons, however, why he'd decided to wait as long as he did before moving forward with his transition. As he told "Nightline," one of these was his previous experience being outed by tabloids. "I was worried about being followed by the tabloids again," Bono said, while his then-fiancée, Jennifer Elia, added, "I was terrified primarily of what other people would say and think. I thought people were going to throw dog feces at our door."

Another consideration behind his decision to hold off on transitioning was his mother. As Bono explained, Cher had difficulty coming to terms with his coming out as lesbian and had an even tougher time accepting that he was transgender, partly because of public scrutiny. "If I was average Joe, I would have done this years ago," he said. "I felt a tremendous responsibility not just for myself, but what am I doing to my family? What am I going to put them through?"

Chaz Bono has been incredibly open about his transition

When Chaz Bono came out as openly trans, he revealed he'd been taking testosterone and had undergone top surgery to remove his breasts. There was more surgery on the horizon, he explained, although he wasn't quite certain about the timeframe. "I'm just kind of waiting to see what happens and hoping that there are medical advances made and it gets a little better because right now the risk-reward ratio is just not quite right," he told "Nightline." "That's not to say I wouldn't like a penis," he added. "I really would like one and I hope that someday I will get one."

In a subsequent interview with Rolling Stone where he discussed his wish to get bottom surgery, Bono joked, "I like to keep my privates private." He did, however, reveal that he was in the process of saving up enough money to pay for the expensive procedure to give him male genitalia. Bono was incredibly open about the plethora of options he was considering to help strengthen his gender euphoria through surgery (such as explaining the differences between a phalloplasty and a metoidioplasty), but as he shared those details he also embraced the joy he'd found in his transition thus far; "You have to understand ... for me the life transformation has already happened." 

"I am in a holding pattern," Bono told The New York Times. "I wish I had a penis, but I am okay for now."

Cher admitted she struggled with Chaz's transition

During his 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Chaz Bono addressed the difficulties his mom had in adjusting to his gender transition. "Yeah, she's not 100 percent comfortable," he said of Cher. "For her, it's a process."

Cher herself has confirmed that on several occasions. Speaking with SheKnows in 2020, she admitted, "Look, I didn't handle [Chaz's coming out] all that well in the beginning. It took me a minute. Because you've been with a child for 40 years, and then all of a sudden ... but you know what? Chaz was so happy!" That same year, Cher echoed that recollection. "It wasn't easy," she told "Today," detailing the acceptance that she'd eventually come to have about Chaz's gender identity. " ... But then you have one child, but you don't really lose them — they just are in a different shape."

In an October 2023 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Cher revealed that she'd eventually come to understand why Chaz's transition had been so challenging for her. "It shouldn't have been because, you know, I've had gay friends forever," she said. The reason, the music icon realized, had less to do with gender than concern for what Chaz would be like. Cher explained, "It was waiting to see who the person would be, and would they be so much different than the person that was before them."

Chaz Bono produced an Emmy-nominated doc about himself

In 2011, Oprah Winfrey's OWN network debuted "Becoming Chaz," a documentary in which Chaz Bono was both producer and subject, chronicling his gender transition. "As a man trapped inside a female shell, I was very cut off from the whole world," he said in the trailer. "And now, for the first time, I'm living in my body, and it looks the way I want it to."

Not only did the film go on to receive three Emmy nominations, but "Becoming Chaz" was met with a standing ovation and rave reviews (from the likes of the Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter) after premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. "It was unbelievable," Bono told The Hollywood Reporter. "To go up there and get a standing ovation and essentially for presenting your life, showing your life, for doing something that I was so afraid that people would reject me if they knew the secret about me, to have it the exact opposite was just like, I can't help but getting choked up thinking about it."

Ultimately, Bono was pleased that "Becoming Chaz" had not only told his story faithfully and honestly, but that it had also managed to hit the somewhat high bar that he'd set for the project. "You know it's exactly what I hoped it would do," he told THR. " ... It's really opened people's minds and changed people's perceptions and it's also really helped people within the transgender community."

The reason Chaz Bono apologized to Michael Chiklis

In one part of his documentary "Becoming Chaz," Chaz Bono discussed the kind of body ideal he was seeking after transitioning. The goal, he said, was actor Michael Chiklis, known for his portrayal of dirty cop Vic Mackie in the gritty crime drama "The Shield." Addressing Chiklis' frame, reported San Diego's NBC 7, Bono explained, "I'm never going to be a little guy."

In a subsequent interview with Vulture, Bono was asked whether he'd had the opportunity to speak with Chiklis after making that declaration. "I haven't," he said. "I kind of feel bad about it! [The directors] were doing a sit-down interview and they asked me what kind of body type I'd like to have, and I said, 'Oh, Michael Chiklis — he's kind of stocky, but he's got a nice build. I'd like something like that, because I'm never going to be like Brad Pitt.' And now it's everywhere!" Bono, a self-proclaimed fan of Chiklis' work on "The Shield," added how he hoped that if the actor was aware of his comments, he wouldn't be offended.

In fact, Bono admitted the situation was reminiscent of the revelation that he'd made in his first book, "Family Outing," in which he confessed to having a childhood crush on one of Cher's close friends, "Charlie's Angel" star Kate Jackson. "It just went viral," Bono said. "I think Kate was a little freaked out!"

He kicked up controversy on Dancing With the Stars

In 2011, Chaz Bono made television history when he signed on to compete on "Dancing With the Stars," becoming the first-ever openly transgender person to participate in the series. As one might expect, Bono's presence on the show unfortunately didn't go over well in the more bigoted corners of the internet. 

In fact, there were calls for a boycott from the seemingly perpetually outraged conservative group One Million Moms (which apparently consists of just one mom), known for protesting Burger King for using the word "damn" in a TV commercial, complaining that JLo and Shakira were apparently too sexy during their Super Bowl halftime performance, and boycotting the Hallmark Channel for including gay characters in its movies. Meanwhile, Dr. Keith Ablow wrote a bombastic piece for Fox News that scurrilously warned parents to not let their kids watch "DWTS," lest they suddenly find themselves overcome with the urge to swap genders.

Bono himself, however, took it all in stride, insisting viewers would see him doing the foxtrot and the pasodoble, not proselytizing. "I'm going to be dancing, I'm not up on there talking about anything other than dancing," he told "Good Morning America." Bono also dismissed Ablow's notion that watching him would somehow be harmful to children. "All these ideas that children shouldn't watch me, I'm going to be confusing, all this stuff, it's crazy," he said, adding, "... People who don't have gender dysphoria aren't going to catch it by watching me dance on television."

He and Jennifer Aniston have been friends since high school

Chaz Bono is a longtime friend of Jennifer Aniston — going all the way back to when they attended high school together in New York. Photographic evidence of the two teens hanging out together emerged, and Aniston confirmed they were pals during a 2011 interview with Allure. However, she added, "I haven't spoken to him in a while."

During an appearance on "Live with Kelly and Ryan" (as reported by People), Aniston recalled what it was like being friends with Cher's kid. "Well, I went to high school with Chaz and amongst our group of, our gaggle, we would always go to [his] house because it was nice. It was Cher." 

Cher certainly remembered the future "Friends" star from those after-school visits — apparently, because she would "eat me out of house and home" whenever Chaz and his pals came over. "They would just show up and just chow down," Cher told "The Kelly Clarkson Show." "And [Aniston] was a big chow-downer." Aniston, however, insisted she wasn't the only culprit when it came to that after-school snacking. "Yes, she had food ... and she seems to think I ate it all," she said on "Live." "She would always go, 'Yeah, you ate me out of house and home.' And I was like, 'How was I the only one partaking in the cold cuts!'"

He's had a lot of acting roles

Chaz Bono had a few minor acting roles prior to his transition, but afterward, began carving out a whole new sideline as an actor. In 2012, he played himself in the Canadian teen drama "Degrassi," playing himself again the following year in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." In 2016, he branched out into playing non-Chaz Bono characters when he was cast as a minister in the daytime soap "The Bold and the Beautiful." Subsequent roles included a hoarder in the crime drama "Dirty," Joey Funkhouser in Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and a shlub named Herbert in the indie mockumentary "Reboot Camp." 

Interviewed by UPI in April 2023, Bono revealed that acting hadn't been something he'd seriously considered as a viable vocation until just prior to transitioning. Bono said, "After I transitioned, I ended up getting a couple of cameos in things and really enjoyed the experience." 

He's also taken on stage roles, which have included starring in a 2015 theatrical production of the Tony-winning play "Proof." Speaking with the Los Angeles Daily News about that role, Bono discussed what it had been like embarking on an acting career while in his 40s. "It's always been the only thing I've wanted to do," he said of acting. "I know that sounds strange, my not pursuing it until this late in life, but that's honestly the truth."

Chaz Bono has demonstrated a knack for horror

In 2016, Chaz Bono was cast in the sixth season of "American Horror Story," in which he played an actor portraying backwoods cannibal Lot Polk in re-enactments for the documentary based on the paranormal events of the first part of the season. Bono returned for the seventh season as grocery clerk/Trump-supporting cult member Gary. His "American Horror Story" roles led to further parts in horror-themed projects, including the films "Reborn," "3 From Hell," "The Bell Keeper," and "Bury the Bride," also serving as producer of the latter. 

Speaking with UPI, Bono discussed his affinity with horror. "The genre has always mostly been independent filmmaking," Bono said. "'Texas Chain Saw [Massacre]' is such a great film. You can see they made it for next to nothing and it doesn't matter at all."

In all of his post-transition acting roles, Bono has also consistently played cisgender straight male characters. As he previously told People, that was by design, explaining that he wasn't interested in taking on transgender roles — at least for the time being. "I'm a character actor and I really like to do stuff that's kind of out there and edgy and I don't want to be seen as anything when I'm acting," Bono said. "I want to be able to morph into whatever. I don't want to get pigeonholed."

He changed his lifestyle and lost 80 lbs

In November 2012, Chaz Bono announced a new goal for himself: to shed at least 50 lbs. Just five months later, he'd lost 60. As the star told People in April 2013, part of that weight loss came from the dance classes he'd been taking in the wake of his "Dancing With the Stars" experience, in addition to martial arts training. He'd also made some big adjustments to his lifestyle, primarily when it came to food. "I've just changed the way I eat," he explained. "Diets don't work. You just have to change what you eat, and I have."

One of the keys to Bono's success had been his steadfastness in staying away from grains and starch-filled food while focusing on fruits, vegetables, and meat. "I make them all different ways to keep it interesting," he added. 

That September, Bono told ABC News that he'd stuck with his new regimen, and by that point had lost a total of about 80 lbs. "I really feel very satisfied and comfortable with the way I eat now, which is amazing, and for me, kind of a miracle," he said. "I never thought I'd be that kind of a person!" Not only had his weight loss changed the way he looked, it had also altered the way he felt about himself. "I just have a lot more confidence and that feels really cool," Bono added. "I really like what I see in the mirror."

Chaz Bono's transition gave him a 'different perspective' on women

When Chaz Bono appeared on "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" in 2016, he'd been living as a man for several years and had come to hold a somewhat unique point of view about women. "I definitely have a very different perspective than a lot of men because I got a closer look at women for many years," Bono said, as reported by ET, although he admitted his understanding of women hadn't fundamentally changed much.

Bono believed one big reason was that, even when he was in lesbian relationships prior to transitioning, he had a tendency to behave more like a man than a woman. "Even before [my transition], I would find myself in relationships doing something that I had no idea what I had done, that had really upset my girlfriend and I didn't know why — in the same way that men do," he explained.

If anything, since transitioning he noticed that he'd become increasingly less tolerant of certain female behavior. "There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating," he told The New York Times, revealing that he'd come to realize that his then-fiancée talked a lot more than he did. "I just kind of zone out," he admitted. "I've learned that the differences between men and women are so biological. I think if people realized that, it would be easier ... I know the difference that hormones really make."