What You Never Knew About Bono

Don't be fooled by the short name of U2, because the band — with lead singer Bono at the helm — has long been a staple in the music industry. In 2005, after decades of work, the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But U2 wasn't even close to retiring. In 2017, the Irish rock outfit released their "Songs of Experience" album, which became the band's eighth record to reach the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart — with this achievement, U2 became "the only group with No. 1s in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s," according to Billboard

Throughout all those years, Bono himself became almost as popular outside of music as he was while rocking out on stage. Forget the EGOT, "Bono is the only person to have been nominated for a Grammy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize," per the Independent. Among his many honors, he won the Nobel Peace Summit Award in 2008, and France twice awarded the singer cultural honors, partly for forming charities to fight against global issues like poverty and HIV/AIDS (via BBC News).

But even with his all-around international success, Bono has dealt with many setbacks — all while carrying on helping others through his music and philanthropic efforts. It's hard to doubt the influence of someone who goes by just one name, but here's what you never knew about Bono.

How did Bono get his name?

No one knows the name Paul Hewson, but this is actually Bono's given name. The Irish lad grew up as Paul until he was a teenager and earned the first of many nicknames. According to The Telegraph, Hewson's initial alt-moniker was "Steinhegvanhuysenolegbangbangbang" — whatever that means. During an interview with Larry King, Bono said that when he was 14 years old, one of his best childhood friends called him "Bonavox of O'Connell Street." In Latin, bonavox means "good voice." It was also the name of a Dublin hearing aid company, per The Irish Times. The singer kept the name, and in the early part of his career, most publications referred to the U2 star as Bono Vox. For example, The New York Times reported on Bono Vox when "The Joshua Tree" won album of the year at the Grammy Awards in 1988.

Eventually, Bono became the shortened version — and interestingly enough, the friend who came up with the Bonavox name also became known by one name: Guggi. It turns out that Bono was the one who gave Guggi his name. The two remained close even after U2 became famous and Guggi became a painter, with Bono telling King that Guggi was "still one of [his] very best friends."

Inside Bono's difficult childhood

Bono grew up in the "working-class Finglas neighborhood of North Dublin," according to Religion News Service. One of his childhood friends — the aforementioned artist, Guggi — remembered how he and Bono were different from many of the other kids. "We didn't know what to say when they would want us to name our favorite football players," Guggi said, noting how he believed that he and Bono "could get beaten up for supporting the wrong team or not supporting anybody."

But outside the threat of bullies, Bono faced true heartbreak at the age of 14. In an interview with FULLER Studio called "Beyond the Psalms," Bono explained, "My mother died at her own father's gravesite as he was being lowered into the ground. She had an aneurysm." Though Bono claimed that "she left me," he also explained how this moment was the start of his life as an artist: "I began the journey, trying to fill the whole in my heart with music, with my mates, my bandmates."

Bono continued to grow up with just his brother and dad after his mom's untimely death. Speaking with Larry King, the U2 singer recalled struggling with the loss, and considered those times as like living "in a house, but it's not a home." Bono also revealed that he had a strained relationship with his father, who died in 2001, and confessed, "I kind of made peace with him before he died, but I wished I had put that right earlier."

Bono and Matt Damon lived right near each other

Staying close to his roots, Bono has lived in Dalkey, Ireland for most of his career — and during the COVID-19 pandemic, he found himself with a new, famous neighbor. Matt Damon was at the "seaside resort town southeast of Dublin" filming a movie with Ridley Scott when restrictions from the pandemic started, per The New York Times. The actor remained with his family in the village of about 8,000 people and quickly became favorites with the locals. However, Bono was apparently a bit frustrated by all the attention directed towards the movie star. 

"I've lived in this village, or next to this village, for 30 years — this f**ker is there for three months and they make him the king of Dalkey!" he quipped to GQ in 2021. As the U2 singer so eloquently phrased the scenario, "Thirty years I've put into that fishing village, and suddenly the fisher of men takes over!"

Of course, Bono was at least partly joking, because he and Damon had actually been friends years before the pandemic. In fact, the rock star was the one to persuade Damon to visit Africa in 2006 to help with his charity. According to the actor, this trip kickstarted his altruistic side and his work with various organizations. So, in reality, Bono only had nice things to say about Damon. "For a man who looks in the mirror for a living, he's not even a little bit self-conscious," Bono told GQ.

What is U2's origin story?

In 1976, a teenager named Larry Mullen put an ad up in Dublin's Temple Mount School with the phrase, "Drummer seeks musicians to form band," per U2's website. As a result, Mullen remembered, "This odd group of people convened in my kitchen in Artane." Bono was the lead vocalist, with The Edge playing guitar, Adam Clayton on bass guitar, and Mullen on the drums — although, Bono once admitted that he and the other guys were "a band before we could play," and during an interview with Larry King, he referred to the future Grammy-winning group as "a high school band." The oldest of the four young men was only 16 when they started, and Mullen was 14. 

At first, U2 called themselves Feedback, and then the name changed to The Hype. It turns out that a non-bandmember — Steven Averill, who designed the group's album covers — came up with the two-character name, U2. As the singer recalled of first hearing the idea, "I thought it was a submarine, but then it was a spy plane." Indeed, the U-2 stealth plane was mostly remembered for a 1960 incident, in which the Soviet Union shot down one of these American aircrafts, per History.

Though the new band name stuck, Bono revealed, "I don't like the name, U2, actually." In fact, he told King that he felt U2 belonged in "the history of great rock 'n' roll bands with crap names," not unlike the Beatles.

Bono's little known roles

Though Bono's IMDb credits are mostly as himself in music videos, the lead singer of U2 actually has a few acting experiences under his belt that you may have missed. For example, he was an uncredited voice in the epilogue to the 1991 film, "Into the West," and also had an uncredited appearance in "The Million Dollar Hotel" nine years later. The story of the latter film, starring Mel Gibson, was conceived by Bono when U2 was filming the music video for  "Where the Streets Have No Name." Prior to the start of the movie's production, Bono had "been kicking around the idea for the film for over 10 years, and was inspired after the band stayed at the actual hotel in Los Angeles," MTV News reported. As seen in the background of the music video, the band even created a sign that said "Million Dollar Hotel."

In a more featured role, however, Bono briefly appeared in "Across the Universe." The 2007 film is set to various Beatles songs, and the U2 frontman played Dr. Roberts, who sings "I am the Walrus." But perhaps Bono's biggest acting gig came when he joined the cast of 2021's "Sing 2," in which he'd play "the roaring rock legend and lion Clay Calloway," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Why does Bono always wear sunglasses?

Bono could probably be distilled into three defining traits: he sings, he's a humanitarian, and he seems to be always wearing sunglasses. In the early '80s, this was not the case. While performing, like at the 1985 Live Aid event, Bono simply had awesome long hair but no eyewear. However, by the time the band shot the music video for "Discothèque" off of U2's 1997 album, "Pop," he appeared to never take his sunglasses off. 

While appearing as a guest on "The Graham Norton Show," Bono revealed the reason for his distinctive look: The U2 frontman always wears sunglasses, even indoors, because he has glaucoma. In fact, at the time of the interview in 2014, Bono admitted he'd had the eye condition for 20 years. Perhaps surprisingly, however, he revealed that his natural eyesight is a "perfect 20/20 vision," but added that he also had "strange visions and steam coming into the room," in addition to seeing "rings around lights." So, he started wearing tinted lenses to help with the effects of glaucoma. 

Bono later explained that he didn't tell many people the reason, because with that knowledge, "You're never going to be able to get it out of your head. And you're just [going to say], 'There's poor, old, blind Bono.'" But luckily, he may never have to buy another pair again: As a famous musician, Bono is constantly gifted sunglasses by other people.

The U2 singer has been involved in numerous accidents

To celebrate his 50th birthday in 2010, Bono admitted to "overindulging on alcohol" leading up to his "big" day, he wrote on U2's website. To make up for the partying, he decided to exercise by "boxing and cycling," only to "overcompensat[e]" and injure himself. The singer made a vow to stay careful, but in 2014, Bono had an even worse accident. While riding his bike in Central Park, fell and broke his arm in six different places, Cycling Weekly detailed.

Of the rather gruesome injury, Bono graphically wrote, "I blanked out on impact and have no memory of how I ended up in New York Presbyterian with my humerus bone sticking through my leather jacket." Explaining to fans that he had a difficult recovery ahead, the U2 star admitted, "As I write this, it is not clear that I will ever play guitar again." The damages from the fall included a broken hand, shoulder, elbow, and face. But keeping a sense of humor, Bono added, "The real injury this year was to my Irish pride as it was discovered that under my tracksuit I was wearing yellow and black Lycra cycling shorts." According to the musician, his choice of fashion was "not very rock 'n' roll."

A few years later, Bono unfortunately had another major accident. Without sharing the specifics, bandmate The Edge simply told Rolling Stone that Bono "had a brush with mortality" in a "serious" incident that "caused him to reflect on a lot of things."

What's Bono's favorite game?

In between singing, acting, and working to save the world, Bono also likes to play chess. The U2 frontman first became interested in the board game as a young man. "In Ballymun we had a chess club," he wrote to player Garry Kasparov, referencing the Dublin suburb. "Like so many kids at the beginning of the 70s, I fell head over heels for this dizzy strategic game." 

Of his childhood, Bono added, "I have fond memories of the Phisboro club also where myself and my friend Joseph Marks were let play with the grown ups." The singer explained that he and his friends' favorite celebrities weren't in music, but rather, the kids considered chess masters like Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky as "pop stars at the time." Bono's favorite player while growing up? "Anatoly Karpov, the Russian grand master," he wrote.

During a conversation between Bono and Bob Dylan in 1984, both musicians revealed that they played chess. Though Dylan didn't have a chess board on hand, he accepted Bono's challenge to play a game in the future (unfortunately, no word on how that potential match went down). Even though Bono still loved chess later in life, he's admitted that he wouldn't do well facing up against his younger self. "Looking back, the arrival of puberty and learning to play the guitar may have hampered my dexterity in the game," Bono wrote to Kasparov, adding of his strategic skills, "It is not like riding a bike, I have recently discovered."

The connection between Bono and Steve Jobs

The San Remo apartment complex, which sits on Central Park West in New York City, is notorious for the celebrities that tend to reside there. Steve Jobs, for example, once called the place home, but decided to sell his penthouse in 2003. The buyer? Bono — for a reported $14.5 million, per The New York Times. Sticking to their specialties outside of real estate, the Apple Computer founder and Bono later collaborated to create a special edition U2 iPod. According to the 2004 press release, Bono said of the device, "We want our audience to have a more intimate online relationship with the band, and Apple can help us do that." Meanwhile, Jobs said of the collaboration, "U2 is one of the greatest bands in the world and we are floored to be working with them."

Later, Bono approached Jobs with the proposition to incorporate his (Product)RED charity to fight HIV/AIDS into the Apple ecosystem. According to The New York Times, Jobs responded, "There is nothing better than the chance to save lives." As a result of the collaboration, Apple became the biggest contributor of funds to the organization, leaving Bono to say, "I'm proud to know him; he's a poetic fellow, an artist and a businessman." 

While speaking with Billboard, Bono admitted to "miss[ing]" Jobs after his 2011 death. The singer also referred to Jobs as "the hardware software Elvis," who, in his opinion, "literally invented the 21st century."

Bono has a lucrative side project

Bono was one of several members to make up Elevation Partners, an investment group whose mission was "to help media and entertainment businesses develop and market great content," per 24/7 Wall St. The singer put his own money on the line by investing in companies that he and the group thought could be profitable. One example of a very bad deal, however, was buying into Palm, a phone brand that essentially disappeared in the wake of mobile devices from Apple and Google. From other investments that reportedly lost Bono a lot of money, the publication referred to the U2 star as "the worst investor in America" in 2010. 

But Bono would have the last laugh with a well-timed investment in Facebook prior to its initial public offering (IPO). Elevation Partners purchased a significant number of shares in the social media site, and after it performed well on the stock market, some publications incorrectly reported that Bono became a billionaire. While he didn't join the ranks of the ultra-rich like Bill Gates, the Irish rocker still made a huge amount of dough, with Fortune estimating that Bono's personal take home amount from the Facebook deal was around $43 million.

The story of how U2's frontman met his wife

Contrary to U2's hit song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," Bono found exactly the right person to marry at a young age. He and future activist Ali Hewson both attended the same high school. In a 2016 interview with Extra, Bono explained the simple, yet sweet start of the romance between him and his future wife, which happened an incredible 40 years prior: "I walked her to her bus."

In school, Bono was one year ahead of Hewson, and the two first met when he was 13 and she was 12. For her part, it didn't take long for Hewson to know Bono was "the one," telling the Evening Standard (via the Irish Mirror), "He worked very hard at being the heart-throb. He came up to me within the first day and asked, did I know where his class should be going? It was just an excuse to talk to me, and I thought, 'What an eejit.'" Just four days later, however, the EDUN fashion label co-founder admitted to thinking, "That is the guy for me." 

Bono and Hewson didn't start to date until they were around age 15. But after becoming official, Hewson revealed, "We broke up after six weeks because I had promised my best friend I'd just get him out of my system." Of course, the couple's separation didn't last and both grew closer together in the '70s. On August 21, 1982, Bono and Hewson were married.

Meet Bono's big family

Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, have four children together. In addition to oldest daughter Jordan Hewson (born in 1989) and youngest son John Hewson (born in 2001), their two middle children are daughter Eve Hewson and son Elijah Hewson (born in 1991 and 1999, respectively), who both went on to pursue careers in entertainment. 

Elijah is the lead singer of a band called Inhaler. "We were struggling to find a band name that we could all agree on for a long time. I'm asthmatic so my sister as a joke used to call us The Inhalers and it kind of caught on," he told BBC News. All jokes aside, the band quickly grew in popularity, with Inhaler playing with Oasis' Noel Gallagher and going on their first U.S. tour with Blossoms in 2019. Though Elijah said he still lived at home and often heard his famous dad playing, the young man wanted to create his own path in the industry, saying of Bono, "I try not to ask him about music."

As for Bono's daughter, Eve, she's grown up to be an actor. Linking up with some of the biggest names in Hollywood, she's appeared in Steven Spielberg's 2015 film, "Bridge of Spies," as well as Steven Soderbergh's TV show, "The Knick." In 2021, she starred in the Netflix series, "Behind Her Eyes." When looking for roles, Eve told The Telegraph that she prefers to stay away from "playing characters that are based on looks" and hates scripts about "the most beautiful girl in the room."

The truth behind that U2 iTunes incident

In 2014, anyone who had an Apple product received perhaps an unwanted surprise in their iTunes account: In September of that year, U2's new album, "Songs of Innocence," automatically went "to an estimated 500 million iTunes account holders as part of [a] promotional exercise," The Guardian reported. Apple CEO Tim Cook called the event "the largest album release in history." However, some people were upset to find the free record automatically downloaded on their devices, leading U2's manager to double down with, "If you don't want it and you don't need it, delete it." Unfortunately, the process of removing the album was so difficult that Apple had to provide detailed instructions to those who wanted the songs gone.

During a U2 Facebook event that October, a user asked Bono if the band could never pull a similar stunt again. "Oops, I'm sorry about that," he reportedly said (via The Guardian). Bono then explained that the Irish band was worried that the album wouldn't sell well, and admitted that they got "carried away" with the entire idea, which resulted from a "drop of megalomania, touch of generosity, dash of self-promotion and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years mightn't be heard."

Even years later, some users still found the process of removing "Songs of Innocence" extremely difficult. Vulture described how, in 2020, it could still be necessary to call Apple tech support to completely remove the album from iTunes.

Bono's life in philanthropy

Early in Bono's career, he started to use his influence to bring awareness to global issues. During his acceptance speech at the 1988 Grammy Awards for album of the year, for example, he talked about the difficult subject on his mind. "It's hard, when there's 50 million people or so watching, not to take the opportunity to talk about things like South Africa and what's happening there," Bono said. And the artist was serious about helping others, as he's dedicated much of his career towards humanitarian efforts. Even as U2 continued to grow in popularity, it seems as though he's sometimes felt guilty of working on anything music related. 

"There are Arab revolts, there are f**king famines in East Africa, and here are four men talking about their creative process," Bono told Interview magazine in 2011. As an activist, the singer co-founded the charitable organizations ONE and (RED). According to ONE's website, its mission is "to end extreme poverty and preventable disease." Meanwhile, (RED) is focused on partnerships with "brands to raise public awareness about and corporate contributions for the AIDS crisis."

While these causes seem noble, some critics have felt otherwise. For example, an opinion columnist for The New York Times wrote that Bono and other celebrities contributed to "the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help." Meanwhile, in 2017, ONE also became embroiled in scandal when it was accused of "foster[ing] an atmosphere of bullying" and "abuse," per The New York Times, leading Bono to apologize on behalf of the organization.

How much is Bono worth?

Bono and U2 have been selling hit records for decades. As of 2021, the group had 42 nominations and 22 wins at the Grammy Awards. Not to mention, touring has been wildly successful for the Irish rock outfit. As reported by Yahoo!, U2 boasts three of the highest-grossing tours of all time for a musical act — when adjusted for inflation in 2021, U2's "360 Degrees" tour between 2009 and 2011 remained the highest-grossing tour ever, earning an estimated $880.7 million. 

In addition to his musical endeavors, Bono has also been a part of successful deals as an investor. His investment group, Elevation Partners, operated from 2005 to 2015 and acquired shares of big names like Facebook, Yelp, and Forbes. All these income streams added to a huge bank account for Bono, who is worth an estimated $700 million, per Celebrity Net Worth.

With all this money to his name, Bono's philanthropic efforts are renowned — he's even given a TED Talk on ending poverty. But he also enjoys the fruits of his labor through his impressive real estate profile. In addition to boasting a family vacation home in the South of France, and a penthouse in Manhattan, Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, also own a mansion in south Dublin. As Bono once advised to Q magazine (via the Independent.ie), "Pay attention to business, it's really a drag when it goes wrong. ... Just because you're smart with your art or your activism doesn't mean you have to be dumb with your money."