A look back on the career of Paul Hewson or Bono (who just turned 52 years old today). Happy Birthday dude!
Anyway, here goes.
Paul David Hewson (born 10 May 1960), most commonly known by his stage name Bono (pronounced /ˈbɒnoʊ/ BON-oh), is an Irish singer, musician, and humanitarian best known for being the main vocalist of the Dublin-based rock band U2. Bono was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, and attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School where he met his future wife, Alison Stewart, and the future members of U2. Bono writes almost all U2 lyrics, often using political, social, and religious themes. During their early years, Bono’s lyrics contributed to U2’s rebellious and spiritual tone. As the band matured, his lyrics became inspired more by personal experiences shared with members of U2.
Outside the band, he has collaborated and recorded with numerous artists, sits on the board of Elevation Partners, and has refurbished and owns The Clarence Hotel in Dublin with The Edge. Bono is also widely known for his activism concerning Africa, for which he co-founded DATA, EDUN, the ONE Campaign and Product Red. He has organised and played in several benefit concerts and has met with influential politicians. Bono has been praised and criticised for his activism and involvement with U2. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, was granted an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, and was named as a Person of the Year by Time, among other awards and nominations. With wealth accumulated from his musical career and outside investments, Bono ranks as the world’s richest rock star.
Bono was born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, on 10 May 1960. He was raised in Northside suburb of Glasnevin with his brother, Norman Robert Hewson (who is eight years older than Bono), by their mother Iris (née Rankin), a Church of Ireland Anglican, and their father Brendan Robert “Bob” Hewson, a Roman Catholic. His parents initially agreed that the first child would be raised Anglican and the second Catholic. Although Bono was the second child, he also attended Church of Ireland services with his mother and brother.
He went to the local primary Glasnevin National School. Bono was 14 when his mother died on 10 September 1974 after suffering a cerebral aneurysm at her father’s funeral. Many U2 songs, including “I Will Follow“, “Mofo“, “Out of Control“, “Lemon“, and “Tomorrow“, focus on the loss of his mother. Other songs focus on the theme of childhood vs. maturity, such as “Into the Heart,” “Twilight”, and “Stories for Boys.”
Bono attended Mount Temple Comprehensive School, a multi denominational school in Clontarf. During his childhood and adolescence, Bono and his friends were part of a surrealist street gang called “Lypton Village”. Bono met one of his closest friends, Guggi, in Lypton Village. The gang had a ritual of nickname-giving. Bono had several names: first, he was “Steinvic von Huyseman”, then just “Huyseman”, followed by “Houseman”, “Bon Murray”, “Bono Vox of O’Connell Street”, and finally just “Bono”.
“Bono Vox” is an alteration of Bonavox, a Latin phrase which translates to “good voice.” It is said he was nicknamed “Bono Vox” by his friend Gavin Friday. Initially, Bono disliked the name. However, when he learned it loosely translated to “good voice”, he accepted it. Hewson has been known as “Bono” since the late 1970s. Although he uses Bono as his stage name, close family and friends also refer to him as Bono, including his wife and fellow band members.
Bono is married to Alison Hewson (née Stewart). Their relationship began in 1975 and the couple were married on 21 August 1982 in a Church of Ireland (Anglican) ceremony at All Saints Church, Raheny (built by the Guinness family), with Adam Clayton acting as Bono’s best man. The couple have four children: daughters Jordan (b. 10 May 1989) and Memphis Eve (b. 7 July 1991) and sons Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q (b. 18 August 1999) and John Abraham (b. 21 May 2001); Memphis Eve portrayed the character Stella in the 2008 film The 27 Club. Bono lives in Killiney in south County Dublin with his family and shares a villa in Èze in the Alpes-Maritimes in the south of France with The Edge.
Bono is almost never seen in public without sunglasses. During a Rolling Stone interview he stated:
[I have] very sensitive eyes to light. If somebody takes my photograph, I will see the flash for the rest of the day. My right eye swells up. I’ve a blockage there, so that my eyes go red a lot. So it’s part vanity, it’s part privacy and part sensitivity.
In 2002, he was listed as one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a poll conducted among the general public, despite the fact that he is Irish.
In May 2010, Bono suffered a spinal injury while preparing for the forthcoming U2 tour, and was taken to a German clinic in Munich for emergency neurosurgery. The entire North American leg was postponed and rescheduled into 2011.
On 25 September 1976, Bono, David Evans (“The Edge”), his brother Dik, and Adam Clayton responded to an advertisement on a bulletin board at Mount Temple posted by fellow student Larry Mullen Jr. to form a rock band. The band had occasional jam sessions in which they did covers of other bands. Tired of long guitar solos and hard rock, Bono wanted to play Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys songs. Unfortunately the band could not play covers very well, so they started writing their own songs.
The band went by the name “Feedback” for a few months, before changing to “The Hype” later on. After Dik Evans left the group to join another local band, the Virgin Prunes, the remaining four officially changed the name from “The Hype” to “U2“. Initially Bono sang, played guitar, and wrote the band’s songs. He said of his early guitar playing in a 1982 interview, “When we started out I was the guitar player, along with the Edge—except I couldn’t play guitar. I still can’t. I was such a lousy guitar player that one day they broke it to me that maybe I should sing instead. I had tried before, but I had no voice at all. I remember the day I found I could sing. I said, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it.‘“ When The Edge’s guitar playing improved, Bono was relegated mostly to the microphone, although he occasionally still plays rhythm guitar and harmonica. As of 2006, Bono has taken piano lessons from his children’s piano teacher as a means to improve his songwriting.
Bono writes the lyrics for almost all U2 songs, which are often rich in social and political themes. His lyrics frequently allude to a religious connection or meaning, evident in songs such as “Gloria” from the band’s album October, and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from The Joshua Tree. During the band’s early years, Bono was known for his rebellious tone which turned to political anger and rage during the band’s War, The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum eras. Following the Enniskillen bombing that left 11 dead and 63 injured on 8 November 1987, the Provisional IRA paramilitaries threatened to kidnap Bono. IRA supporters also attacked a vehicle carrying the band members. These acts were in response to his speech condemning the Remembrance Day Bombing during a live performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday“. The singer had been advised to cut his on-stage outburst from the Rattle and Hum film, but it was left in. Also featured in the film is footage of Bono spray-painting a monument during an outdoor performance; Bono was forced to pay a fine.
U2’s sound and focus dramatically changed with their 1991 album, Achtung Baby. Bono’s lyrics became more personal, inspired by experiences related to the private lives of the members of the band. During the band’s Zoo TV Tour several of his stage personas were showcased; these included “The Fly”, a stereotypical rock star, the “Mirror Ball Man”, a parody of American televangelists, and “Mr. MacPhisto”, a combination of a corrupted rock star and the Devil.
During performances he attempts to interact with the crowd as often as possible and is known for pulling audience members onto the stage or moving himself down to the physical level of the audience. This has happened on several occasions including at the Live Aid concert in 1985 where he leapt off the stage and pulled a woman from the crowd to dance with her as the band played “Bad“, and in 2005 during U2’s Vertigo Tour stop in Chicago, where he pulled a boy onto the stage during the song “An Cat Dubh / Into the Heart“. Bono has often allowed fans to come on stage and perform songs with the band.
Bono has won numerous awards with U2, including 22 Grammy awards and the 2003 Golden Globe award for best original song, “The Hands That Built America“, for the film Gangs of New York. During the live broadcast of the ceremony, Bono called the award “really, really fucking brilliant!” In response, the Parents Television Council condemned Bono for his profanity and started a campaign for its members to file complaints with the FCC. Although Bono’s use of “fuck” violated FCC indecency standards, the FCC refused to fine NBC because the network did not receive advance notice of the consequences of broadcasting such profanity and the profanity in question was not used in its literal sexual meaning.
In 2005, the U2 band members were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in their first year of eligibility. In November 2008, Rolling Stone ranked Bono the 32nd greatest singer of all-time.
Bono and his bandmates were criticised in 2007 for moving part of their multi-million euro song catalogue from Ireland to Amsterdam six months before Ireland ended a tax exemption on musicians’ royalties. Under Dutch tax law, bands are subject to low to non-existent tax rates. U2’s manager, Paul McGuinness, stated that the arrangement is legal and customary and businesses often seek to minimise their tax burdens. The move prompted criticisms in the Irish parliament. The band later responded by stating that approximately 95% of their business took place outside Ireland, and that they were taxed globally because of this. Bono was one of several super-rich figures whose tax arrangements were singled out for criticism in a report by the charity Christian Aid in 2008.
In addition to his work with U2, he has collaborated with Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Luciano Pavarotti, Sinéad O’Connor, Green Day, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Tina Turner, B.B. King and Zucchero. He has recorded with Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Kirk Franklin, Bruce Springsteen, Tony Bennett, Clannad, The Corrs, Wyclef Jean, Kylie Minogue, Carl Perkins, Jay-Z and Rihanna, as well as reportedly completing an unreleased duet with Jennifer Lopez. On Robbie Robertson‘s 1987 eponymous album, he plays bass guitar and vocals. On Michael Hutchence‘s 1999 posthumous eponymous album, Bono completed a recording of “Slide Away” as a duet with Hutchence.
Bono and The Edge also wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. On May 25, 2011, a single titled “Rise Above 1: Reeve Carney Featuring Bono and The Edge” was released digitally. The music video was released on 28 July 2011.
In 1992, Bono, along with the Edge, bought and refurbished Dublin’s two-star 70-bedroom Clarence Hotel, and converted it into a five-star 49-bedroom hotel.
The Edge and Bono have also recorded several songs together, exclusive of the band. They have also been working on penning the score for the 2011 rock musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Bono is a known Celtic F.C. fan, and in 1998 it was rumoured that Bono intended to buy shares in the Scottish club, which Bono denied.
In May 2007, MTV reported that Bono was writing the foreword for a collection of poetry entitled “Third Rail”. The book’s foreword gives detail of the meanings of the poetry, saying “The poets who fill the pews here have come to testify, to bear witness to the mysterious power of rock and roll…Rock and roll is truly a broad church, but each lights a candle to their vision of what it is.” The collection, which is edited by poet Jonathan Wells, contains titles such as “Punk rock You’re My Big Crybaby”, “Variation on a Theme by Whitesnake“, and “Vince Neil Meets Josh in a Chinese Restaurant in Malibu (After Ezra Pound).”
Bono is on the board of the Elevation Partners private-equity firm, which attempted to purchase Eidos Interactive in 2005 and has since gone on to invest in other entertainment businesses. Bono has invested in the Forbes Media group in the US through Elevation Partners. Elevation Partners became the first outsider to invest in the company, taking a minority stake in Forbes Media LLC, a new company encompassing the 89-year-old business which includes Forbes magazine, the Forbes.com website and other assets. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but reports said the stake was worth about €194 million ($250m).
In film, Bono has played the character of “Dr. Robert”, an anti-war shaman, in the musical Across the Universe. Also in this movie, he sang The Beatles songs “I Am the Walrus” and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds“. Bono’s other acting credits include cameos in 1999’s Entropy and 2000’s Million Dollar Hotel, the latter of which was based on a story conceived by Bono. In 2000 he acted as himself in the short film Sightings of Bono, adapted from a short story by Irish writer Gerard Beirne.
Bono owns a 1.5% stake in social networking site Facebook, originally purchased for merely $210m. Currently, his stake is valued at approximately US$ 1 billion. That alone makes him the richest entertainer in the world, surpassing Paul McCartney whose net worth is about US$ 750 million.
Bono has become one of the world’s best-known philanthropic performers and was named the most politically effective celebrity of all time by the National Journal. He has been dubbed, “the face of fusion philanthropy”, both for his success enlisting powerful allies from a diverse spectrum of leaders in government, religious institutions, philanthropic organisations, popular media, and the business world, as well as for spearheading new organizational networks that bind global humanitarian relief with geopolitical activism and corporate commercial enterprise.
In a 1986 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Bono explained that he was motivated to become involved in social and political causes by seeing one of the Secret Policeman’s Ball benefit shows, staged by John Cleese and producer Martin Lewis for the human-rights organisation Amnesty International in 1979. “I saw ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball’ and it became a part of me. It sowed a seed…” In 2001, Bono arranged for U2 to videotape a special live performance for that year’s Amnesty benefit show.
Bono and U2 performed on Amnesty’s Conspiracy Of Hope tour of the United States in 1986 alongside Sting. U2 also performed in the Band Aid and Live Aid projects, organised by Bob Geldof. In 1984, Bono sang on the Band Aid single “Do They Know it’s Christmas?/Feed the World” (a role that was reprised on the 2004 Band Aid 20 single of the same name). Geldof and Bono later collaborated to organise the 2005 Live 8 project, where U2 also performed.
Since 1999, Bono has become increasingly involved in campaigning for third-world debt relief and raising awareness of the plight of Africa, including the AIDS pandemic. In the past decade Bono has met with several influential politicians, including former United States President George W. Bush and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. During a March 2002 visit to the White House, after President Bush unveiled a $5 billion aid package, he accompanied the President for a speech on the White House lawn where he stated, “This is an important first step, and a serious and impressive new level of commitment. … This must happen urgently, because this is a crisis.” In May of that year, Bono took US Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill on a four-country tour of Africa. In contrast, in 2005, Bono spoke on CBC Radio, alleging then Prime Minister Martin was being slow about increasing Canada’s foreign aid. He was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, 2005, and 2006 for his philanthropy.
In 2004, he was awarded the Pablo Neruda International Presidential Medal of Honour from the Government of Chile. Time Magazine named Bono one of the “100 Most Influential People” in its May 2004 special issue, and again in the 2006 Time 100 special issue. In 2005, Time named Bono a Person of the Year along with Bill and Melinda Gates. Also in 2005, he received the Portuguese Order of Liberty for his humanitarian work. That year Bono was also among the first three recipients of the TED Prize, which grants each winner “A wish to change the world”. Bono made three wishes, the first two related to the ONE campaign and the third that every hospital, health clinic and school in Ethiopia should be connected to the Internet. TED rejected the third wish as being a sub-optimal way for TED to help Africa and instead organised a TED conference in Arusha, Tanzania. Bono attended the conference, which was held in June 2007, and attracted headlines with his foul-mouthed heckling of a speech by Andrew Mwenda.
In 2007, Bono was named in the UK’s New Years Honours List as an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He was formally granted knighthood on 29 March 2007 in a ceremony at the residence of British Ambassador David Reddaway in Dublin, Ireland.
Bono also received the NAACP Image Award’s Chairman’s Award in 2007. On 24 May 2007, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia announced that Bono would receive the Philadelphia Liberty Medal on 27 September 2007 for his work to end world poverty and hunger. On 28 September 2007, in accepting the Liberty Medal, Bono said, “When you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grew, you are not free, … When you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace … well, then none of us are truly free.” Bono donated the $100,000 prize to the organisation. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala accepted the award for the Washington-based Debt AIDS Trade Africa.
In 2005 he recorded a version of Don’t Give Up with Alicia Keys, with proceeds going to Keep a Child Alive.
On 15 December 2005, Paul Theroux published an op-ed in the New York Times called The Rock Star’s Burden (cf. Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden) that criticised stars such as Bono, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie, labelling them as “mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth.” Theroux, who lived in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer, added that “the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help—not to mention celebrities and charity concerts—is a destructive and misleading conceit.” Elsewhere, Bono has been criticised, along with other celebrities, for “[ignoring] the legitimate voices of Africa and [turning] a global movement for justice into a grand orgy of narcissistic philanthropy“.
On 3 April 2005, Bono paid a personal tribute to John Paul II and called him “a street fighter and a wily campaigner on behalf of the world’s poor. We would never have gotten the debts of 23 countries completely cancelled without him.” Bono spoke in advance of President Bush at the 54th Annual National Prayer Breakfast, held at the Hilton Washington Hotel on 2 February 2006. In a speech containing biblical references, Bono encouraged the care of the socially and economically depressed. His comments included a call for an extra one percent tithe of the United States’ national budget. He brought his Christian views into harmony with other faiths by noting that Christian, Jewish, and Muslim writings all call for the care of the widow, orphan, and stranger. President Bush received praise from the singer-activist for the United States’ increase in aid for the African continent. Bono continued by saying much work is left to be done to be a part of God’s ongoing purposes.
The organisation DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) was established in 2002 by Bono and Bobby Shriver, along with activists from the Jubilee 2000 Drop the Debt Campaign. DATA aims to eradicate poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa. DATA encourages Americans to contact senators and other legislators and elected officials to voice their opinions.
In early 2005, Bono, his wife Ali Hewson, and New York-based Irish fashion designer Rogan Gregory launched the socially conscious line EDUN in an attempt to shift the focus in Africa from aid to trade. EDUN’s goal is to use factories in Africa, South America, and India that provide fair wages to workers and practice good business ethics to create a business model that will encourage investment in developing nations.
Bono was a special guest editor of the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair magazine. The issue was named “The Africa Issue: Politics & Power” and featured an assortment of 20 different covers, with photographs by Annie Leibovitz of a number of prominent celebrities, political leaders, and philanthropists. Each one showcased in the issue for their contributions to the humanitarian relief in Africa.
In an article in Bloomberg Markets in March 2007, journalists Richard Tomlinson and Fergal O’Brien noted that Bono used his band’s 2006 Vertigo world tour to promote his ONE Campaign while at the same time “U2 was racking up $389 million in gross ticket receipts, making Vertigo the second-most lucrative tour of all time, according to Billboard magazine. . . . Revenue from the Vertigo tour is funnelled through companies that are mostly registered in Ireland and structured to minimise taxes.”
Further criticism came in November 2007, when Bono’s various charity campaigns were targeted by Jobs Selasie, head of African Aid Action. Selasie claimed that these charities had increased corruption and dependency in Africa because they failed to work with African entrepreneurs and grassroots organisations, and as a result, Africa has become more dependent on international handouts. Bono responded to his critics in Times Online on 19 February 2006, calling them “cranks carping from the sidelines. A lot of them wouldn’t know what to do if they were on the field. They’re the party who will always be in opposition so they’ll never have to take responsibility for decisions because they know they’ll never be able to implement them.”
In November 2007, Bono was honoured by NBC Nightly News as someone “making a difference” in the world. He and anchor Brian Williams had travelled to Africa in May 2007 to showcase the humanitarian crisis on the continent. On 11 December 2008, Bono was given the annual Man of Peace prize, awarded by several Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Paris, France.
Product Red is another initiative begun by Bono and Bobby Shriver to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Bobby Shriver has been announced as the CEO of Product Red, whilst Bono is currently an active public spokesperson for the brand. Product Red is a brand that is licensed to partner companies, such as American Express, Apple, Converse, Motorola, Microsoft, Dell, The Gap, and Giorgio Armani. Each company creates a product with the Product Red logo and a percentage of the profits from the sale of these labelled products will go to the Global Fund.