I first encountered Sonny on a street corner in Atlanta in 1998. A tall man in a gray suit with a swatch of silver hair stepped from the curb and hailed me down for a ride. He’d journeyed from LA to meet with experts in the hallowed halls of the CDC. At the time, I was director of the agency’s Entertainment-Education program.
The creator and head of PCI’s Soap Summit, Sonny led the EE outreach efforts with soap opera writers and producers. For anyone getting to know him in those days, you quickly realized Sonny was on a mission. For the next forty-eight hours, I navigated him through the maze of CDC’s public health universe for our mutual purpose, to encourage more accurate health content in TV storylines, many wildly popular throughout the world. It would turn out to be a win-win-win partnership and a collegial friendship spanning decades.
Two characteristics that stood out for me were Sonny’s easy engagement with people, and his drive to keep ahead of the curve. He reveled in chatting with the director of the CDC, and the head of the UN (he reported) as much as he did with those kids on Wonderama. A former game show host, Sonny treated partners like the contestants he nudged along on the shows, so everyone had a chance to win. He booked CDC experts for Soap Summit conferences, and suggested we present an award to recognize the most accurate health storylines, which gave birth to the Sentinel for Health Awards. His idea that CDC work with Soap Opera Digest on audience research fell flat, but sparked us to track the effects of health storylines through the national Healthstyles Survey. When I accepted a job to establish Hollywood, Health & Society at USC, Sonny joined the board, eager to contribute and be part of the action.
Now that this amazing journey has come full circle, it’s truly a pleasure to recognize the remarkable life of the generous, silver-haired man on that street corner in Atlanta. He touched so many people, from the KIDS glued to Wonderama, to the investigators of global health crises, the scribes of network TV, and even, yes, viewers like you.
Founder and Director Emerita
Hollywood, Health & Society