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 organized and played in several benefit concerts and has met with influential politicians. Bono has been praised and criticized 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.
Bono was born in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin on 10 May 1960. He was raised in Glasnevin with his brother, Norman Hewson, 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.
Bono grew up in the Northside suburb of Glasnevin. His home was a typical three-room house, with the smallest room his bedroom. 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. Many 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 seventies. 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. ”
His use of sunglasses on stage has progressed through his career with U2. During the 1980s, he was rarely seen wearing sunglasses. During the 1992–93 Zoo TV Tour, he wore sunglasses for parts of the show, though usually in character as The Fly with large, dark wraparound blaxploitation-style shades or Mirror Ball Man with more typical, round sunglasses. In the 1997–98 Popmart Tour, he wore larger, tinted wraparound shades with thick frames. By the early 2000s, his sunglasses were commonly blue and more goggle shaped. He would, however, remove them for most of the actual shows on the Elevation Tour. Starting around the time of U2's 2004 How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, Bono began wearing his signature Armani sunglasses. These were usually red or green tinted, and had no frames around the lenses. He wore these for most of every show on the Vertigo Tour, with the rare exceptions being songs like "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own", "Running to Stand Still", and "Miss Sarajevo". He has been wearing sunglasses in most interviews and public appearances since the late 90s. They have also become something of an enduring piece of pop culture; in one instance, when he was photographed giving a pair of his sunglasses to Pope John Paul II to wear at the Pope's request.
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.
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 criticized 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 minimize 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.