Two Men, Two Deaths, One Wife, and One Heart… and a Whole Lot of Shenanigans

Sonny Graham Terry Cottle heart transplant marriage suicide

Sonny Graham had a second chance at life. In 1995, he was on the verge of death from congestive heart failure when fate intervened and provided him with a new heart. Sonny’s life was spared out of a tragedy that took the life of another. Little did he know that he would share more than a heart with that man. Their lives, loves, and deaths would be forever entwined.

Sonny’s new heart came to him as a result of the death of Terry Cottle. Terry, 33 years old, was driven by inner demons no one can explain to commit suicide with a gun. Terry’s death made Cheryl Cottle a widow at the young age of 28. She consented to have Terry’s organs donated, in hopes it would bring hope, comfort, and life out of tragedy.

She could not have imagined how her decision would affect her.

Sonny wrote a letter to Cheryl, expressing his gratitude for the second chance at life. One letter turned into two, and the grieving widow and grateful heart recipient struck up a relationship. They met in January 1997, and it was love at first sight — at least for Sonny, but more about that later.

“I felt like I had known her for years,” said Sonny. “I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. I just stared.” It seemed that Terry’s heart — now in Sonny’s chest — was still filled with love for Cheryl. In 2001, he bought a home for Cheryl and her four children so they could be near him in Vidalia, South Carolina. Three years later, they were married.

Terry Cottle and Cheryl on their wedding day (left) and Sonny Graham (right)

Now fast-forward to April 2008. Sonny, now retired, woke up for what should have been an ordinary day. He was supposed to take his 9-year-old stepson to the dentist. Instead, he went to the shed behind his house, picked up a 12-gauge shotgun, pointed it at his throat, and pulled the trigger.

Almost exactly 13 years after Terry Cottle shot himself, making Cheryl a widow, Sonny did exactly the same thing. Cheryl was widowed twice by two different men, each sharing one heart.

A curious side note to this drama is the love life of Cheryl. Her marriage to Terry was not her first. She was married and had two young daughters at the time she met Terry. They began an affair that led to the Cheryl divorcing her first husband. Nine days after the divorce was final, she married Terry.

Their marriage was in trouble from the beginning. One day she told her husband that she couldn’t stay married to a man who earned less money than she did. She removed her wedding ring and threw it over the garden fence.

Terry and Cheryl agreed to separate. It was the next day, as Cheryl was preparing to move out, that Terry killed himself.

As we have already seen, Sonny met Cheryl in 1997. Sonny was married at the time to a woman named Elaine. Although he professed an immediate love for Cheryl, the feelings were not returned. Just a few months after their meeting, Cheryl married husband number 3, George Watkins. Sonny and Elaine attended the wedding. Sonny even stood in for Cheryl’s deceased father and gave the bride away.

Outwardly, it appeared that Cheryl and George’s marriage was healthy. It was all a facade. In January 1999, Cheryl gave birth to a son. At almost the same time, Elaine discovered the horrible truth — that Sonny was having an affair with Cheryl. Sonny and Elaine filed for divorce.

If you think George was outraged at Cheryl’s conduct, you would be mistaken. It turns out that he didn’t have a lot to complain about. Just as the affair came to light, Cheryl discovered George’s horrible secret: he already had a wife at the time of their wedding. She sought and received an annulment of their marriage, making her single yet again.

Cheryl and Sonny were now free to love each other openly. Their relationship, alas, was not without trouble. For some strange reason, aside from Terry’s heart, the only thing the two people had in common was the fact that neither of them appeared capable of honoring their marriage vows. Rather than get married, they lived together for a time, only to separate in May 2002. They sued each other at that time over disagreements about property distribution.

As that court case was working its way toward resolution, Cheryl married husband number 4: John Johnson, Jr. This marriage started to dissolve within a year. In November 2003, police had to break up a domestic abuse altercation between the two of them.

When Cheryl and John’s divorce was finalized, she was already wearing Sonny’s engagement ring. They married in 2004.

Sonny committed suicide on April 1, 2008. A September 1, 2008 article noted that Cheryl’s latest boyfriend had already dumped her.

What started as a story about two men, two deaths, one heart, and one wife, ends by telling about one woman, five marriages, and who knows how many men.

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