Sonny Barger, the leather-clad figurehead of the famed Hells Angels motorcycle club, has died. He was 83 years old.
Barger’s death was announced on his Facebook page on Wednesday evening.
“If you read this message you will know that I am gone. I have requested that this note be released immediately upon my passing,” one message said. “I have lived a long and beautiful life filled with adventures. And I have had the privilege of being part of an incredible club.”
The message read that “I passed away peacefully after a brief battle with cancer”.
Barger’s former attorney, Fritz Clapp, told The Associated Press that Barger had liver cancer and died Wednesday night at his home in Livermore, Calif. Barger composed the post placed on the Facebook page run by Barger’s wife, Zorana, he said.
Ralph “Sonny” Barger was a founding member of the Oakland, California chapter of the Hells Angels in 1957 and was present at its most infamous moment – the 1969 Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway in which hired bikers as security personnel fatally stabbed a spectator. who pointed a gun at one of their members.
The Hells Angels were generally portrayed by the media as the dark fringe of the 1960s counterculture, embracing freedom, drugs and rock music, but also crime and violence.
But Barger, the Hells Angels’ unofficial spokesman, played down their outlaw reputation.
“They say we’re organized crime, but if you took all the Hells Angels on the face of the earth and got rid of them, you wouldn’t lower the crime rate in the world by one tenth of one for hundred,” he said in a 2000 Interview for Heads magazine. “We are a small drop in the ocean. There are more cops committing crimes than Hells Angels.”
Barger’s own arrest record included charges ranging from drunk driving to attempted murder. He served 13 years in various prisons, according to dispatches.
He claimed that one of his most satisfying experiences was his 1980 acquittal on racketeering charges and declaration of a mistrial for conspiracy to violate the Racketeering Act.
But in 1988, a jury found Barger guilty of conspiracy to violate federal firearms and explosives laws in conspiracies to kill members of a rival gang. He was sentenced to six years at the Phoenix Federal Correctional Institution and was released in 1992.
Barger capitalized on his notoriety. He has written three books about his life and philosophy, including a bestselling autobiography, “Hell’s Angel.” A chapter title in one of his books was “Nothing states your position more clearly than a punch to the face.” He has also written two novels.
Sonny Barger Productions operates a website and sells clothing.
A high school dropout at 16, Barger grew up in Oakland and joined the military in 1955 with a fake birth certificate. He was expelled with an honorable discharge after the fake was discovered.
He started the Hells Angels with friends and soon learned that there were other Hells Angels clubs in California. Barger helped unify the clubs.
He was the main character in Hunter Thompson’s 1966 exhibit “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs”.
“He’s smart and cunning and he has a kind of wild animal cunning. He was clearly the most capable person around,” Thompson wrote.
Regarding Altamont’s murder, Barger argued that the Hells Angels acted in self-defense. The club member charged in the incident has been acquitted. The stabbing was filmed by a film crew from the documentary ‘Gimme Shelter’.
Barger underwent a laryngectomy in the early 1980s for throat cancer, which he attributed to a lifelong habit of three packs of cigarettes a day. Afterwards, he breathed through a plastic valve in his neck and covered the vent to speak.
“Live your life the Sonny Barger way?” I do not recommend it,” he wrote in the opening lines of his 2005 book “Freedom: Credos from the Road.”