Sonny Barger, a leader of the Hells Angels who was key to bringing the outlaw motorcycle club to international notoriety, died on Wednesday from cancer. Barger was 83.
“If you are reading this message, you’ll know that I’m gone. I’ve asked that this note be posted immediately after my passing,” a post on Barger’s official Facebook page said. “I’ve lived a long and good life filled with adventure. And I’ve had the privilege to be part of an amazing club.
“Although I’ve had a public persona for decades, i’ve [sic] mostly enjoyed special time with my club brothers, my family, and close friends. Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” Barger also said. “But also know that in the end, I was surrounded by what really matters: My wife, Zorana, as well as my loved ones. Keep your head up high, stay loyal, remain free, and always value honor.”
Fritz Clapp, Barger’s former attorney, said that he died at home. Barger was previously diagnosed with stage four liver cancer, Clapp said.
“He’d lived a long life, and he’d been ill for some time,” Clapp said on Thursday. “Everybody around him had pretty much been prepared emotionally for it.”
Barger founded the Oakland, California, Hells Angels chapter in 1957, almost one decade after the club’s first chapter began in Fontana, California. Barger became the organization’s national president shortly thereafter, as the Fontana chapter founder, Otto Freddi, was imprisoned, according to the New York Times.
When Barger helmed the Hells Angels, he got into scrapes, took drugs, and raced his Harley-Davidson, Sweet Cocaine, along California’s expansive freeways. His rap sheet included arrests for drunk driving, assaults with deadly weapons, kidnapping, drug-dealing and racketeering, and he wound up spending time behind bars for drug counts.
Over the following decades, the Hells Angels became known as a violent outlaw gang with outposts spanning the globe. Barger’s tenure at the helm of the Hells Angels ended when he went to prison, according to a prior report in the Guardian.
But in an autobiography published some two decades ago, Barger said the Hells Angels were not a collection of cutthroat, anti-social bikers. Rather, Barger claimed, Hells Angels mostly behaved themselves, enjoying their out-of-date motorcycles and hard-partying.
Barger wrote that the Hells Angels had evolved dramatically since their inception. In the 1950s, they came together to ride motorcycles and party. In the 1960s, they were thrust into fame as emblematic of counter-culture rebellion, Barger said.
The next decade, Hells Angels evolved into a gang organization, spurring widespread condemnation. In the 1980s and 1990s, Barger said, Hells Angels were punished for the crimes they did and “and some we didn’t”.
“His loyalty to the club was unwavering for half a century,” Clapp also said.
Barger also appeared as an actor, including in the biker series Sons of Anarchy and film Angels from Hell. The latter depicted “a destructive ex-motorcycle gang leader [returning] home from Vietnam to resume his life. His desire to form a powerful gang has the police running scared,” according to imdb.com.