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Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger dead: Motorcycle club leader ‘passed peacefully’ from cancer at 83

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Hells Angels motorcycle club founder Sonny Barger died Wednesday after a “brief battle with cancer.” He was 83.

The “Sons of Anarchy” actor, who starred as Lenny the Pimp, shared a posthumous Facebook post announcing his death.

“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,” the message stated. “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 mostly enjoyed special time with my club brothers, my family, and close friends.

Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer. He was 83
(Ted Soqui)

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“Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer.”

Barger’s Facebook post ended: “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. Sonny HAMCO.”

Barger, an ex-convict with a lengthy criminal history, was the founding member of the Oakland, California, chapter of the notorious Harley-Davidson biker club.

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote about Barger in the 1966 book “Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.”

“In any gathering of Hell’s Angels … there is no doubt who is running the show: Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger, the Maximum Leader … the coolest head in the lot, and a tough, quick-thinking dealer when any action starts,” Thompson wrote. “By turns he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a brawler, a shrewd compromiser and a final arbitrator … Barger’s word goes unquestioned.”

Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger wrote six books about his life and motorcycle culture. The outlaw gang leader died Wednesday following a cancer battle.

Hells Angels founder Sonny Barger wrote six books about his life and motorcycle culture. The outlaw gang leader died Wednesday following a cancer battle.
(Mario Magnani)

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Through the years, Barger faced multiple criminal charges. He was charged with the murder of a drug dealer in 1972 but acquitted. Beginning in 1973, he served more than four years in prison for possession of narcotics for sale (37 grams of heroin) and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon.

He allegedly continued to lead the Hells Angels from his cell at the Folsom Prison until his release on parole in 1977.

Authorities found a 9mm automatic pistol, a .38 caliber revolver and a rifle while serving a subpoena and conducting a parole search of his Oakland home in 1978. Barger was subsequently arrested on parole violation charges, which were later dropped after his wife at the time said the weapons were hers.

He was among 33 members and associates of various Hells Angels clubs in California who were indicted on racketeering charges in 1979, but he was later acquitted of charges.

In 1983, Barger revealed he had throat cancer and was stepping down from club responsibilities. 

Hells Angels and locals outside the Blackboard Cafe in Bakersfield, Calif., 1965.

Hells Angels and locals outside the Blackboard Cafe in Bakersfield, Calif., 1965.
(Bill RayTime & Life Pictures)

Following a massive FBI raid, Barger and 13 members were arrested on narcotics, weapons and explosives charges. He was later convicted of conspiracy charges in 1988 and served a four-year prison term.

Barger wrote six books, including an autobiography titled “Hell’s Angel – The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club,” in which he detailed the infamous 1969 Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in Livermore, California.

The Angels were on hand as security for the Rolling Stones at the counterculture event where Santana, Jefferson Airplane and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young performed. It was designated the “Woodstock West” with the Grateful Dead headlining.

But the concert became so bloody and violent with multiple fights and the stabbing death of concert attendee Meredith Hunter by Hells Angel Alan Passaro that the Dead refused to perform. The entire incident was caught on tape and became the basis for the 1970 documentary”Gimme Shelter.”

Barger’s novel, “Dead in 5 Heartbeats” was made into a movie in 2013, and he co-authored a motorcycle ownership and safety guide titled “Let’s Ride.”

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