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Sonny Barger, Hells Angels leader and legendary outlaw, dead at 83 – National

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Ralph “Sonny” Barger, the tough leader of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, has died after a brief battle with cancer. He was 83.

A statement on his official Facebook page on Thursday read: “If you’re reading this post, you know I’m gone. I requested that this note be hung immediately after my death.”

Barger’s former attorney, Fritz Clapp, confirmed the death to the Washington Post, saying the cause of death was liver cancer.

Barger founded the first chapter of the Hells Angels in Oakland, California, in 1957.

He achieved an almost mythical status as a raucous hell and a cool charismatic leader of men calling themselves 1 percent — not counting the sincere 99 percent of the population. Much of that 99 percent genuinely feared the Angels with their menacing looks, rumbling Harley Davidson motorcycles, violent unrestricted lifestyle and black leather wardrobe adorned with the club’s sacred winged skull patch.

Portrait of an American motorcyclist and founding member of the Oakland branch of the Hells Angels Sonny Barger (née Ralph Barger) sitting at a table, San Francisco, California, January 1979.


Janet Fries / Getty Images


The Hells Angels have a long history of violence, crime and harassment and Barger was proud of the club’s reputation. He even called himself part of a group of “card-carrying thugs.”

Barger himself was convicted of marijuana possession, heroin trafficking, assault with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, firearms possession and conspiracy to blow up the clubhouse of a rival biker gang in Kentucky. But he told the Los Angeles Times that the total 13 years he spent in prison “wasn’t much, considering all the fun I’ve had.”

Barger was born on October 8, 1938, in Modesto, California. As a teenager, he dropped out of school and enlisted in the military with a forged birth certificate until he was honorably discharged 13 months later when they found out he was too young to serve.

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From there he moved to Oakland, bought a motorcycle and joined a club called the Oakland Panthers. He soon realized that the Panthers were not in his “raising hell” ways, and he found new friends in the Hells Angels.

He rose to the rank of club leader, thanks in part to Hunter S. Thompson’s 1966 book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs

“At every Hell’s Angels gathering…there’s no question who runs the show: Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger, the Maximum Leader…the coolest head in the lot, and a tough, quick-thinking dealer when the action kicks in, Thompson wrote. “By turns he is a fanatic, a philosopher, a fighter, a cunning compromise maker and a final arbiter…Barger’s word remains unchallenged.”

Barger’s most recent battle with cancer was not his first. At age 44, he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had his vocal cords removed. In 2012, he had his prostate removed after another cancer diagnosis.

In 2000, Barger added the bestselling author to his resume with the autobiography Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club† In 2010, he co-authored let’s drivea bestseller on motorcycle ownership and safety, and wrote several novels about motorcyclists.

He is survived by his wife Zorana.

With files from Reuters

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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