Sonny Barger: Hell's Angel founder dead at 83

Motorcycle gang member spent time with Rolling Stones, Jack Nicholson and writer Hunter S Thompson

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Sonny Barger of the notorious biker gang the Hell’s Angels has died, his Facebook page said on Thursday. He was 83.

In 1957, Barger became a founding member of the international motorcycle club's original group, based out of Oakland, California.

“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,” Barger’s Facebook post read.

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

Known for their outlaw lifestyle, the Hell’s Angels became associated with rock and roll and counterculture, with gang members living in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury befriending the famed band The Grateful Dead.

Their loud, drug-fuelled parties, tendency towards violence and alarming appearance elicited both fear and curiosity.

Rolling Stone magazine writer Hunter S Thompson spent a year riding along with their posse of rumbling choppers, calling them “the hundred-carat headline” in his 1967 book Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga.

As endorsed offshoots of the group began springing up across the country, Barger became the group’s face in the media and in 1969 was part of the “security” team hired for one night by the Rolling Stones for $500 worth of beer.

The free concert at California’s Altamont Speedway drew more than 300,000 spectators and became deadly when a Hell’s Angel stabbed a concertgoer, Meredith Hunter.

The killing was documented in Gimme Shelter by filmmakers Albert and David Maysles.

Barger had a recurring role in the TV series Sons of Anarchy about a fictional biker gang, playing Lenny “The Pimp” Janowitz.

He spent time in and out of prison on various weapons and guns charges and was convicted of conspiracy to kill rival gang members in 1988.

After contracting throat cancer, his vocal chords were removed and he thereafter need an electronic device for speech.

“Although I’ve had a public persona for decades, I’ve mostly enjoyed special time with my club brothers, my family and close friends,” Barger’s post said.

“Keep your head up high, stay loyal, remain free and always value honour.”

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Updated: June 20, 2023, 12:41 PM