Sonny Barger, founder of the first American group of “Hells Angels” – an association of bikers with a reputation for sulfur – died at the age of 83, according to a statement on his official Facebook account on Thursday.
For decades, Mr. Barger was the public figure of these clans of bikers in blue jeans and leather jackets who were an emblematic part of the United States counterculture.
“Do you know that I passed away peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” read the statement, which is written in the first person. “I had a long and beautiful life full of adventures. And I’ve had the privilege of being part of an extraordinary club.
Stocky, tattooed, muscular, both thug and braggart, actor or bandit, depending on the circumstances, Sonny Barger was a man of all excesses, from alcohol to hard drugs. His multiple encounters with the law have earned him years behind bars, a dark and rebellious face contrasting with his entrepreneurial skills.
Photo courtesy of Chuck Zito
Sonny Barger was present at the famous Rolling Stones concert at the Altamont Festival in 1969, where the Hells Angels had been recruited to provide security. Meredith Hunter, a bystander who had drawn a gun, was fatally stabbed by a Hells Angel, a scene featured in the famous documentary Gimme Shelter.
Born in 1938 in Modesto, California, the former mechanic with a troubled childhood founded the “Chapter” of the Hells Angels of Oakland in that state in a suburb of San Francisco in 1957. The place becomes the headquarters of this organization, halfway between white fraternity and gang.
The Hells Angels moved in roaring bands sometimes referred to as “hordes,” with long hair flying in the wind, snuffling Harley-Davidsons, and custom choppers with high handlebars — the Hells Angels inspired fear wherever they went from the start went.
Many other chapters are opening elsewhere in America and on every other continent, bringing together thousands of members. A success driven by Sonny Barger, the passionate promoter of the brand and its logo, which can be seen on products ranging from t-shirts to sunglasses.
The California native, who has been married four times and served as a consultant on biker film sets, has also written novels and a spicy best-selling autobiography.