Ralph “Sonny” Barger co-founded the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club on April Fool’s Day 1957, helping make them a national counter-culture phenomenon throughout a torrent of illegal activity and stints in jail. He died Wednesday from cancer. In a true act of self-reliance, Barger announced his own demise.
“If you are reading this message, you’ll know that I’m gone,” begins the message posted to his Facebook account. “I’ve asked that this note be posted immediately after my passing. 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. Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer. 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”
“Adventure” is putting it mildly, considering the reputation of the biker club, his involvement with the 1969 Altamont concert security where another Hells Angels member stabbed someone, and convictions on conspiracy charges. While Barger was known to Sons of Anarchy fans for his supporting role as the jail-bound Lenny “The Pimp” Janowitz, he made an even larger impact behind the scenes as an advisor adding legitimacy and accuracy for late-60s pulp films like Hells Angels on Wheels and Angels From Hell. These movies elevated biker gangs, specifically Hells Angels, in the collective consciousness of Americans hungry to celebrate Easy Rider-style freedom and acted as vehicles to romanticize the rough lifestyle. His club now has chapters in 59 countries.
Barger was 83.