Hells Angels Founder Wrote Books, Worked in TV, Films

Sonny Barger also worked security at infamous Altamont concert
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 30, 2022 6:45 PM CDT
Sonny Barger, 83, Became Hells Angels' Public Face
Sonny Barger and his wife at the time, Sharon, after his release on $100,000 bond in San Francisco in 1980.   (AP Photo/Robert Houston, File)

Sonny Barger, the founder of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club who turned his experiences into books and work on TV and films, has died. He was 83 and died at home Wednesday night after developing liver cancer, NBC News reports. A note Barger had written was posted on his Facebook page. "I've lived a long and good life filled with adventure. And I've had the privilege to be part of an amazing club," it said. "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, who founded the Oakland club in 1957, was involved in one of the most notorious incidents in rock music history: the 1969 concert at Altamont Speedway in California. The Rolling Stones hired the gang as security, per Deadline. In the course of their duties, Hells Angels beat concertgoers, knocked out Marty Balin of Jefferson Airplane, and stabbed to death Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old Stones fan who had a pistol. The gang member tried in the case was acquitted after arguing self-defense. The violence was preserved in the 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter.

Although he was acquitted of various charges over the years, including murder, Barger was convicted of narcotics and weapons charges and spent a total of 13 years in prison. He became widely known after his inclusion in nonfiction books by Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe. Barger wrote six books of his own and participated in documentaries about his organization. He also appeared in three episodes of the TV drama Sons of Anarchy. Barger argued the Hells Angels' outlaw reputation. "They say we're organized crime, but if you took every Hells Angel on the face of the Earth and got rid of them you wouldn't drop the crime rate in the world one-tenth of one percent," he said in 2000. "There's more cops committing crimes than Hells Angels." (Read more obituary stories.)

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