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Sonny Barger, the leader of Hells Angels, has died aged 83

Sonny Barger, the longstanding kingpin of the US motorcycle club Hells Angels, has died aged 83 after a brief battle with cancer. 

For over 60 years, Barger was the quintessential leader and one of the early founding members of the Harley Davidson straddling countercultural organisation. He reportedly died earlier today surrounded by his wife Zorona and his close friend and family. 

His death was confirmed in a statement from Barger himself posted to his Facebook page. In the pre-written announcement, Barger reflects on a life “filled with adventure” and paid tribute to the “amazing club” that he helped raise to nationwide prominence.

“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,” read the Facebook post.

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“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.”

The message continued: “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.”

He concluded the announcement with a message to his followers and fellow bikers: “Keep your head up high, stay loyal, remain free, and always value honor. Sonny HAMCO.”

Barger was born in Modesto, California, and at the age of 19, he established the original Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels. In the 1960s, he went on to become the club’s national president and helped lead it to international infamy as the most feared and publicised motorcycle gang in the Sates. 

In 1967, journalist Hunter S. Thompson further added to the gang’s publicity with his classic book documenting his couple of years living among the gang, titled Hell’s Angels

Over the 1970s and ’80s, Barger became a prominent countercultural figure and appeared in a number of films and TV features, as well as writing a handful of books to document his life experiences.

The gang was built upon ill repute and a lifestyle of ultimate freedom and hedonism. While, in most cases, the members were harmless and simply motorcycle fanatics looking for a sense of belonging, many of their vast numbers were involved in brushes with the law. 

Barger, himself, was involved in a number of the Angels’ memorable legal challenges. In 1972, he and three other Angels were accused of murdering a Texas drug dealer in California before setting a building on fire. Subsequently, all four were acquitted of the charges at trial.

In 1988, he was also convicted of conspiracy to kill members of a rival motorcycle club in Kentucky and blow up their headquarters. For this, he served five years in federal prison. Apart from this, Barger spent another eight years in and out of prison throughout his adult life due to various smaller crimes, usually related to possession of drugs and firearms. 

While the US authorities have long claimed that the Hells Angels are nothing more than a criminal organisation, Barger would concurrently accuse the government of oppressing and targeting the club due to their nonconformist outlook and image.