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Hells Angels Founder Sonny Barger Dead at 83: 'A Long and Good Life Filled with Adventure'

·2-min read
Hell''s Angel Ralph "Sonny" Barger appears at a book signing July 18, 2001 in Milan, Italy. The story of a uniquely American subculture and the wild, dangerous life of Barger, the quintessential Hell''s Angel, has been chronicled in his new book, "Hell''s Angel : The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell''s Angels Motorcycle Club."
Hell''s Angel Ralph "Sonny" Barger appears at a book signing July 18, 2001 in Milan, Italy. The story of a uniquely American subculture and the wild, dangerous life of Barger, the quintessential Hell''s Angel, has been chronicled in his new book, "Hell''s Angel : The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell''s Angels Motorcycle Club."

Mario Magnani/Getty

Sonny Barger, founder of the Hells Angels, arguably the world's most notorious outlaw motorcycle clubs, has died. He was 83.

"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 a post shared on his official 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. 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 post continued. "Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer."

His former lawyer, Fritz Clapp, confirmed Barger's death to NBC News and the Washington Post, stating that his cause of death was liver cancer.

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The statement on Barger's Facebook page noted that he was survived by Zorana Barger, his fourth wife, whom he married in 2005.

"Know that in the end, I was surrounded by what really matters: My wife, Zorana, as well as my loved ones," the post read. "Keep your head up high, stay loyal, remain free, and always value honor. Sonny HAMCO."

Hells Angeles chieftain Ralph "Sonny" Barger and his wife Sharon are shown after his release $100,000 bond in San Francisco Friday, Aug. 1, 1980. He has spent more than a year in jail on Federal racketeering conspiracy charges.
Hells Angeles chieftain Ralph "Sonny" Barger and his wife Sharon are shown after his release $100,000 bond in San Francisco Friday, Aug. 1, 1980. He has spent more than a year in jail on Federal racketeering conspiracy charges.

Robert Houston/AP Photo

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Barger, who was a heavy smoker for decades, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1982 and had his vocal cords removed, according to the Washington Post. He later campaigned against smoking.

One of the campaign ads read, "Want to be a true rebel? Don't smoke as the rest of the world. I had throat cancer and my vocal cords were removed because of that damned cigarette. Be an angel, stop smoking."

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Born in California October, 8, 1938, Barger was a founder of the Oakland Hells Angels chapter in April 1957, according to The New York Times. He went on to become the club's national president and played a key role in shaping its public image. While leading the club, he served time in prison on drug charges, the newspaper reported.

He stepped back from official duties in 1998 after moving to the suburbs, but still remained a member, per the Washington Post.

Ralph "Sonny" Barger, president of the Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels, reads a statement during a news conference in Oakland, Ca., Nov. 19, 1965. Barger announced they will not show up for the Vietnam Day Committee's march on the Oakland Army Terminal, Saturday. The members of the Oakland Hell's Angels chapter from left are, Cliff Workman, treasurer; Barger; Tiny Walter, sergeant at arms; Ron Jacobson, secretary; and Tom Thomas, vice president, seated far right.
Ralph "Sonny" Barger, president of the Oakland chapter of the Hell's Angels, reads a statement during a news conference in Oakland, Ca., Nov. 19, 1965. Barger announced they will not show up for the Vietnam Day Committee's march on the Oakland Army Terminal, Saturday. The members of the Oakland Hell's Angels chapter from left are, Cliff Workman, treasurer; Barger; Tiny Walter, sergeant at arms; Ron Jacobson, secretary; and Tom Thomas, vice president, seated far right.

AP Photo

Barger wrote a number of books, including Hell's Angel — The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club, which was a New York Times bestseller, per the newspaper.

Throughout his life, he occasionally appeared on screen, making a cameo in the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels, which starred Jack Nicholson, per the Times. In 2010, he also appeared on the television show Sons of Anarchy.

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