Legendary biker Sonny Barger has died at the age of 83, succumbing to cancer on June 29. Born Ralph Hubert Barger on October 8, 1938, in Modesto, a rural central California town, Sonny had a long history of various cancers, beginning in the late ’70s with throat cancer.
Long-known as an outlaw biker, Barger was the founding member of the Oakland, California, Hells Angels chapter. Prior to that, he was a member of the Oakland Panthers MC. Additionally, he authored five books, appeared in several movies and TV shows (notably Sons of Anarchy), and was thought of by most as the titular head of the Hells Angels.
Barger and I had several conversations during my Thunder Press days. He’d call me occasionally. Usually, it was to question something I printed. Oddly, our conversations often started with talking about our dogs. We had only a few points on which we agreed. Neither of us tried to “convert” the other. Our talks, though, were always cordial, be it on the phone or in person.
We weren’t friends, nor did I want to be. With my goal of reporting on the full spectrum of American V-Twin world, it was important I forge a working relationship with him. I believe his goal was to ensure I treated him and the Hells Angels fairly, which I think I did. There was no fawning, ass-kissing, or coercion from either of us. It was strictly business.
Barger was a man of honor, and I came to grudgingly respect that he was a man of his word. He made no excuses for what he was and what he’d done. He was not a hero of mine, but I gave him the respect he gave me.
Before his death, Barger gave instructions to post his final message on his Facebook page. It reads, in part as follows: “I’ve lived a long and good life filled with adventure. And I’ve had the privilege to be part of an amazing club. 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.”