Sonny Barger, the notorious founding member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, author, ex-convict, occasional Sons of Anarchy actor and one of the bikers who provided the violent, bloody security at the infamous 1969 Rolling Stones Altamont concert, died of Wednesday of cancer. He was 83.
Barger announced his own death in a pre-written message subsequently posted today on his Facebook page: “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. 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”
Barger, long the public face of the notorious and frequently outlaw Angels, was a founding member of the club’s Oakland, CA, chapter.
Barger had written six books, including his autobiography Hell’s Angel — The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club, in which he put the blame for the disastrous Altamont concert squarely on the Stones. The Angels had been hired by the band to provide security, a decision the Stones would regret: The bikers beat audience members with billiard sticks, punched and knocked out Jefferson Airplane singer Marty Balin and attacked (in self-defense, they claimed) a pistol-wielding 18-year-old Stones fan named Meredith Hunter. One of the Angels stabbed and killed Hunter but was acquitted after claiming self-defense.
The incident became one of rock history’s defining events, and Barger, in his autobiography, blamed the Stones for delaying their arrival and working the crowd into an impatient frenzy. Barger said in his book that he forced Richards, at gunpoint, to begin the concert. The performances and the violence were captured in the classic 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter, directed by Albert and David Maysles.
Barger also tangled with the law over the years. He was acquitted in the 1972 murder of a drug dealer but convicted in 1973 and 1988 on narcotics and weapons charges and serving about four years for each conviction.
He levied his notoriety into fame as early as the mid-1960s, when he played significant roles in nonfiction books by Hunter S. Thompson (Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs) and Tom Wolfe (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).
Barger also took part in a number of documentaries about the bikers. In 2010 he began a recurring, three-episode role on FX’s biker drama Sons of Anarchy, portraying Lenny “The Pimp” Janowitz. He reportedly assisted show creator Kurt Sutter as a sort of de facto consultant on biker culture.
Barger was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1983 and prostate cancer in 2010. It was unclear today exactly what type of cancer caused his death. Complete information on survivors also was not immediately available.
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