Sonny Barger

Sonny Barger is the former President and founding member of the Hells Angels Oakland Chapter.

He has been widely identified as being the National President of the Hells Angels and is quite possibly the most well know outlaw motorcycle club member of all time, having used the media to his advantage over several decades.

Sonny Barger Early Life / Personal Life

Ralph Hubert Barger was born 8 October, 1938 in Modesto, California. At four months old his mother left, leaving him with his father and older sister.

In 1954 he started a small street corner club that he named “Earth Angels”.

He joined the army in 1955, at age 16, however was thrown out 14 months later after it was discovered that he had forged his birth certificate.

After returning from the army in 1956 he joined the Oakland Panthers Motorcycle Club, later leaving stating that they didn’t have the “brotherhood” that he was seeking. In the event of an issue they would often split, rather than stick together and battle through whatever may have come up.

The Hells Angels Oakland chapter was founded in 1957 (see “Hells Angels MC” further down in this article), with Sonny becoming one of the founding members and the first President of the chapter.

His drugs of choice over the years have been LSD and cocaine.

In 1982/1983 he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had his vocal chords removed. Having to go through therapy to learn to talk again, his voice changed significantly, leaving him now with a very husky unique voice, which has been likened to Marlon Brando in The Godfather. As well as having throat cancer he has also suffered from a heart attack.

In 1998 he moved to Arizona with his third wife and daughter and became a member in the Hells Angels Cave Creek chapter, selling his shop in Glendale, California in the process.

In August 2016 he announced that he would be returning to the Hells Angels Oakland chapter.

He has amassed a number of high profile friends over the years, including Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead and actor Mickey Rourke.

Sonny Barger Modesto California
Sonny Barger Modesto California

Sonny Barger Hells Angels MC

The Hells Angels Oakland Chapter was founded on 1 April, 1957. Sonny was one of the original founders. A plaque outside of the clubhouse reads that the club was founded by “Sonny Barger and others”. The “others” included another biker by the name of Boots Don Reeves.

He has stated that they didn’t ask permission before founding the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels. It was Boots Don Reeves who came across a patch and they decided to start riding together and forming their own chapter. It is believed that this didn’t cause any major issues with the other chapters at the time as they were just a group of loosely related chapters, however if a similar scenario happened today, and people began forming their own chapter of the Hells Angels without asking for formal approval, it would be a completely different story.

These early years were the golden years of the Oakland Hells Angels, seeing many of their members including Terry The Tramp featuring both in the movie Hells Angels 69′ and also in Hunter S. Thompson’s classic biker book Hell’s Angels.

When the Hells Angels National President Otto Friedli went to prison the National President role was taken over by Sonny Barger. After he took over he also moved the Hells Angels Mother Chapter from San Bernardino (Berdoo), to the Hells Angels Oakland Chapter.

It is worth noting that “National President” isn’t an actual role within the Hells Angels and that Sonny Barger is merely a member of the club in good standing. However, for several decades he has widely been acknowledged as being the overall leader and spokesperson.

In 1998 he moved to the Arizona and joined the Hells Angels Cave Creek Chapter. The Oakland Chapter President role was taken over by Elliot S. “Cisco” Valderrama.

In August 2016 he announced that he would be returning to the Hells Angels Oakland chapter.

Hells Angels Sonny Barger
Hells Angels Sonny Barger

Sonny Barger Crimes

1963 – Arrested for possession of marijuana.

1964 – Arrested for possession of marijuana.

1965 – Arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

1966 – Arrested for assault with a deadly weapon.

1970 – June, 1970. His house in Oakland Hills at 9508 Golf Links Road is raided by 23 law enforcement members. They were in search of drugs, however only weapons were found. While at the premises Donald Howarth, the 1967 “Mr America”, entered with a briefcase containing 17 ounces of cocaine and 30 ounces of heroin. Although there were some charges laid against Sonny Barger, he was not convicted.

1973 – Sentenced to ten years to life for the sale of 37 grams of heroin. After legal battles he is later released in 1977. View his 1974 appeal in our Court Records section.

1979 – Sonny Barger, along with multiple other members of the Hells Angels Oakland chapter are put on trial facing RICO charges relating to guns and drugs (United States of America v. Ralph Barger, Jr., et al.). They were acquitted after the prosecution could not prove that it was part of the motorcycle club laws to be involved in these activities.

1987 – November, 1987. Arrested on conspiracy charges. FBI informant Anthony Tait plays a strong part in the following court case.

1988 – October, 1988. A jury finds Sonny Barger guilty of conspiracy to violate federal firearms and explosives laws in plots to kill members of the Outlaws MC in Louisville, Kentucky as well as other areas. Along with Michael Vincent O’Farrell he was convicted of conspiracy to transport and receive in interstate commerce explosives with intent to kill and to damage buildings. The conviction had a maximum sentence of five years, however he receives a sentence of four years in prison in Arizona and is released in 1992. There were a total of 10 Hells Angels members in Alaska and California who were accused of being involved.

Sonny Barger Media / Sonny Barger Author

In addition to the many books and articles that have been written about Sonny Barger, he is also a writer himself, having published several books.

Sonny Barger Book – Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club by Sonny Barger with Keith Zimmerman and Kent Zimmerman.

The biography of Sonny Barger, covering everything from his early life through the finding of the Oakland chapter and beyond. Find out more on Amazon (link opens in a new tab).

Hells Angels Book Hells Angel The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club
Hells Angels Book Hells Angel The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club

Hells Angels Book – Hells Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson.

This is a classic in the outlaw motorcycle club community and is a must read for anyone interested in finding out about the earlier years in the Hells Angels, with Sonny Barger playing a significant role. Find out more on Amazon (link opens in a new tab).

Hells Angels Book A Strange and Terrible Saga Hunter S Thompson
Hells Angels Book A Strange and Terrible Saga Hunter S Thompson

Sonny has written many books, including the following:

Ridin High Livin Free Ralph Sonny Barger
Ridin’ High Livin’ Free: Hell-Raising Motorcycle Stories
Sonny Barger book Freedom Credos From The Road
Sonny Barger – Freedom: Credos From The Road

He has been involved in the following tv shows and movies in one way or another:

  • Hell’s Angels on Wheels (1967)
  • Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969)
  • Hell’s Angels Forever (1983), featuring Sonny Barger, Jerry Garcia, Scott Barnes, Johnny Paycheck, Willie Nelson
  • Dead in 5 Heartbeats (2012)
  • Sons of Anarchy (2010-2012), recurring character Lenny “The Pimp” Janowitz. The show Sons of Anarchy is said to be loosely based on the Hells Angels motorcycle club. Also appearing on Sons of Anarchy are Hells Angels members David Labrava, Chuck Zito and Rusty Coones.

YouTube Video: An interview with Sonny Barger from 1994

Part 1 of the interview:

Part 2 of the interview:

Read More:


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