A plaque at the Oakland chapter located on Foothill Boulevard. Credit: Amir Aziz

Ralph Hubert Barger, known as Sonny Barger, founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, died at the age of 83 after a battle with cancer.

A statement on his official Facebook page read in part: “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.”

According to the Washington Post, Barger died June 29 at his home in Livermore.

In April, Barger celebrated the 65th anniversary of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels at the club’s headquarters on Foothill Boulevard in East Oakland. He founded the chapter, one of the first for the club, in 1957 at the age of 19. A year later, he was promoted from chapter president to national president and made Oakland the mother chapter.

Barger led a controversial and violent life. He was arrested numerous times on drug, weapons, assault, and murder charges in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Barger was also club president during several infamous events involving the Hells Angels, including an attack on protesters and police during an anti-war protest in Berkeley in 1965. The Hells Angels supported the war against Vietnam. Barger and the Angels also became police informants, trading information to Bay Area cops about the activities of radical Leftist and Black power groups. He was present when several Angels assaulted concertgoers and stabbed one person to death during the 1969 Altamont rock concert.

Barger was featured in several books like Hunter S. Thompson’s, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. He also authored books including his best-selling autobiography, Hell’s Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. He appeared in the FX television series Sons of Anarchy and various documentary films. 

Barger had his vocal cords removed and battled throat cancer since 1983. He also suffered from prostate cancer and had it removed in 2012 as a result. 

He is survived by his fourth wife Zorana whom he married in 2005. 

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.