Sonny Barger Net Worth

Written by Ivana - Reviewed by Emilija Public Figures

12 min read
Net Worth $ 700,000
Real name Ralph Hubert "Sonny" Barger, Jr.
Source of Wealth Author, acting career, books, consulting on biker-gang films, licensing his name for memorabilia, criminal activity involving selling narcotics
Profession Outlaw biker, author and actor
Spouse/Partner Was married to Zorana Barger
Date of Birth Oct 8, 1938
Zodiac Libra
Age 84
Died Jun 29, 2022
Gender Male
Pronoun He/Him
Height 182 cm / 5 ft 11 inch
Nationality American
Siblings Sister Shirley Barger

Biography

Sonny Barger, whose real name is Ralph Hubert Barger, Jr., is an outlaw biker, actor and author. He was the co-founder of the Oakland chapter of the HAMC (Hells Angels Motorcycle Club). He also authored 6 books and appeared in multiple TV shows and movies.

A large part of his income came from his consulting on biker-gang movies. Barger’s net worth at the time of his death in 2022 was estimated at $700,000.

Early life

Ralph Hubert "Sonny" Barger, Jr. was born in Modesto, California, and grew up in the port area of Oakland, where his father, Ralph Hubert Barge Sr., worked as a dock worker.[1]Sonny’s childhood was tough because his mother, Kathryn Carmella (born Ritch), left them when he was only four months old and ran off with a bus driver.

Sonny and his older sister Shirley were raised by their alcoholic father and grandmother. Barger was a troubled student and was many times suspended for attacking teachers and fighting with other students.

He quit school at 16 after 10th grade and joined the Army. However, after only 14 months, Sonny was discharged honorably because he forged his birth certificate to be able to enlist.

After returning to Oakland, he switched between lowly jobs and dock work while living between his father’s and his sister’s places.

Biking career and forming Hells Angels

During this time, he met fellow Army veterans who shared a deep passion for bikes. In 1956, he joined the motorcycle club “Oakland Panthers.” After the club dissolved, he and Don "Boots" Reeves, another fellow biker, formed the Oakland chapter of the “Hells Angels,” adopting the logo of a disbanded motorcycle club from North Sacramento - a profile of a skull with an aviator cap with wings on both sides.

The club’s name doesn’t contain the possessive apostrophe because it wouldn’t have fit on their patch.

They soon discovered that there were other bike clubs with the same name. As the president of the Oakland chapter of the “Hells Angels,” he consolidated the club with the rest of the Hells Angels chapters.

While the chapters often battled among themselves, Hells Angels mainly had conflicts with other clubs, including Gypsy Jokers.

When the founder of the San Bernardino chapter of the Hells Angels was sent to prison, Barger was named the de facto national president of the club at just 20 years old. He moved the headquarters from San Bernardino to Oakland.

The club identified as outlaw bikers who were distinguished by the "1%er" patch. The term "1%er" relates to a comment by the former president of the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) that 99% of motorcyclists were law-abiding citizens, implying the last one percent were outlaws. [2]

Sonny made a living working as a machine operator from 1960 to 1965. But then he realized he could largely profit from the Hell Angels’ reputation and started working as a technical consultant in biker-gang movies.

Some of the movies he advised on include “Wild Angels” (1966), starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, “Hells Angels on Wheel” (1967), starring Jack Nicholson, in which Barger also had a cameo part, and “Hell’s Angels ’69” (1969) in which he earned a speaking part.[3]

Altamont Free Concert incident

Barger tried not to get involved in the Angels’ criminal activities and rogue behavior. Nevertheless, being the president of one of the most notorious biker clubs comes with a certain burden.

One large-scale incident he was involved in was the Rolling Stones' Altamont Free Concert in 1969. The Hells Angels had been hired to provide security at the festival. However, a brawl occurred between the audience and the Angels, resulting in two audience members being knocked unconscious and Meredith "Murdock" Hunter being stabbed to death.

A few days after the concert, Sonny went on a local radio station to present the Hells Angels’ side of the story. He stated that his fellow club members acted in self-defense against druggie hippies who were destroying their bikes.

However, Barger later admitted to putting a gun to Keith Richards’s face to make the Rolling Stones keep playing despite the riot in the audience.

Barger blamed the Rolling Stones for the violence at the concert, saying that they delayed their appearance on stage, which agitated the crowd that much. He also accused the band of not taking responsibility for the disaster.

One Angels member, Alan Passaro, was charged with the murder of Hunter, but was later acquitted on the grounds of self-defense.

The catastrophic Altamont Free Concert was featured in the 1970 documentary “Gimme Shelter.” The tragic event was considered the end of the concept of peace and love of the Woodstock 60s.

After the incident, Barger hired a PR company to mend the Hell Angels' reputation and even got them involved in charity activities. He stated that the FBI set them up as villains and criminals and was furious when people called the Hells Angels a gang. [4]

Illegal activities and imprisonment

As much as Sonny tried to defend the Angels’ reputation, the reality is that both the club and Barger himself were deeply involved in numerous instances of criminal activities.

Sonny Barger and the Hells Angels were associated with the post-war counterculture in the 1960s. Contrary to the beats and hippies who were left-oriented and opposed the war in Vietnam, the Hells Angels attacked anti-war protestors, fought with rival clubs, and executed revenge killings.

Anti-Vietnam war protest incident

On October 16, 1965, six Hells Angels members were arrested after they attacked anti-Vietnam war demonstrators in Berkeley, California.

After the incident, Angels and other motorcycle club representatives met with the poet Allen Ginsberg and activist Jerry Rubin at the San Jose State College in front of 1,000 students, leftist political representatives, and labor unions to seek assurance that the next planned March in November would go on peacefully.

Barger was not directly involved in the anti-war demonstrations incident, but a day before the planned protest, he appeared at a press conference openly attacking the anti-war movement. He declared that the HAMC wouldn’t be joining the scheduled demonstration, adding that their involvement in anti-American marches might provoke violent acts by the club members and would “only produce sympathy for this mob of traitors.” (sic)

Sonny even sent a telegram to the then-president Lyndon Johnson, offering the HAMC services as a trained guerrilla group to “demoralize the Viet Cong and advance the cause of freedom.” (sic).

Convictions for drugs, weapons, and attempted murder

Barger and the Angels had the arrangement to trade weapons they acquired on the black market for the release of imprisoned club members.

Despite this, Barger had a long rap sheet and was frequently charged with drug dealing, assault, kidnapping, and murder, but he somehow managed to escape them. Also, he became a cocaine addict and started selling heroin in the late 1960s.

However, in 1973, Barger was eventually sentenced to ten years to life in prison for possession of weapons and heroin. He reputedly still led the Hells Angels from Folsom State Prison.

He served only four and a half years and was released on parole in November 1977.

In 1979, Sonny, his wife Sharon, and 33 other Angels members were indicted for racketeering. Most cases were declared mistrials, only nine were convicted, and Barger, his wife, and a third member were acquitted.

In 1987, Sonny and thirteen Hells Angels members were arrested on federal conspiracy charges of possessing narcotics and supplying weapons and explosives.

He was extradited from California to Louisville, Kentucky, to stand a trial for supplying explosives to be used to kill members of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. Barger was convicted to four years in prison, but served three and a half years.

He got out of jail in 1992 and blamed the FBI for setting him up. “There never was a crime thought up by the Hells Angels. It was thought up by the F.B.I. It was paid for by the F.B.I. And I went to jail for it. That’s the way it goes,” he said in a statement for The Phoenix New Times.

Later years, health and media appearance

In 1983, Barger was diagnosed with throat cancer. The doctors had to take out his vocal cords, which made speaking difficult for Sonny as he had a hole in his throat that he had to cover to talk, and when he did speak, he did it in a coarse whisper.

When he got out of prison in 1992, he was an elder HAMC president. Coupled with the coarse whisper, and the fact that people had to band down to speak to him, he strongly gave off the image of a biker Godfather.

In 1998, Barger moved to Arizona, joined the Hells Angels' Cave Creek chapter, and withdrew from public events and motorcycle rallies.

After tensions increased and incidents escalated among gangs in 2002, Sonny tried to organize a peace conference at the Laughlin River Run motorcycle rally. But a fight broke out between Hells Angels and the Mongols Motorcycle Club, which left three people dead, and the conference was canceled.

Although Sonny rarely made public appearances with the Hells Angels, he was giving interviews to magazines. He launched his brand of salsa and wrote 6 books, including one autobiography: “Hell's Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels Motorcycle,” “Dead in 5 Heartbeats,” “Ridin' High, Livin' Free: Hell-Raising Motorcycle Stories,” “Let's Ride: Sonny Barger's Guide to Motorcycling,” “Freedom: Credos from the Road,” and “6 Chambers, 1 Bullet: A Novel.”

Barger was also featured in Hunter S. Thompson's book, “Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs” (1966).[5]

He appeared in the documentary “Gimme Shelter” about the Altamont Free Concert, and was featured but didn’t speak in the movie “Hells Angels on Wheels.”

Sonny also appeared in three episodes of the iconic show “Sons of Anarchy,” playing Lenny "The Pimp" Janowitz. The show is allegedly based on the Hells Angels.

Personal life and death

Barger was married four times. His first wife, Elsie Mae, died from embolism after getting an illegal abortion.

He married his second wife, Sharon Gruhlke, in 1973 while he was imprisoned in Folsom State Prison. However, they divorced a few years later.

Sonny moved to Arizona with Beth Noel, his third wife, and stepdaughter, Sarrah, in 1998. During that time. He joined the Hells Angels' Cave Creek chapter and worked at a bike repair shop.

In 2003, Barger was arrested after Beth ended up in a hospital with a broken rib, back, and ruptured spleen. He was sentenced to eight days in prison for aggravated assault. The couple divorced after the incident.

Eventually, he married Zorana, his fourth wife, in 2005. They remained married until Sonny died in 2022. They had no children.

Barger died on June 29, 2022, from liver cancer. His funeral took place at a motorsport racetrack in Stockton, California, on September 24, 2022.

Quotes

  • “I think doing time is just part of growing up.” [...] “There’s just certain things you’ve got to do in your life. You’ve got to go to school, you’ve got to go in the Army, you’ve got to go to jail. It all helps you to have a well-rounded life.”[6]
  • “One of the things that has always amazed me about reporters during my whole life,” he told The Los Angeles Times, “99 percent of them will say, ‘Gee, after talking to you I find that you’re halfway intelligent. You could have been anything you wanted to be!’ They don’t realize, I am what I want to be.” [4]

Conclusion

Sonny Barger is an outlaw biker, author, and actor. He was the co-founder and president of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels - an outlaw biker club known for drugs, violence, and weapons.

Barger was charged with numerous criminal activities as part of the HAMC, including possession and distribution of narcotics, transporting weapons, attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, etc. He managed to escape most charges, but was sentenced twice: the first time in 1973 to ten years to life in prison, out of which he served four and a half, and the second time in 1989 to four years in prison, out of which he served three and a half years.

He authored 6 books and was featured in several TV shows and movies covering the biker-gang topic, including “Sons of Anarchy.” His net worth at the time of his death in 2022 was $700,000.

References

  1. Sonny Barger (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonny_Barger (Accessed: November 24, 2022). 

  2. Outlaw Motorcycle Club (2022) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlaw_motorcycle_club#One_percenter (Accessed: November 24, 2022). 

  3. Sonny Barger Obituary (2022) The Guardian. Guardian News and Media. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jul/17/sonny-barger-obituary (Accessed: November 24, 2022). 

  4. Risen, C. (2022) Sonny Barger, face of the Hells Angels, dies at 83, The New York Times. The New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/30/us/sonny-barger-dead-hells-angels.html (Accessed: November 24, 2022). 

  5. Sonny Barger (no date) IMDb. IMDb.com. Available at: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0054554/ (Accessed: November 24, 2022). 

  6. The rough rider: Entrepreneur. philanthropist. hell's Angel Sonny Barger is just a regular guy. unless you cross him. (1994) Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times. Available at: https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-12-14-ls-8726-story.html (Accessed: November 24, 2022).