SONNY BARGER (1938-2022)

Sonny Barger, infamous founder of The Hell’s Angels has died of liver cancer at the age of 83. His life and exploits are recounted in this MSN obit. Pretty wild adventures, if you read the whole thing. 
So why is the passing of Sonny Barger the subject of this blog dedicated to Lee Marvin? 

Lee Marvin as Chino in The Wild One, inspiring a young Sonny Barger.


Well, quite simply, Marvin’s Chino in The Wild One (1954) proved to be the inspiration for Barger’s creation of The Hell’s Angels. Seriously. According to producer Stanley Kramer the film did not make much money when first released as it was banned more places than it played. However, it’s influence remains to this day. Never mind that it was the first of a plethora of biker films to come over the next several decades. It’s not worth remembering that most film critics at the time did not know what they were talking about when they said Marvin was too old to be a biker challenging young and moody Marlon Brando. The fact was the raid on Hollister, CA was the film’s inspiration and most of those bikers WERE closer to Marvin’s age. 
    Marvin’s opinion of his role, his relationship with Brando, and best of all, the way in which the real-life bikers reacted to Marvin’s performance on a personal level, are all recounted in Lee Marvin Point Blank for the first time in amazing detail. 
The film has had other influences, as well….

A young Jack Nicholson in HELLS ANGELS ON WHEELS (1967) a few years before his breakout role in EASY RIDER.

Future superstar Jack Nicholson also found inspiration from Lee Marvin’s Chino as seen in the photo here in which he took a cue from Marvin’s striped shirt by incorporating a pair of similiarly striped pants. 
Matter of fact, Nicholson was quite a fan of Lee Marvin as I’ve written about previously

By the way, another Marvin cohort entered the realm of biker flicks.The actor’s Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Killers (1964) costar John Cassavetes paid for his more personal independent film by appearing in The Devil’s Angels (1967)….

John Cassavates as a rebel biker in THE DEVIL’S ANGELS (1967). 

So Rest in Peace, Mr. Barger. I don’t know if it was a life well-lived but it certainly was a full life. You might take some comfort in knowing that being inspired by Lee Marvin was not the only time that took place. In fact, in the same film, a young British musician heard the name of Marvin’s rival group and was also inspired. Anybody care to guess who?
– Dwayne Epstein

Share Button

2 thoughts on “SONNY BARGER (1938-2022)

  1. Hi Dwayne,
    Too old to be a biker? Are you kidding? At 29? That’s a baby! 😮.

    Your question about the rival gang and the British musician. Does that have something to do with The Beetles (girl gang riding with Chino’s gang) and The Beatles? I thought The Beatles (or The Silver Beatles, as they first called themselves) got their name from a variation on The Crickets, Paul McCartney being obsessed with the music of Buddy Holly at that time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please prove that you are human * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.