Exclusive: Tony Scott's Hell's Angels is Actually Sonny Barger's Story
by Brandon Lee Tenney
June 18, 2009
I remember it like it was yesterday. The news that Stephen Gaghan and Tony Scott were adapting Hunter S. Thompson's seminal work Hell's Angels for the big screen. Well, it seems that that isn't entirely accurate. Here are the facts: Stephen Gaghan is indeed writing the screenplay for a film to be directed by Tony Scott. That film is to be titled Hell's Angels. However, this Hell's Angels adaptation is in no way connected to Hunter S. Thompson's book of the same name. Instead, Hell's Angels is the adaptation of Sonny Barger's autobiography Hell's Angel: The Life and Times of Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels Motorcycle Club.
Sonny Barger, if you're not familiar, is the founder of the Oakland Hells Angels motorcycle club. In 1982, due to a three-pack-per-day smoking habit, he was diagnosed with cancer of the larynx and his vocal cords were removed. But even that couldn't keep him silent, as he learned to vocalize using only the muscles in his throat. He's spent 13 years in jail, with a rap sheet as eclectic as you might expect from a man perpetually on the road: kidnapping, drug possession, attempted murder, and racketeering to name a few. Barger is a bad man, in both that he's what some may say is the epitome of badass and that he's really just a bad, bad man.
Barger's autobiography tells the real story, unlike every other previous account of him, including the Hunter S. Thompson book about spending time with Barger and the biker gang. After Barger's book was first released in 2000, it skyrocketed onto the New York Times Bestseller's List and was quickly optioned by Fox.
After a chat with one of the producers (and Sonny Barger's lawyer), Fritz Clapp, I learned that Traffic scribe Stephen Gaghan is the fourth writer to take a crack at Barger's story. Interestingly, the script saw passes from the likes of Anthony Zuiker (of "CSI" fame), Michael Tolkien, and the controversial memoirist James Frey. Clapp also confirmed that Tony Scott will be directing as well as producing Hell's Angels and that the film will most likely be his next after Unstoppable. There you have it. It's Sonny Barger's story that Gaghan and Scott will really be telling. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm still very excited to see this.