Hells Angels photos from unpublished LIFE story in 1965

Ben Cosgrove of LIFE says: "Our gallery of unpublished photos of the Hells Angels from 1965, along with the incredible story of the writer and photographer who worked on the original article (which was unceremoniously spiked by the editors of LIFE) is now live."


Bill Ray (with camera), Bakersfield, California, 1965. Of this photo, Ray says: "I got along with the Angels. I got to like some of them very much, and I think they liked me. I accepted them as they were, and they accepted me. You know, by their standards, I looked pretty funny. Just look at this picture -- I can't believe I looked like that, either. That's some kind of a plaid shirt I've got on," he says, incredulity mixing with amusement, "but that was the best I could do to try to fit in!"

Never-Seen: Hells Angels, 1965


  1. Great photos.

    I always thought that Hunter Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels was pretty good. Of course, it was before Altamont and few of their other big fiascos, so it is pretty outdated.

    1. “I always thought that Hunter Thompson’s book Hell’s Angels was pretty good.” — Ratdog #1

      More than pretty good: to my thinking, HST’s Hell’s Angels is a damn fine piece of reporting, one that holds up over time. I re-read it every couple of years, and keep getting something fresh from it every time.

      Thompson sank into his excesses later, but in the early days he was a deadly serious, seriously funny writer — a guy with a story to tell and the skills to tell the story well.

  2. The guy on the right (middle of the photo) looks like he has an oversized iPod shuffle clipped to his pants.


  3. There’re some amazing pictures there, and a great narrative too.
    Almost as amazing is that the Angels had some very William Morris wallpaper in their clubhouse. Nice.

  4. I live nearish to the Sherbrooke Hell’s Angel’s club house. I’ve seen them around and even played a gig at their yearly bash.

    One thing that strikes me about these pictures is how young and skinny they are. Hell’s Angel’s these days seem to be fat middle-aged and close cropped hair.

    What’s more, they are smiling. That time I did the gig, I spent the afternoon on the site, getting ready for the show but also observing. And never did I see a HA smile. It really struck me how these “untouchables,” claiming the top most personal freedom, weren’t allowed to smile.

    And now they are all in jail.

    1. Agreed. Smiling bikers are almost an oxymoron nowadays. At least as the furry, scruffy Harley riders go. As a once allegiate who still wears his chain wallet can attest, gone are the days. Can’t tell you how gruff some of these bastards can be! I had to leave the scene to be happy without having to be a dick.

  5. Honestly, this may have been the golden years of the Hells Angels. As I understand it, the biker clubs/gangs sprang out of the anomie and disillusionment of WWII vets who had what would be called post-traumatic stress disorder these days, and didn’t feel like settling down in the ‘burbs and getting married and having 2.5 kids. Later gangs would get heavily involved in the drug trade–they were the first group to make and distribute meth–and get into incredibly bloody wars with each other. I think that these fellows fall somewhere inbetween. Quite a few of them look like young Bruce Springsteen.

  6. As a foriegner it is interesting to see a black Sheriff but no non-white HA’s. Weren’t really rebels against society?

    1. @ anon18 – Though not pictured here, there were black HA’s. There were Mexican and even Chinese HA’s. Maybe not today, but at least ca. 1963-64, yes. Also, there appears to be one black old lady in the LIFE photos.

  7. It’s just glorification of criminals. They’re all cool until they hurt you, your child, your neighborhood. But until then, they’re cool.

    1. ..Oh, but hey! First you must convict them – or perhaps one of them – of an actual crime, before they can be called “criminals”, right?
      Or can you pick up a Permit somewhere? I mean, to call people whose appearances you don’t like “criminals”?

Comments are closed.