For most people there’s only two ways out of an outlaw lifestyle. They either die or go to jail.
But George Christie, 71, chose a third path, retiring as president of the Hells Angels, Ventura Chapter, and forging a path as author and playwright.
Gruff, weathered and bearing the tattoos one might associate with a longtime outlaw motorcyclist, Christie is telling his story to audiences in a one-man show titled “Outlaw.” It’s currently playing on stage to full houses at Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.
“I hope [audiences] see a reflection of themselves and the world’s state today in this show,” Christie said. “”You look at the Hells Angels, and you see the best of America and the worst of America.”
From immigrant son to West Coast boss
Christie’s recalled that first encounter with bikers occurred at the tender age of nine. On a day trip to the San Fernando Valley with his father, a chef looking for work, the young man got his first glimpse of an outlaw biker.
The biker rode down the street, came to the corner where they were standing, stopped at a traffic light land revved his motorcycle really loud before screeching away down the boulevard.
George’s father, a poor Greek immigrant, looked uncomfortable and nervous when the outlaw rode by, but a local restaurant owner’s response was more pointed. “Look at him, he’s an animal,” he said before turning to young George. “That’s your America.”
The man turned and spit on the ground directly in front of him, indicating that the biker was nothing but filth to him and any other member of polite society.
But Christie saw it differently. Bullied for being poor and the son of an immigrant, he was enthralled by the man’s confidence and power. Nobody would tell a biker what to do. No one would bully him.
“My thought was, ‘You didn’t say anything to his face,'” Christie tells audiences in “Outlaw.”
As a young man Christie joined the Marine Corps Reserves, was discharged under honorable conditions and got a job with the Department of Defense. Fortunately, he was stationed close to home in Ventura County. But, it was about that same time Christie began to hang around motorcycle clubs like the Question Marks and Satan’s Slaves.
In 1978, he was given an ultimatum by his higher ups: Choose one or the other. Christie chose to leave the Department of Defense. Although Christie said his parents didn’t necessarily approve, they eventually let him forge his own path.
“I think they understood what I was going through,” Christie said. “As immigrants, we always felt like outsiders.”
In 1976, he was invited to join the Hells Angels, then a small but infamous club born from the merger of older West Coast clubs. He was mentored by leaders of the group and elevated to president of the Los Angeles Hells Angels chapter within six months of joining.
However, it was during this time that conflicts with rival motorcycle clubs like the Mongols, a group based in East Los Angeles, began. As police pressure mounted on the rival clubs, Christie moved his chapter of the Angels north to Ventura.
Getting on the bike
Christie’s story mirrors the history of outlaw biker clubs in the United States. According to motorcyclist and historian William Dulaney, clubs like the Angels, Mongols, Vagos, and Satan’s Slaves have their roots in touring and racing clubs formed during the Great Depression. World War II put the brakes on those clubs for a time, but Dulaney said that upon returning, many veterans craved the excitement, adventure and brotherhood they had in the military.
“Researchers have found that for some combat veterans, relief from the effects of PTSD can be found by engaging in interpersonal and leisure activities such as those involved with motorcycling,” Dulaney wrote in a 2005 paper.
The U.S. Department of Justice has long marked the Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally in Hollister, California as the genesis of outlaw clubs. Memorialized in the Marlon Brando film “The Wild One,” the July 1947 rally concluded with a highly-publicized riot. When another biker riot broke out in Riverside in 1948, the county sheriff blamed out-of-town criminals for the disturbance and affixed a tag that most – including Christie – would wear as a badge of honor ever after.
“They’re rebels,” Sheriff Carl Rayburn said. “They’re outlaws.”
Peace treaties and an Olympic torch
Law enforcement held a dim view of the clubs through the mid-70s and early 80s. But during that same time, Christie would spearhead peace treaties, ceasefires and even alliances with former rivals. He also drove a campaign to improve the club’s image, copyrighting the famous Death’s Head logo, which he wears as a tattoo on his right bicep and his back, and carrying the Olympic Torch as a representative for the club in 1984.
That story is one of Christie’s favorites, he said. Law enforcement at the time feared the outlaws would sell weapons to terrorists hoping to strike at the Olympic Games, and Christie planned the torch run maneuver as a way of showcasing their support for the sporting event, and, as a way of one-upping local law enforcement.
But, his leadership role didn’t necessarily protect Christie from being ostracized by his former friends.
As Christie grew older he watched the club lose the identity that attracted him in the first place. Although he won’t call the Hells Angels a criminal organization (as the Dept. of Justice does), Christie readily admits that in later years the club became an organization with criminals in it.
By 2011, Christie had decided it was time to retire.
“I told them, ‘Guys, we’re running out of people to fight,'” Christie said. “And when organizations have no one to fight, they turn inward. I didn’t want to stick around for that.”
Although Christie said he left in good standing, the Hells Angels determined a few weeks later that Christie was “out bad”. Slang for complete shunning by the organization, being “out bad” with the Hells Angels was a shock for Christie, who put in 40 years of his life to the organization, including jail stints on allegations of conspiracy to commit murder, drug dealing and tax evasion. Nonetheless, members of the club are barred from communicating with Christie, by order of club founder Sonny Barger, and the former outlaw had to face what he called false allegations of having turned police informant.
“I put 40 years into that organization,” Christie said. “I was not gonna let somebody rewrite my history. At least the government allows you the ability to argue with your accusers.”
Taking his own road
Christie’s early attempts to set the record straight didn’t help matters, either. Although his three books have been well-received, History Channel’s Outlaw Chronicles drew some heat from the Hells Angels. One faction led by Barger even threatened to sue History Channel. That’s what sparked the idea of a one-man show, Christie said.
“Outlaw” is an attempt to create a more personal experience and allow Christie to truly connect with his audiences. It’s received rave reviews, even from other outlaw bikers, who Christie said, “got it.” But outlaw endorsements aside, Christie said he aims to make the show appreciated by even the most straight-laced theatre-goer.
Christie’s efforts to wrest control over his legacy brought him to Sherman Oaks’ Whitefire Theatre this month, for a production of his one-man show, “Outlaw”. “Outlaw,” which has sold out in Ventura, Las Vegas and other cities across the country, follows Christie from his first foray into the outlaw motorcycle subculture in 1966, to his final years in the club before walking away amidst increasing violence.
But, as Christie tells audiences in “Outlaw,” the ride of his life began long before he ever got on a motorcycle.
Produced by Charles Lago, in association with Clago Productions, “Outlaw” runs through Aug. 24, with performances on Fridays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 dollars.