The Death of Sid Vicious

February 1, 1979 – Born John Simon Ritchie, Sid Vicious was the son of a Buckingham Palace guard, and sometimes musician, who never married the boy’s mother.  In the mid-70s, Ritchie, a high school dropout,  began to hang around the new Punk scene in London and sometimes plays in a couple of bands.  At the time, the Sex Pistols were making a name for themselves with both their outrageous behavior and music.  Punk was new, outlandish, and frightening.  The bitter attitude, black leather, spike and dyed hair, and safety-pin piercings made them stand out and shock.  Contempt for the passive existence of the middle class and the drug induced delirium of bands like Pink Floyd, Punk was loud, irreverent and energizing.  In the decay of the 1970s their credo was “there is no future”.

The Sex Pistols were formed in 1975 with John Lydon (AKA Johnny Rotten) as front man.  In February, 1977 bassist Glen Matlock quits, or is kicked out, of the band.  Manager Malcolm McLaren wants Ritchie, with his million dollar sneer, more for his Punk look than is musicianship – – Ritchie couldn’t play bass.  After Rotten’s pet hamster Sid bites Ritchie, and Ritchie replies “Sid is really vicious”, Ritchie is given a new stage name and a star is about to be born.  Vicious plays his first gig in April with his amp turned down, but he soon captivates the crowd with his obnoxious behavior and Punk charisma.  McLaren would later recall, “if Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude.”  He was the epitome of Punk and the Sex Pistols become famous even though few people had ever heard them play.

In March, 1977 Vicious met Nancy Spungen and they become inseparable.  Spungen was an American who had led a troubled life.  She saw her first psychiatrist at age 4, attacked her mother with a hammer at 11, first tried drugs at 13, and was a heroin addict by 15.  By 17 doctors refused to treat her, and her parents ask her to leave their home.  She and Vicious had an almost insatiable appetite for drugs and theirs was a violent relationship – literally a match made in Hell.

In January 1978 the Sex Pistols break up.  Vicious and Spungen end up at the Hotel Chelsea in New York still flush with cash from Vicious’ music royalties.  Their lives spin out of control and Vicious buys a knife on 42nd Street, supposedly to protect him and Nancy from the street people they associate with.  On the morning of October 12, Vicious wakes up to find Spungen dead with a single stab wound in her abdomen.  She was 20 years old.  He is later arrested, sometimes claiming he killed her, and sometimes claiming she must have fallen on her knife, and is taken to Riker’s Island and admitted to the detox unit. Vicious asks former-manager McLaren to get the $50,000 bail from Virgin Records which he does on the October 16th.

Over the several weeks Vicious tries to kill himself 3 times and eventually ends up in Bellevue hospital.  His mother, also a heroin addict, sells her story to the New York Post for the money to buy a plane ticket to New York to take care of her son.  Vicious soon finds a new girlfriend, though she is no Nancy, and starts making the rounds of the city’s Punk clubs.  He gets into a fight with musician Patti Smith’s brother, cuts his face, and ends up back in Riker’s detox unit for seven weeks.

Released on February 1, 1979, his mother and his friends hold a Just Out of Jail party.  Mom brings the heroin and helps fix her son.  He soon collapses, but everyone tries to get him up and walking about.  He was said to have gone to bed about 3 AM.  Later the next morning his girlfriend wakes up to find him dead.  He was 21.

His mother claims to have found a suicide note in the pocket of his jacket:

We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain.  Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye.

“My baby” is Nancy Spungen who was Jewish and buried in a Jewish cemetery. Sid was not Jewish, and thus could not be buried with her.  Allegedly his mother scatters his ashes over Nancy’s grave to fulfill her late son’s wishes.  In 1996 his mother  commits suicide with a heroin overdose.

In 2006 Vicious is inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the other members of the Sex Pistols.  The story of Sid and Nancy, the Punk Romeo and Juliet, is rarely remembered by anyone outside the long forgotten Punk scene.  The angst, contempt, and frustration of the late 1970s manifested itself in many ways.  One of them had to be a “Love Story”.

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Filed under 1970s, Music

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