I seriously meant to post this on Monday. Seriously. I’ve been counting down for years to post it, but it totally slipped my mind in the wake of all the Super Bowl hoopla: Monday was the 30th anniversary of the death of Sex Pistols’ bassist, Sid Vicious.
On February 1st, 1979, Vicious was released from New York City’s infamous Riker’s Island jail. He had spent 55 days there after his arrest for the murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. Sid had actually used his time in Ryker’s to fully kick his heroin habit. The night of his release, a party was held in his honor. However, Sid’s mother had some heroin delivered to the party – against the wishes of everyone else at the party. The heroin was of remarkable purity, and Sid accidentally overdosed. According to NYC’s then-Chief Coroner, Dr Michael Baden (who you may know from countless Autopsy specials on HBO), Vicious died peacefully in his sleep at around 10 am on the morning of February 2, 1979.
Most everyone in the 30-50 age bracket knows the story of Sid Vicious; for those of you that don’t, here’s a summary:
The Sex Pistols were a “manufactured band” in much the same way that New Kids On The Block or N’Sync were “manufactured”. An enterprising young Londoner named Malcolm McClaren owned a shop called “Sex” in which he sold a variety of fetish-inspired clothing. McClaren was one of the first people in London to hear about the “punk rock revolution” coming to the UK from New York City, so he quickly assembled a band out of a few of the shop’s regulars: Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Glenn Matlock and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten). McClaren used his considerable PR skills to get the band to swear on a live TV show, to get £75,000 from a record company just to leave the label (just over $500,000 in 2013 dollars), and to do a live concert on a Thames riverboat during the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration. This led to instant infamy for the band, who became favorite fodder for Britain’s tabloids.
By this point, the rest of the band decided that Glenn Matlock had to go. Matlock was a conscientious musician who listened to music of all types and was generally a nice guy all around. This offended the rest of the band, especially Johnny Rotten. Matlock simply wasn’t “punk enough” for Rotten. Although there is still argument as to whether Matlock left the band voluntarily or was kicked out, the bottom line was that he was gone.
McClaren chose a groupie named John Simon Ritchie to replace Matlock. Although Ritchie (Vicious) couldn’t play a musical instrument, he was just the sort of “ticking public relations time bomb” that Malcolm cherished. Vicious would play on just two tracks on the Sex Pistols’ only album Never Mind The Bullocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols: “Holidays in the Sun” and “Bodies”. Steve Jones played the bass on all other tracks, and even on the songs where Sid played, his “contribution” is mixed way down underneath Jones’ “backing track”.
In his early days as a Sex Pistol, Sid met an American woman called Nancy Spungen, who had just come over from New York. She claimed to be “good friends” with Debbie Harry (“good friends” might be stretching the truth a bit, but she did know Harry). Sid instantly fell in love with her. Sadly, Nancy had a history of mental and substance abuse problems. And when the two of them got together, it was the same tale of star-crossed lovers that hundreds of writers have written about over the centuries. If ever a rock star and his mate qualified for “Romeo and Juliet” status, it was Sid and Nancy.
The Sex Pistols eventually embarked on a short tour of the United States. After playing dates in Atlanta, Memphis, San Antonio, Baton Rouge, Dallas and Tulsa, the band played their final gig ever at the Winterland in San Francisco on January 14th, 1978. Tension had been building between Rotten (who saw himself as the leader of the band) and a faction made up of both McClaren and Vicious. After the Winterland gig, the band broke up. Rotten was on a plane back to London almost instantly, while Vicious and Spungen moved to New York, where Sid was able to get a few gigs in punk clubs. Unfortunately, his heroin addiction was so complete by this point that his “performances” usually involved babbling incoherently on stage, trying to sing using lyric sheets onstage, and having shows cut short due to his being too high to perform.
Sid and Nancy managed to eek out an existence at New York’s famous Chelsea Hotel. That is, until October 12, 1978, when Sid woke up from a drugged stupor to find Nancy stabbed to death in their room. A month later, Sid was arrested by the NYC police for Spungen’s murder. No one knows what happened in Sid and Nancy’s room the night of October 11, 1978. Sid and Nancy had a history of domestic troubles, and to the NYC police it seemed to be a clear cut case of a “crime of passion”.
But was it?
Sid claimed to have “no memory” of the events, and given that he had taken 30 tablets of Tuinal, a strong sedative, some have wondered if Sid was even physically capable of stabbing Nancy that night. NYC police also found six sets of fingerprints in the couple’s hotel room, but did not interview anyone about the crime, even though all six had criminal records and were “known” to the NYPD.
No cash was found in the couple’s room, which is interesting because they should have had plenty: around that time Vicious had received a royalty check for his cover version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Witnesses recall seeing a fellow hotel resident and drug addict named “Michael” with a big wad of cash and a hairband owned by Nancy shortly after the murder. The NYPD never even attempted to track down this “Michael”. Several other people also reported seeing a known drug dealer loitering in the hallway outside Sid and Nancy’s room a half hour before Nancy’s death. Friends of the couple wonder if they owned money to the drug dealer and if Nancy’s death was a “warning” to Sid to pay up, or perhaps the always-combative Nancy started attacking the dealer, who fought back with Sid’s knife.
Again, we’ll never know what really happened that night. But filmmaker Alan Parker – of The Commitments fame – made a promise to his friend Anne Beverley (Sid’s mom) to make a movie that would clear her son’s name. Called Who Killed Nancy? the film should be out now in the UK.
Read more about it here.