Sid Vicious was born in London to parents Anne and John, a
former grenadier guard. His father left shortly afterwards, and,
during John's early years, he moved with his mother to the
Spanish island of Ibiza, where she allegedly made a living
selling drugs. The pair later moved back to England, where Anne
married Chris Beverly in 1965 before setting up a family home in
Kent. However his step-father died six months later and by 1968
John and his mother were living in a rented flat in Tunbridge
Wells where John attended Sandown Court School. In 1971 the pair
moved to Hackney in north London where in 1974 Ritchie first met
John Lydon (later known as Johnny Rotten), a fellow student at
Hackney Technical College. By 1974 he had already begun using
drugs intravenously with his mother, and, by 1975, he had
started to self harm. Some accounts of his life relate that he
strangled a cat and assaulted a pensioner around this time.
Sid Vicious' name reportedly came from an ironic joke involving the name of his pet hamster Sid the Vicious, which had a habit of biting people. The new name may have been helpful because both his co-squatters (Lydon and John Wardle (later known as Jah Wobble)) were also named John and the three of them were sometimes referred to as The Three Johns. He reportedly made a deliberate effort to match the media myths that grew up around him and his name.
Vicious was close friends with the Bromley Contingent, a group of followers and fans of the S-- Pistols that instigated the fashion avant-garde of the early UK punk rock movement. He began his musical career as a member of The Flowers Of Romance along with Keith Levene and Jah Wobble (who later co-founded John Lydon's post-Pistols project Public Image Limited). He soon joined Siouxsie & the Banshees, playing drums at their notorious first gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London's Oxford Street.
According to the band's photographer Dennis Morris Vicious was "deep down, a shy person" but he was renowned for a violent streak. At the 100 Club punk festival a thrown glass shattered against a pillar and a young girl lost her sight in one eye. Sid is widely believed to have been responsible but this was never proven. At the same event he also assaulted NME journalist Nick Kent with a bicycle chain and on another occasion threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris at a London nightclub.
Already known as the ultimate S-- Pistols fan, Sid Vicious joined the group after Glen Matlock's departure in February 1977. According to punk legend, manager Malcolm McLaren wanted Vicious in the band because of his looks and punk attitude: If Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the look. His punk character was considered far more helpful than any knack for playing and Vicious was notoriously inept musically. Jon Savage's biography of the S-- Pistols, England's Dreaming, recounts that most of the bass parts on the band's later recordings were played by guitarist Steve Jones and at live performances Sid's amplifier was usually switched off. Sid is said to have asked Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead to teach him how to play bass with the words, "I can't play bass." Lemmy's reply was "I know." According to Lemmy, Vicious was a hopeless student. In his autobiography No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, John Lydon writes, "he wasn't too bad at all for three-chord songs." Sid played his first gig with the Pistols on April 3, 1977 at the Screen On The Green Cinema in London. His debut was filmed by Don Letts and appears in Punk Rock Movie.
In November 1977 Sid Vicious met American groupie Nancy Laura Spungen and they immediately began a relationship (Spungen had come to London looking for Jerry Nolan of The Heartbreakers). She was a heroin addict, and inevitably Vicious, who already believed in his own live fast, die young image, soon shared the dependence. Although deeply in love, their often violent and rocky relationship had a disastrous effect on the S-- Pistols. Both the group and Vicious visibly deteriorated during their 1978 American tour. The Pistols broke up in San Francisco on January 14 during a concert at the Winterland Ballroom when Rotten walked off the stage. Vicious left shortly afterwards, and with Spungen acting as his "manager" he embarked on a short and ignoble solo career, during which he performed with musicians including Mick Jones of The Clash, original S-- Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies of The Damned and the New York Dolls' Arthur Kane and Jerry Nolan.
Meanwhile Sid Vicious and Spungen had become locked in their own world of drug addiction and self-destruction. Interview footage shows the couple attempting to answer questions from their bed: Spungen is barely coherent while Vicious lapses in and out of consciousness. Vicious also came very close to death following a heroin overdose and was hospitalized for a time.
On the morning of October 12, 1978 Vicious allegedly awoke from a drugged stupor to find Spungen crumpled dead on the bathroom floor of room 100 in the Hotel Chelsea in New York. She had received a single stab wound to her abdomen and apparently bled to death. Sid Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder although he said he had no memory of having done so. However, he later claimed to have "killed her because I'm a dirty dog". There are unsubstantiated theories Spungen was murdered by someone else, usually said to be one of the many drug dealers who visited the apartment.
Bail of $50,000 was put up by Virgin Records at the request of Malcolm McLaren, and in February 1979 a party to celebrate his release was held at the home of his new girlfriend Michelle Robinson. During his time at Rikers Island prison, Vicious had undergone drug rehabilitation therapy and was supposedly clean. However at the party he obtained some heroin from his mother, Anne Beverly, and was discovered dead the following morning, having taken a large overdose. Speculation has persisted that Sid Vicious, unable to live without his beloved Nancy, took his own life. He wrote the following poem about her:
After Sid Vicious's death his mother phoned Nancy's mother to request that Vicious be buried next to Nancy but Deborah Spungen declined. There are several myths about what happened to Vicious' remains but one of the most persistent is that late one night "Sid's mother jumped the graveyard fence where Nancy was buried and scattered his ashes over his beloved for them to be together for all time."
According to the Guardian newspaper, "It's more likely that Ma Vicious arrived back at Heathrow with his remains. Malcolm McLaren claims she knocked them over in the arrivals lounge; hence the fanciful myth that Sid's essence still circulates, wafting through the air vents and moving among the travelers."
Sid Sings, a solo album, was released posthumously by Virgin Records. This was mostly a collection of cover versions of rock 'n' roll numbers such as "C'mon Everybody" and "Something Else" by Eddie Cochran along with material by Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders and a rendition of the Paul Anka / Frank Sinatra standard "My Way". Striking footage of Vicious performing this song in Paris provides the closing sequence for Julien Temple's film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.
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