When Johnny Rotten rose to fame as the snarling leader of punk upstarts and cultural revolutionists The Sex Pistols, it seemed improbable that one day he’d eventually become the embodiment of what he seemingly used to hate.
While he’s still as contrarian as he was during his younger days, he’s now a different kind of provocateur, and it’s become increasingly difficult to separate the iconic Johnny Rotten from the 60-something, moaning bore, John Lydon.
The Sex Pistols might have only released one album, but they did more to make the world a vibrant place in their short angst-filled time together than most bands achieve across decades. Not many groups succeed in changing the fabric of culture, but Lydon spearheaded the punk movement, and nothing has been the same since.
If they emerged as a new group today, with equally revolutionary ideas, likely, they wouldn’t be to Lydon’s acquired taste. He’s regressed into the same breed of bitter Little Englander that he used to rail against, which reflects in his deplorable actions.
Being a Sex Pistols fan can be a testing endeavour, and below is five occasions when Lydon made it increasingly difficult.
Johnny Rotten’s 5 most disappointing moments
In 1977, Johnny Rotten was the most unpredictable man in music, and fireworks ensued everywhere he went. However, 20-years later, things had changed for the face of punk, and his appearance on Judge Judy was a new low.
The appearance was to settle a claim involving former drummer Robert Williams who sued Lydon for $5,000 for “breach of contract and assault and battery”.
Judy ruled in Lydon’s favour, and the programme gave him a platform, and an audience, to be his antagonistic self. However, airing his dirty laundry in public on a daytime TV show is unquestionably undignified, even if it was admittedly an entertaining watch.
Appearing in any television commercial when you masquerade as a punk is a sinful act, but there’s something particularly degrading about starring in an advertisement flogging Country Life butter as Lydon did in 2008.
“People know I only do things that I want to or that I believe in and I have to do it my way,” he later said, explaining his decision. “I’ve never done anything like this before and never thought I would, but this Country Life ad was made for me and I couldn’t resist the opportunity.”
While it made Lydon look like a national laughing stock, it was a spectacular piece of marketing by Country Life, and it increased their sales by a staggering 85%. The former Sex Pistols man was likely well imbursed for his role, too.
Reality television holds no prisoners, and you can’t hide your true self when cameras are stalking you 24/7. While Lydon always makes for enthralling viewing, it’s different appearing on a programme for a short explosive interview segment than being stranded in the Australian jungle with a selection of minor British celebrities.
Lydon appeared on the third series of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here in 2004 and was surprisingly a hit with viewers. The singer was the clear favourite to win the show. However, in the middle of the night, he abruptly walked off the programme and never returned to the Outback.
He hoped to take a quick payday and wanted the experience to be over as soon as possible. Lydon famously called the audience “fucking cunts” for not voting him off and left because he was “bored” and “wanted some chocolate”.
Make Johnny Rotten Great Again
During an interview with The Observer in 2020, Lydon lifted the lid on his political views and claimed you’d have to be “daft as a brush” not to vote to give President Trump a second term.
Worryingly, his reasoning was because he claimed to have also been branded as a racist, and he sympathised with Trump. “I’ve been accused of the very same thing, so I’m offended for anybody who’s called that,” he said in reference to an accusation made by Kele Okereke from Bloc Party back in 2008 after he politely asked if PiL were reuniting.
He also spoke about the death of George Floyd, which he called “ghastly” he did undo that comment by needlessly adding, “It doesn’t mean all police are nasty or all white folk are racist. Because all lives matter.”
While this one isn’t exactly his fault, it’s too comical of an incident to not warrant an inclusion on the list. In his controversial memoir, I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right, he recounted when a flea took a bite out of his manhood and left him in excruciating agony.
He wrote: “I looked down there this morning at my willy and there’s a flea bite on it. And there’s another one on the inside of my leg. The bites, wow, last night was murder because of it. The itching too. It’s such a poxy thing to get caught out on.
“The only way around it, because I’m not going to blame the poor little squirrels, is to Vaseline my legs. I just hope they don’t get the wrong idea.”
Lydon concluded: “I’m determined to keep my squirrel friends independent, y’know. There’s no petting. If they want to nudge up that’s fine, but I know it’s for a peanut and not because I’m lovely. Wow, do they love me for [the food I buy for them]. I’m definitely spending a lot of money on these little fuckers.”