On February 15th, 1977, Sid Vicious joined the Sex Pistols as the bassist. That day he ran home to his landlord Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead and excitedly announced the news. “One day he came rushing into the flat,” Lemmy once recalled, “all excited saying. ‘Lemmy, I got the job with the Sex Pistols’ and I said ‘Great, as part of the road crew’ and I laughed ‘You can’t even play the bass, you’re hopeless’.” Less than two years later, Sid Vicious would be found dead.
In the interim, he helped to define punk in his own hair-raising manner, but it is a huge oversight in the narrative that has followed to think of his demise as a tragic inevitability symptomatic of the genre. Along the way, there were many worrying portents. He even once alarmingly said, “I’ll die before I’m 25, and when I do, I’ll have lived the way I wanted to.” If these behaviours had been flagged, and appropriate action was taken, then two young lives may well have been saved.
In January 1978, the Sex Pistols embarked on their first ever US tour. The opening date in Pittsburgh was cancelled due to the band travelling with criminal records. Thus, the only dates they could fulfil were in more lenient states, mostly away from their core US fanbase, in the Deep South. Only a matter of days into the tour it all came to end on January 14th. Rotten opened the Sex Pistols final saying: “You’ll get one number and one number only ’cause I’m a lazy bastard.”
They then played a cover of the Stooges proto-punk classic ‘No Fun’ and Rotten finished the show shouting: “This is no fun. No fun. This is no fun—at all. No fun.” After the last show in San Francisco the band split up. The Pistols as we know them are over for good.
In the aftermath, Sid Vicious ended up holed up in the renowned bohemian hotspot of the Chelsea Hotel, New York City with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. The pair were entirely reliant on each other and had a growing addiction to heroin. Their relationship was plagued by domestic violence and abuse. On October 12th, 1978, Spungen was found under the sink of their Chelsea Hotel room with a single fatal stab wound to the abdomen. She was only 20 years old.
In the aftermath, Vicious was immediately charged with second-degree murder. The Sex Pistols man pleaded not guilty but a week after his arrest he slashed his wrist in an apparent failed suicide attempt. He was later quoted as saying: “I want to join Nancy and keep up my end of the pact.”
He was subsequently sent to Bellevue Hospital psychiatric ward before being released on November 6th. Virgin Records posted his $50,000 bail release and he was free while awaiting trial. During this period, he was living with his mother, Ms Ann Beverley, at a Manhattan hotel. However, he would later be arrested once more for assaulting Patti Smith’s brother, Todd, in a bar with a broken bottle.
He served seven weeks of detention at detox at Riker’s Island jail. He was released on February 1st, 1979, and that same day, after meeting his friend ‘Gravelle’ by chance, he injected himself with large amounts of 80% pure heroin at a party. He died of an overdose in the early hours of the morning. The next day, Vicious would be discovered dead of an overdose by his mother and the apartment owner Michele Robinson. He was only 21 years old.
His mother deemed the death to be suicide as per the note she found in the pocket of his leather jacket which read: “We had a death pact. I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me PTO [Please Turn Over] next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motor cycle boots. Goodbye.”
The sense of inevitability surrounding his death has been a very damaging one in the interim years. As Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees said of the late punk rocker: “Before he got deeply into drugs, he was one of the funniest guys. He had a brilliant sense of humour, goofy, sweet and very cute.”
And his bandmate John Lydon told The Independent in 2009: “I’m sorry, God, for the day I brought Sid into the band. He felt so isolated, poor old Sid, because he wasn’t the sharpest knife on the block. The best aspect of his character, which was his humour, just vanished the day he joined the Pistols.”
While many portents, corroborations and deductions have been derived from the tragic deaths of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, the one that requires the least judicious analysis is that we all must be more mindful of those most vulnerable around us and how best to help one another.