Nancy Spungen

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Nancy Spungen
Nancy Spungen.jpg
Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark, 1976
Nancy Laura Spungen

(1958-02-27)February 27, 1958
DiedOctober 12, 1978(1978-10-12) (aged 20)
Cause of death Stab wound
Partner(s) Sid Vicious

Nancy Laura Spungen ( /ˈspʌŋɡən/ ; [1] February 27, 1958 – October 12, 1978) was the American girlfriend of Sid Vicious and a figure of the 1970s punk rock scene. [2] Spungen's life and death have been the subject of controversy among music historians and fans of the Sex Pistols.


Raised Jewish in Philadelphia, Spungen was an emotionally disturbed child who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15. After being expelled from college, she went to London at the height of the punk rock movement and became involved with Vicious. [2] Their relationship was punctuated by bouts of domestic violence and drug abuse. The press soon labelled Spungen "Nauseating Nancy" for her outrageous and frequently antisocial behavior. After the Sex Pistols disbanded, the couple moved to New York City and checked into the Hotel Chelsea, where they spent much of their time abusing drugs, especially heroin. [2]

In October 1978, Spungen was found dead in the bathroom of the couple's room, with a single stab wound to the abdomen. Vicious was charged with her murder, but died of a heroin overdose while on bail in February 1979 before the case went to trial. [3] Various authors and filmmakers have speculated about Vicious' role in Spungen's death and the possibility that Spungen was killed by a drug dealer who frequently visited their room. [3] [4]

Early life

Nancy Laura Spungen was born on February 27, 1958, in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital [5] to Franklin "Frank" (19342010) and Deborah Spungen (born 1937). She was born with severe cyanosis and nearly died of oxygen deprivation after being choked by her umbilical cord during delivery. Spungen appeared to have suffered no brain damage and was released from the hospital eight days after birth. [6] The Spungens were a middle-class Jewish family that resided in Lower Moreland Township, a suburb of Philadelphia. [7] [ page needed ] Spungen's father was a traveling salesman and her mother later owned an organic food store called The Earth Shop in nearby Jenkintown. [8]

Young Nancy was a difficult baby, throwing crying fits and temper tantrums late into childhood. [3] At three months old, she was prescribed a liquid barbiturate by a pediatrician, but her violent behavior persisted. [9] In an interview, Deborah Spungen stated, "I know it's normal for babies to scream, but Nancy did nothing but scream." Though she excelled academically, she had few friends during her elementary school years. [10]

Spungen was a temperamental child who exhibited violent behavior toward her younger sister Susan but was very caring toward her younger brother David. She allegedly threatened to kill a babysitter with scissors and attempted to batter her psychiatrist, who accused her of "acting out" for attention. [7] [ page needed ] At age 11, Spungen was expelled from public school when she was absent from class more than two weeks. [7] [ page needed ] Weary of her erratic behavior, her parents enrolled her at Devereux Glenholme School in Connecticut and at Devereux Manor High School in Pennsylvania. In January 1972, she ran away from Devereux Manor and attempted suicide by slitting her wrists with scissors. When she was 15, her psychiatrist diagnosed her with schizophrenia. [2]


Spungen graduated from Lakeside High School in April 1974, [7] [ page needed ] two weeks after her application to attend the University of Colorado Boulder was accepted. She began attending the university at 16, [7] [ page needed ] but five months into her freshman year she was arrested for purchasing marijuana from an undercover police officer. When she was later arrested for storing stolen property in her dorm room, the University of Colorado decided to expel her. [11] Spungen's father traveled to Boulder and accepted a plea bargain for her, which resulted in her being banished from the state of Colorado. [11]

Relationship with Sid Vicious

Spungen left home at 17 and moved to New York City, [2] where she supported herself with prostitution. [7] [ page needed ] She also became a groupie and followed bands such as Aerosmith, Bad Company, The New York Dolls, and the Ramones. In 1977, Spungen moved to London and met the Sex Pistols, including Sid Vicious. Spungen and Vicious soon moved in together.

During their tumultuous nineteen-month relationship, Spungen and Vicious (who was already abusing multiple drugs before meeting Spungen) became addicted to heroin and other drugs.[ citation needed ] The tabloids dubbed Spungen "Nauseating Nancy" for her frequent public outbursts. After the Sex Pistols broke up in January 1978, Spungen and Vicious moved to the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. [7] [ page needed ] They stayed in room 100, registered as "Mr. and Mrs. John Simon Ritchie", Vicious' real name. [7] [ page needed ]


Over the next few months, Vicious and Spungen spiraled into deeper drug abuse. On October 12, 1978, Spungen's body was found under the sink in the bathroom of their room at the Hotel Chelsea. Spungen had suffered a single fatal stab wound to the abdomen. It was long rumored that Vicious owned the knife that inflicted the injury, [7] [ page needed ] a "007" hunting knife that he had obtained after seeing Dee Dee Ramone give one to the Dead Boys' Stiv Bators, but the police report notes that the knife is a Jaguar Wilderness K-11 with a five-inch (13 cm) blade. [12] [13]

Vicious was immediately arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bail, though he shared conflicting stories of the night. [14] Four months after Spungen's death, he died of a heroin overdose before the trial could take place [14] [15] and the NYPD closed the case. [16]

Spungen was buried in the King David Memorial Park in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania. [17]


There are several theories that implicate someone other than Vicious in the murder, such as one of the two drug dealers who had visited the apartment that night, and that suggest that a robbery was involved, as certain items (including a substantial bankroll) were claimed to be missing from the room. [2] In his book Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk, Phil Strongman accuses actor and stand-up comic Rockets Redglare of killing Spungen; [2] Redglare had delivered drugs to the couple's room at the Chelsea Hotel on the night of Spungen's death. [18]

Throughout his life, Redglare, who died in 2001, steadfastly denied any involvement in Spungen's murder to the press, [19] but often "confessed" to the murder within his circle of friends, to mixed reaction. Friends such as Zoe Hansen took Redglare at his word, but others, including Howie Pyro, have cast doubt on Rockets' claims, insisting that he enjoyed telling exaggerated stories for attention. Rockets also told the press that he believed that a drug dealer whom he had seen in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel on the morning of Spungen's murder committed the crime.

In other media

"Horror Business", a 1979 song by the American punk rock band Misfits, is commonly said to have been inspired by Spungen's murder because of the song's lyrics, which include lines such as, "You don't go in the bathroom with me" and, "I'll put a knife right in you", as well as because of connections between the Misfits and Vicious. [20] [21] Prior to Vicious's death, the Misfits were rumored to potentially back Vicious on his proposed debut solo album. [20] Additionally, Misfits bassist Jerry Only attended a dinner gathering at the apartment of Vicious' girlfriend Michelle Robinson the night that Vicious died. [20]

Spungen's mother Deborah wrote the memoir And I Don't Want to Live This Life (1983). Its title is taken from a poem Vicious wrote. [22]

The British biopic Sid and Nancy (1986), directed by Alex Cox, portrays the life of Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and his relationship with Spungen (played by Chloe Webb). Critics praised Webb's performance as Spungen. [23] [24] In the film, Cox also put forth the theory that Spungen and Vicious had a suicide pact, but they got into an argument when Vicious reneged. The argument escalated when Spungen assaulted Vicious, who was trying to leave the apartment, and as portrayed in the film she was stabbed accidentally when she charged him while his knife was out.

Veronica Schanoes' story "Rats" appeared in the 2007 Interstitial Arts Foundation anthology Interfictions . The story is a punk rock fairytale inspired by Spungen's life. About her work, the author said: "I wrote 'Rats' because I was angry with the way the recent coffee-table histories of punk seem to have no problem demonizing a dead, mentally ill, teenage girl." [25]

Alan G. Parker directed the 2010 documentary film Who Killed Nancy? , which includes interviews with Vicious and Spungen's associates, including John Holmstrom, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, and Howie Pyro. [26] [27]

Related Research Articles

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