Sid Vicious

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Sid Vicious
Sid Vicious.jpg
Vicious in Winterland, 14 January 1978, final show of the Sex Pistols
Background information
Birth nameJohn Simon Ritchie [1]
Also known as
  • Sid Vicious
  • Spikey John
  • The Prince of Punk
  • Simon Ferocious
  • John Simon Beverley
  • One of the Johns
Born(1957-05-10)10 May 1957
Lewisham, London, England
Died2 February 1979(1979-02-02) (aged 21)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Punk rock
  • Bass guitar
  • vocals
  • drums
  • saxophone
Years active1976–1979
Associated acts

Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie, [2] [1] 10 May 1957 – 2 February 1979) was an English bassist and vocalist. He achieved fame as a member of the punk rock band the Sex Pistols, replacing Glen Matlock, who had fallen out of favour with the rest of the group.

Punk rock is a rock music genre that emerged in the mid-1970s in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in 1960s garage rock and other forms of what is now known as "proto-punk" music, punk rock bands rejected perceived excesses of mainstream 1970s rock. They typically produced short, fast-paced songs with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic; many bands self-produce recordings and distribute them through independent record labels.

Sex Pistols British punk rock band

The Sex Pistols were an English punk rock band that formed in London in 1975. They were responsible for initiating the punk movement in the United Kingdom and inspiring many later punk and alternative rock musicians. Although their initial career lasted just two and a half years and produced only four singles and one studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, they are regarded as one of the most influential acts in the history of popular music.

Glen Matlock English musician

Glen Matlock is an English musician best known for being the bass guitarist in the original line-up of the punk rock band the Sex Pistols. He is credited as a co-author on 10 of the 12 songs on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, although he had left the band while the album was being recorded. He left the band in 1977 over creative differences with the other band members.


Due to intravenous drug use, Vicious was hospitalised with hepatitis during the recording of the Sex Pistols' only studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols ; his bass is only partially featured on one song - "Bodies". Vicious later appeared as a lead vocalist, performing three songs, on the soundtrack to The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle , a largely fictionalised documentary about the Sex Pistols. As the Sex Pistols were gaining attention, Vicious met Nancy Spungen, and the pair entered a relationship which culminated in Spungen's death from an apparent stab wound while staying in New York City's Hotel Chelsea with Vicious. Under suspicion of murder, Vicious was released on bail; he was arrested again for assaulting Todd Smith, brother of Patti Smith, at a nightclub, and underwent drug rehabilitation on Rikers Island. He died in 1979 after overdosing on heroin.

Hepatitis inflammation of the liver tissue

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver tissue. Some people have no symptoms whereas others develop yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes, poor appetite, vomiting, tiredness, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Hepatitis may be temporary (acute) or long term (chronic) depending on whether it lasts for less than or more than six months. Acute hepatitis can sometimes resolve on its own, progress to chronic hepatitis, or rarely result in acute liver failure. Over time the chronic form may progress to scarring of the liver, liver failure, or liver cancer.

<i>Never Mind the Bollocks, Heres the Sex Pistols</i> 1977 studio album by Sex Pistols

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is the only studio album by English punk rock band the Sex Pistols, released on 28 October 1977 by Virgin Records. The album has influenced many bands and musicians, and the industry in general. In particular, the album's raw energy, and Johnny Rotten's sneering delivery and "half-singing", are often considered game-changing. It is frequently listed as the most influential punk album, and one of the most important albums of all time.

<i>The Great Rock n Roll Swindle</i> 1980 film by Julien Temple

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is a 1980 British mockumentary film directed by Julien Temple and produced by Don Boyd and Jeremy Thomas. It centres on the British punk rock band Sex Pistols and, most prominently, their manager Malcolm McLaren.

Less than four weeks after Vicious's death, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle soundtrack was released. On 15 December 1979, a compilation of live material recorded during his brief solo career was released as Sid Sings . Gary Oldman portrayed Vicious in the 1986 biopic Sid and Nancy .

<i>The Great Rock n Roll Swindle</i> (album) 1979 soundtrack album by Sex Pistols

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is the soundtrack album of the film of the same name by the Sex Pistols.

<i>Sid Sings</i> live album by Sid Vicious

Sid Sings is the first released solo live album by English punk rock musician Sid Vicious. It was released posthumously on December 15, 1979 and peaked at number 30 on the British album charts.

Gary Oldman British actor, screenwriter, director, producer, musician

Gary Leonard Oldman is an English actor and filmmaker who has performed in theatre, film, and television. Known for his versatility and expressive acting style, Oldman is regarded as one of the greatest actors of his generation. Among other accolades, he has won an Academy Award, three BAFTA Awards, two Critics' Choice Awards, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, along with nominations for an Emmy Award and the Palme d'Or. In 2011, Empire readers voted him the recipient of the Empire Icon Award.

Early life

Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie [2] [1] on 10 May 1957 in Lewisham, to John and Anne Ritchie. His mother dropped out of school early due to a lack of academic success and went on to join the RAF, where she met her husband-to-be, Ritchie's father, a guardsman at Buckingham Palace and a semi-professional trombone player on the London Jazz scene. [3] Shortly after Ritchie's birth, he and his mother moved to Ibiza, where they expected to be joined by his father who, it was planned, would support them financially in the meantime. However, after the first few cheques failed to arrive, Anne realised he would not be coming. Anne later married Christopher Beverley in 1965, before setting up a family home back in Kent. Ritchie took his father's first name and stepfather's surname and was known as John Beverley. [4]

Lewisham area in South East London

Lewisham is an area of south east London, England, 5.9 miles (9.5 km) south of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London. Lewisham had a population of 60,573 in 2011.

Buckingham Palace Official London residence and principal workplace of the British monarch

Buckingham Palace is the London residence and administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the centre of state occasions and royal hospitality. It has been a focal point for the British people at times of national rejoicing and mourning.

Ibiza Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea

Ibiza is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea off the eastern coast of Spain. It is 150 kilometres from the city of Valencia. It is the third largest of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous community of Spain. Its largest settlements are Ibiza Town, Santa Eulària des Riu, and Sant Antoni de Portmany. Its highest point, called Sa Talaiassa, is 475 metres above sea level.

Christopher Beverley died six months later from cancer, [4] and by 1968 Ritchie and his mother were living in a rented flat in Tunbridge Wells, where he attended Sandown Court School. In 1971 the pair moved to Hackney in east London. He also spent some time living in Clevedon, Somerset.

Royal Tunbridge Wells Town in Kent, England

Royal Tunbridge Wells, previously just Tunbridge Wells, is a town in western Kent, England, 30 miles (48 km) south-east of central London, close to the border with East Sussex upon the northern edge of the High Weald, whose sandstone geology is exemplified by the rock formations at the Wellington Rocks and High Rocks. The town came into being as a spa in the Restoration and enjoyed its heyday as a fashionable resort in the mid-1700s under Beau Nash when the Pantiles, and its chalybeate spring, attracted significant numbers of visitors who wished to take the waters. Though its popularity as a spa town waned with the advent of sea bathing, the town remains highly popular and derives some 30 per cent of its income from the tourist industry.

London Borough of Hackney Borough in United Kingdom

The London Borough of Hackney is a London Borough in Inner London, United Kingdom. The historical and administrative heart of Hackney is Mare Street, which lies 5 miles (8 km) north-east of Charing Cross. The borough is named after Hackney, its principal district.

East London Northeastern part of London, United Kingdom

East London is a popularly and informally defined part of London, capital of the United Kingdom, lying east of the ancient City and north of the River Thames. East London might be defined as comprising the whole of six modern London Boroughs: Tower Hamlets, Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Havering, and the greater part of a seventh, Hackney.

Ritchie first met John Lydon in 1973, when they were both students at Hackney Technical College. Lydon described Ritchie at this time as a David Bowie fan and a "clothes hound". [5]

John Lydon English musician

John Joseph Lydon, also known by his stage name Johnny Rotten, is an English singer, songwriter and musician. He is best known as the lead singer of the late-1970s British punk band the Sex Pistols, which lasted from 1975 until 1978, and again for various revivals during the 1990s and 2000s. He is also the lead singer of post-punk band Public Image Ltd (PiL), which he founded and fronted from 1978 until 1993, and again since 2009. Since 2013, Lydon has held British, Irish and American citizenship.

Hackney College

Hackney Community College is a further education college in the London Borough of Hackney.

David Bowie British musician, actor, record producer and arranger

David Robert Jones, known professionally as David Bowie, was an English singer-songwriter and actor. He was a leading figure in the music industry and is considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, acclaimed by critics and musicians, particularly for his innovative work during the 1970s. His career was marked by reinvention and visual presentation, with his music and stagecraft having a significant impact on popular music. During his lifetime, his record sales, estimated at 140 million albums worldwide, made him one of the world's best-selling music artists. In the UK, he was awarded ten platinum album certifications, eleven gold and eight silver, and released eleven number-one albums. In the US, he received five platinum and nine gold certifications. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.

By age 17, Ritchie was hanging around London. One favourite spot was Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's then-little-known clothing store, SEX. There he met American expatriate Chrissie Hynde before she formed the Pretenders. She tried (but failed) to convince Ritchie to join her in a sham marriage so she could get a work permit. John Lydon nicknamed Ritchie "Sid Vicious" after Lydon's pet hamster Sid (which was named after Syd Barrett [6] ), who had bitten Ritchie, eliciting Ritchie's response: "Sid is really vicious!" [7] The animal was described by Lydon as "the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth." [8] At the time, Ritchie was squatting with Lydon, John Joseph Wardle (Jah Wobble), and John Grey, and the four were familiarly known as "the Four Johns".[ citation needed ]

According to Lydon, he and Vicious would often busk for money, with Vicious playing the tambourine. They would play Alice Cooper covers, and people gave them money to stop. Once a man gave them "three bob" (three shillings, i.e., 15p in decimal currency) and they all danced. [9] Yet the darker side of Vicious' personality emerged when he assaulted NME journalist Nick Kent with a motorbike chain, with help from Jah Wobble. [10] On another occasion, at the Speakeasy (a London nightclub popular with rock stars of the day) he threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris. [11]


Early career and incident with the Damned

Vicious began his musical career in 1976 as a member of the Flowers of Romance along with former co-founding member of the Clash, Keith Levene (who later co-founded John Lydon's post-Pistols project Public Image Limited; their 1981 album was titled after the band) and Palmolive and Viv Albertine, who would later join the Slits. [4] He appeared with Siouxsie and the Banshees, playing drums at their notorious first gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London's Oxford Street. [12] According to members of the Damned, Vicious was considered, along with Dave Vanian, for the position of lead singer for the Damned, but Vicious failed to show up for the audition. [13]

Vicious later contended that Vanian and associates had intentionally withheld information regarding the audition as an act of jealousy to ensure Vicious did not arrive. Soured by the experience, Vicious held a personal grudge for this perceived slight perpetrated against him by Vanian and The Damned, a grudge that would become violent. During The Damned's performance at day 2 of the 100 Club Punk Special, the day after making his debut drumming with Siouxsie and the Banshees, an intoxicated and amphetamine-fuelled Vicious hurled his glass at the stage. He was attempting to strike Dave Vanian as an act of retribution, but the glass missed, shattered on a pillar and partially blinded a girl in one eye. Vicious was arrested the next day and imprisoned at Ashford Remand Centre. Vivienne Westwood and Viv Albertine visited Vicious during his imprisonment, Albertine bringing Helter Skelter as a gift. [12] [14]

Sex Pistols

The Sex Pistols (Vicious left, Steve Jones centre, and Johnny Rotten right) performing in Trondheim in 1977 SexPistolsNorway1977.jpg
The Sex Pistols (Vicious left, Steve Jones centre, and Johnny Rotten right) performing in Trondheim in 1977

Vicious was asked to join the Sex Pistols after Glen Matlock's departure in February 1977, due to Vicious being present at every gig.[ citation needed ]

Manager Malcolm McLaren said "if Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude."[ citation needed ]

McLaren also said that if he had met Vicious before he had hired Rotten to be the singer, then the more-charismatic Vicious would have been the Sex Pistols' front man.[ citation needed ] Alan Jones described Vicious as "[having] the iconic punk look ... Sid, on image alone, is what all punk rests on." [15] His nails would be painted in a sloppy manner with purple nail polish. [16] Vicious played his first gig with the Pistols on 3 April 1977 at The Screen On The Green in London. His debut was filmed by Don Letts and appears in Punk Rock Movie .

Vicious was in the band, but he could not play well and had no bass guitar experience, so guitarist Steve Jones played bass on the band's debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Vicious appeared only on "Bodies", which he was allowed to play bass on, even though it would be overdubbed later on by Jones. He was also absent from the album's sessions, because he was in the hospital with hepatitis (most likely from his drug use) and during that period his main visitor would have been his girlfriend [Nancy Spungen], an American groupie (and friend of Johnny Thunders') he had met in 1977. She is said to have introduced Vicious to heroin, although he was already abusing drugs (supplied by his mother, Anne Beverley) before he met her.

On 25 December 1977, the band played a matinee for the children of Huddersfield during the firemen's strike. John Lydon claimed in the documentary Never Mind the Baubles that Vicious needed a serious talking-to beforehand because he wanted to be the "hardcore, tough rocker bloke" and that swearing and being tough wasn't "the right way" to "get the message across" to the children. The recording of the Johnny Thunders song "Born to Lose" which appears on Sid Sings , featuring Vicious on vocals, was recorded during this performance, when Johnny Rotten stepped offstage to pose as Father Christmas. These were the Sex Pistols' last performances in England until the Filthy Lucre reunion tour of 1996 (with the original quartet together again).[ citation needed ]

In January 1978, the group embarked on a US tour which would only last one to two weeks because of multiple show cancellations and deterioration within the group. These issues primarily involved tension between Malcolm McLaren, Johnny Rotten and Vicious, with Rotten accusing McLaren of trying to "wreck the very thing that made the Sex Pistols great," [ citation needed ] and the issue of Vicious's worsening heroin habit and negative interactions with members of the audience. In San Antonio, Vicious famously hit an audience member on the head with his bass; the audience member had antagonised Vicious, who shouted out "faggot fucker" before hitting him.[ citation needed ] Before Sex Pistols took the stage of the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, Vicious, again in heroin withdrawal, carved the words "gimme a fix" into his bare chest with a razor. [17] In autumn 1977,[ timeframe? ] the Sex Pistols began to perform the controversial song "Belsen Was a Gas" live for the first time. The song was most likely Vicious's only contribution to the band during his tenure as a member, [ citation needed ] even though it was composed during his time in the Flowers of Romance. Vicious would also perform this song during his brief solo career after the band's split.[ citation needed ]

After the show at Winterland in San Francisco, ( Live at Winterland 1978 was released in 2001), the group fell apart, freeing Vicious to do as he pleased. He embarked on a path to destruction, while recording lead vocals on three cover songs for soundtrack album and film The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle . "My Way" was released in 1978, "C'mon Everybody" was released in 1979, and "Something Else" was released in 1979 after his death.

Solo career

With Spungen acting as his "manager," Vicious embarked on a solo career during which he performed with musicians including Mick Jones of the Clash, Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies of the Damned and the New York Dolls' Arthur Kane, Jerry Nolan, and Johnny Thunders. He performed the majority of his performances at Max's Kansas City and drew large crowds, though some performances were "hellish," especially when Vicious insulted some of the audience. Examples of this can be heard in the in-between tracks on his live album Sid Sings . Guitarist Steve Dior said in the documentary film Who Killed Nancy? that he "got good money for those shows." [ citation needed ] His gigs at Max's would turn out to be his last performances as a solo musician, as well as his last performances ever before he died the following February. [18]

Murder charge and attack on Todd Smith

Vicious' mugshot from 9 December 1978 ViciousMugshot.jpg
Vicious' mugshot from 9 December 1978

On the morning of 12 October 1978, Vicious claimed to have awoken from a drugged stupor to find Nancy Spungen dead on the bathroom floor of their room in the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan, New York. She had suffered a stab wound to her abdomen and appeared to have bled to death. The knife used had been bought by Vicious on 42nd Street and was identical to a "007" flip-knife given to punk rock vocalist Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys by Dee Dee Ramone. According to Ramone's wife at the time, Vera King Ramone, Vicious had bought the knife after seeing Bators'. [19] Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. [20] He said they had fought that night but gave conflicting versions of what happened next, saying, "I stabbed her, but I never meant to kill her," then saying that he did not remember, and at one point during the argument Spungen had fallen onto the knife. [21]

On 22 October, ten days after Spungen's death, Vicious attempted suicide by slitting his wrist with a smashed light bulb. He was hospitalised at Bellevue Hospital, where he also tried to kill himself by jumping from a window shouting, "I want to be with my Nancy" or similar words, but was pulled back by hospital staff. In a November 1978 interview he said that Spungen's death was "meant to happen" and that "Nancy always said she'd die before she was 21." Near the end of the interview, he was asked if he was having fun. In reply, he asked the interviewer if he was kidding, adding that he would like to be "under the ground." At Bellevue he was visited by his lawyer James Merberg.[ citation needed ]

Assault arrest

Vicious was charged with assault after attacking Todd Smith, singer Patti Smith's brother, at a Skafish concert at Hurrah, a New York dance club. [5] Vicious was arrested on 9 December 1978 and sent to Rikers Island metro jail for 55 days to undergo a painful and enforced detoxification. He was released on bail on February 1, 1979. His bail was originally set at $50,000 (equivalent to $173,000 today), [22] but lowered after court hearings and negotiations from his lawyer. Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols' manager, worked to raise money and the bond was eventually covered by Virgin Records. [22] John Lydon said that Mick Jagger paid for Vicious' lawyer, praising Jagger for never seeking publicity for this. [23]


Vicious' death certificate ViciousDeathCertificate.gif
Vicious' death certificate

On the evening of 1 February 1979, a small group of friends, including Jerry Only of the Misfits and future D Generation founding member Howie Pyro, gathered to celebrate Vicious having made bail at the Manhattan apartment of his new girlfriend, Michelle Robinson, at 63 Bank St. in New York City. [24] Vicious was on a detoxification methadone program during his time at Rikers Island, but at the dinner gathering, Vicious had a friend, English photographer Peter Kodick, deliver him heroin. Vicious died sometime in the night from an overdose and was discovered by his mother, Anne Beverley, early the next morning.

In the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Vicious' close friend photographer Eileen Polk said that no New York funeral home was willing to hold a funeral or burial for Vicious due to his reputation. His remains were eventually cremated at Garden State Crematory in New Jersey. [25]

According to Eileen Polk, Vicious had wanted to be buried with Nancy Spungen. Spungen was Jewish, and is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Pennsylvania, making this difficult for interfaith burials. [26] Vicious' mother Anne Beverley later traveled to Spungen's family's home in Philadelphia and asked Spungen's mother, Deborah Spungen, if she could scatter Vicious' remains over Spungen's grave. Spungen's mother denied the request. Polk said that despite Spungen's mother's refusal, Jerry Only drove Beverley and her sister, and two of Vicious' friends to the cemetery where Spungen was buried, where Beverley scattered Vicious' ashes over Spungen's grave. [25]

Suicide claim and mother's involvement

Shortly after Sid Vicious' death, his mother Anne Beverley claimed that Vicious and Spungen made a suicide pact and that Vicious' death was not accidental. Beverley claimed that after Vicious was cremated, she found a handwritten note in the pocket of Vicious' leather jacket. [27] [28] It read:

We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye. [28]

In the documentary series Final 24 , NYPD sergeant Richard Houseman said that shortly after overdosing, Vicious wanted another dose of heroin. In 1996, Beverley told journalist Alan G. Parker that she had then purposely administered a fatal dose of heroin to Vicious because he was afraid of going back to prison and had doubts about how good his lawyers were, even though the lawyers were certain they would clear his name. Parker later directed his own film, Who Killed Nancy? .



Though regarded by many including Steve Jones and original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock as a talented vocalist, [29] Vicious was initially a poor bass player. During an interview for Guitar Hero III, when Jones was asked why he, instead of Vicious, recorded the bass parts of Never Mind the Bollocks, Jones responded, "Sid was in a hospital with hepatitis, so he couldn't really play, not that he could play anyway." [30] The only song that he played on in the studio was "Bodies." Vicious asked Lemmy, the bassist of Motörhead, to teach him how to play with the words, "I can't play bass," to which Lemmy replied, "I know." [31]

Vicious performing with his short-lived punk group Vicious White Kids Vicious-white-kids.jpg
Vicious performing with his short-lived punk group Vicious White Kids

According to Paul Cook, in the few months between joining the band and meeting Spungen, Vicious was a dedicated worker and tried his hardest to learn to play; indeed, this period was Cook's favourite in the band. [32] Viv Albertine went further in defence of his ability, saying that one night she "went to bed, and Sid stayed up with a Ramones album and a bass guitar, and when I got up in the morning, he could play. He'd taken a load of speed and taught himself. He was so quick." [33] Keith Levene, a member of the Flowers of Romance with Vicious and later a member of the Clash and then Public Image Ltd, also recounts a similar story: "Could Sid play bass? I don't know, but one thing I do know was that Sid did things quickly. One night, he played the first Ramones album nonstop, all night, then next morning, Sid could play the bass. That was it; he was ready! I told you Sid did things quickly!" [34]

Throughout his performing career, Vicious played a white Fender Precision Bass with a black pickguard. After his death, his mother, Anne Beverley, took possession of the bass. According to Steve Jones, shortly before her death she said to him, "Look, it's been under my bed for seventeen years. I think someone should have it," and sold it to Jones for $2,000 (equivalent to $3,200 today), together with the leather strap with the name "Sid" on it. [35]

Hall of Fame induction

In 2006, Vicious, along with the four original members of the Sex Pistols, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although the band refused to attend. [36]


Various bands over the years have recorded songs about Sid Vicious. In 1982, The Exploited included the song "Sid Vicious Was Innocent" on their album Troops of Tomorrow . Former frontman for the Clash, Joe Strummer, recorded "Love Kills" and "Dum Dum Club" for the Sid and Nancy soundtrack. In 1986, the Ramones released "Love Kills" on their album, Animal Boy which was a tribute to both Sid and Nancy.


The 1986 UK feature-film Sid and Nancy , directed by Alex Cox, portrays the chaotic last phase of their lives, ending with a fictionalised stabbing scene. It starred Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious and Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen. Oldman's performance was praised by Uncut as a "hugely sympathetic reading of the punk figurehead as a lost and bewildered manchild." [37]



Sex Pistols

Studio album

Compilations and live albums


The Vicious White Kids, featuring Sid Vicious track list

Film appearances

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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