Sid Vicious

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Sid Vicious
Sid Vicious.jpg
Vicious in Winterland, 14 January 1978, final concert of the Sex Pistols
Background information
Birth nameJohn Simon Ritchie [1]
Born(1957-05-10)10 May 1957
London, England
Died2 February 1979(1979-02-02) (aged 21)
New York City, U.S.
Genres Punk rock
  • Bass guitar
  • drums
  • vocals
Years active1976–1979
Associated acts

John Simon Ritchie [1] (10 May 1957 – 2 February 1979), known professionally as Sid Vicious, was an English musician best known as the bassist for the English punk rock band Sex Pistols. Vicious replaced Glen Matlock, who had fallen out of favour with the other members of the group.


Likely due to intravenous drug use, Vicious was hospitalized 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." [2] Vicious later appeared as a lead vocalist, performing three songs, on the soundtrack to The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1980), a largely fictionalised documentary about the Sex Pistols.

As the Sex Pistols were gaining attention, Vicious met Nancy Spungen, and the couple began a relationship that culminated in Spungen's death from an apparent stab wound while staying in New York City's Hotel Chelsea with Vicious. [3] 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.

Less than four weeks after Vicious's death, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle soundtrack album 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 biopic Sid and Nancy (1986). 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. [4]

Early life

Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie [1] [5] on 10 May 1957 in Lewisham, to John and Anne Ritchie (1933-1996). His mother dropped out of school early due to a lack of academic success and joined the British Army, 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. [6] 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 that he was not going to come. In the time they were in Ibiza waiting for John to show up, John decided to abandon fatherhood, leaving the army shortly afterwards to take up a job as a furniture salesman. Anne later married Christopher Beverley in 1965, before setting up a family home back in Kent.

Christopher Beverley died six months later from cancer, [7] and by 1968, Ritchie and his mother were living in a rented flat in Tunbridge Wells, where he attended Sandown Court School. In 1971, mother and son moved to Hackney in east London, where Ritchie attended Clissold Park School. He also spent some time living in Clevedon, Somerset.

Ritchie first met John Lydon in 1973, when they were both students at Hackney Technical College. Lydon described him during this time as a David Bowie fan and a "clothes hound". [8]

By the time he was 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 her group, the Pretenders. She tried (but failed) to convince Ritchie to join her in a sham marriage so she could get a work permit. [9] John Lydon nicknamed Ritchie "Sid Vicious" after Lydon's pet hamster Sid (which was named after Syd Barrett), [10] who had bitten Ritchie, eliciting Ritchie's response: "Sid is really vicious!" [11] The animal was described by Lydon as "the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth." [12] At the time, Ritchie was squatting with Lydon, John Joseph Wardle (Jah Wobble), and John Gray, 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. [13] Yet the darker side of Vicious' personality emerged when he assaulted NME journalist Nick Kent with a motorbike chain, with help from Jah Wobble. [14] On another occasion, at the Speakeasy (a London nightclub frequented by rock stars of the day) he threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris. [15]


Early career and incident with the Damned

Vicious began his musical career in 1976. 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 on 20 September. [16] He then joined as a member of the Flowers of Romance along with 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. [7] 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. [17]

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. [16] [18]

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. [19] Manager Malcolm McLaren said "if Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude." [20]

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." [21] His nails would be painted in a sloppy manner with purple nail polish. [22] 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 . [23] 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). [24] 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.[ citation needed ]

On 25 December 1977, the band played a matinee for the children of Huddersfield during the firemen's strike. 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[ citation needed ]. 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 Lydon stepped offstage to pose as Father Christmas. These were the Sex Pistols' last performances in England until the Filthy Lucre reunion tour in 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 struck an audience member on the head with his bass; the audience member had antagonised Vicious, who responded by hitting him.[ citation needed ] Before the 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. [25] In autumn 1977,[ timeframe? ] the Sex Pistols began to perform the inflammatory song "Belsen Was a Gas" live for the first time. The song was composed during Vicious's 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.[ citation needed ] 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. [26]

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 was a Jaguar K-11 hunting knife, according to the police report, and not the "007" knife, commonly cited. [27] Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. [28] 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. [29]

On 22 October, ten days after Spungen's death, Vicious attempted suicide by slitting his wrist with a smashed light bulb. He was hospitalized 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. He was then asked where he'd like to be, answering, "Under the ground." [30]

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. [8] 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 1 February 1979. His bail was originally set at $50,000 (equivalent to $178,000 today), [31] 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. [31] John Lydon said that Mick Jagger paid for Vicious' lawyer, praising Jagger for never seeking publicity for this. [32]


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 [ citation needed ] and future D Generation founding member Howie Pyro, gathered at the Manhattan apartment of Vicious's new girlfriend, Michele Robison, at 63 Bank St. in New York City in order to celebrate his having made bail. [33] Vicious was on a detoxification methadone programme during his time at Rikers Island, but at the dinner gathering, Vicious had a friend, English photographer Peter Kodick, who delivered him heroin.[ citation needed ] Vicious died sometime in the night from an overdose and was discovered by his mother, Anne Beverley, early the next morning. [34] [35]

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. [36]

According to 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. [37] Vicious' mother Anne Beverley later travelled to Spungen's family's home in Philadelphia and asked Spungen's mother, Deborah Spungen, if she could scatter Vicious' ashes 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. [36]

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. [38] [39] 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. [39]

In the documentary series Final 24 , NYPD sergeant Richard Houseman said that shortly after overdosing, Vicious wanted another dose of heroin.


Though regarded by many including Steve Jones and original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock as a talented vocalist, [40] 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." [41] The only song that he played on in the studio was "Bodies". Vicious asked Lemmy, the leader and bassist of Motörhead, to teach him how to play with the words, "I can't play bass," to which Lemmy replied, "I know." [42]

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. [43] 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." [44] 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!" [45]

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 $3,300 today), together with the leather strap with the name "Sid" on it. [46]



A graffiti of Vicious crying, in Madrid, Spain Sid vicious madrid.jpg
A graffiti of Vicious crying, in Madrid, Spain

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. In 2017, Foster the People released "Loyal Like Sid & Nancy", which references Vicious and Spungen's relationship, as the second single from their album Sacred Hearts Club . [47]


The 1986 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". [48]


In September 2009, the Roy Smiles play Kurt and Sid debuted at the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End. The play, set in Kurt Cobain's greenhouse on the day of his suicide, revolves around the ghost of Sid Vicious visiting Cobain to try and convince him not to kill himself. Vicious was played by Danny Dyer. [49]



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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