Sid Vicious, born John Simon Ritchie, later named John Beverley (10 May 1957 – 2 February 1979), was an English bass guitarist, drummer and vocalist, most famous as a member of the influential punk rock band the Sex Pistols, and notorious for his arrest for the alleged murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.
Vicious joined the Sex Pistols in early 1977 to replace Glen Matlock, who had fallen out of favour with the rest of the group. Due to intravenous drug use, Vicious was hospitalized with hepatitis during the recording of the band's only studio album Never Mind the Bollocks. Accordingly, his bass is only partially featured on one song from the album. Vicious would later appear as a lead vocalist, performing three cover songs, on the soundtrack to The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a largely fictionalized documentary about the Sex Pistols, produced by the group's former manager Malcolm McLaren and directed by Julien Temple.
During the Sex Pistols' brief, chaotic ascendancy, Vicious met eventual girlfriend and manager Nancy Spungen, and the pair entered a destructive codependent relationship based on drug use. This culminated in Spungen's death from an apparent stab wound while staying in New York City's Hotel Chelsea with Vicious. Under suspicion of having committed Spungen's murder, Vicious was released on bail; he was later arrested again for assaulting Todd Smith, brother of Patti Smith, at a night club, and underwent drug rehabilitation on Rikers Island. In celebration of Vicious' release from prison, his mother hosted a party for him at his girlfriend's residence in Greenwich Village, which was attended notably by the Misfits bassist Jerry Only. Vicious' mother had been supplying him with drugs and paraphernalia since he was young; late that night she assisted him in procuring heroin, and he died in his sleep after overdosing on it.
Less than four weeks after Vicious' death, the soundtrack album of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was released. On 15 December of that year, a compilation of live material recorded during his brief solo career was packaged and released as Sid Sings.
In the 1986 feature-film Sid and Nancy, Gary Oldman gave a much-acclaimed performance as Sid.
Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie on 10 May 1957 in Lewisham, to John and Anne Ritchie (née McDonald). 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. 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 realized he would not be coming. Anne later married Christopher Beverley in 1965, before setting up a family home back in Kent. Ritchie took his stepfather's surname and was known as John Beverley.
Christopher Beverley died six months later from cancer, 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.
Ritchie first met John Lydon in 1973, when they were both students at Hackney Technical College. Lydon describes Ritchie at this time as a David Bowie fan and a "clothes hound".
By 17, Ritchie was hanging around London. One favorite 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. Though at least five years older, 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, who had bitten Ritchie, eliciting Ritchie's response: "Sid is really vicious!" The animal was described by Lydon as "the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth." At the time, Ritchie was squatting with Lydon, John Joseph Wardle (Jah Wobble), and John Gray, and the four were colloquially known as "The Four Johns".
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. Yet the darker side of Sid's personality emerged when he assaulted NME journalist Nick Kent with a motorbike chain, with help from Jah Wobble. 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.
According to various publications (such as the biography England's Dreaming by Jon Savage) and films (namely The Filth and the Fury), Vicious was asked to join the group after Glen Matlock's departure in February 1977, due to Vicious being present at every gig. Manager Malcolm McLaren once claimed "if Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude."
McLaren also said in person and in a documentary that if he'd met Vicious before he had hired Rotten to be the singer, Vicious would have been the Sex Pistols' front man, because he had the most charisma of anyone on that stage. Alan Jones described Vicious as "[having] the iconic punk look ... Sid, on image alone, is what all punk rests on." His nails would be painted in a sloppy manner with purple nail polish. 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.
Sid was in the band, but he could not play very well and had no bass guitar experience, so guitarist Steve Jones had to double on bass duties as well as guitar for the band's debut album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols barring two songs: "Anarchy In The UK" (which was recorded with Matlock on bass and already out as a single) and "Bodies" which Sid was allowed to play on even though it would be overdubbed later on by Jones. He was also absent from the album because he was in 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 heroin addict he had met in 1977. She was also a part-time prostitute and stripper, and she is said to have introduced Sid to heroin, although Sid was already abusing multiple drugs (supplied by his mother Anne) before he met her.
1977 ended with the Sex Pistols being arguably one of the most famous bands on the planet with vulgarity and obnoxiousness as well as Sid's hardcore punk personality as the absolute key to their ever-growing status.
On Christmas Day 1977, the band played a matinee for the children of Huddersfield during the fireman's strike. John Lydon claimed in the documentary Never Mind the Baubles that Sid 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 Sid 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).
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", and the issue of Sid's worsening heroin habit and negative interactions with members of the audience. In San Antonio, Vicious famously hit an audience member who meant him physical harm on the head with his bass; the audience member had antagonized Sid, who shouted out "faggot fucker" before hitting him. Before the Pistols took the stage of the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, again in heroin withdrawal, Vicious carved the words "Gimme a Fix" into his bare chest with a razor. In autumn 1977, the Sex Pistols began to perform the controversial song "Belsen Was A Gas" live for the first time. The song was most likely Sid's only contribution to the band during his tenure as a member, 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.
After the show at Winterland in San Francisco, (Live at Winterland 1978 was released in 2001), the group fell apart, freeing Sid to do as he pleased. He embarked on a path to destruction, while recording lead vocals on three cover songs at the same time for the soundtrack album for the 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.
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 Sid 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". 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.
On the evening of February 1, 1979, a small gathering to celebrate Vicious having made bail was held at the 63 Bank Street, New York apartment of his new girlfriend, Michelle Robinson. Sid and Michelle had started dating in November after Sid's October release from Bellevue Hospital. Vicious was clean, having been on a detoxification methadone program during his time at Rikers Island. But at the dinner gathering, Sid had his friend, English photographer Peter Kodick, deliver him some heroin, against the wishes of Sid's girlfriend and others at the party. Sid had apparently spent hours during the party looking toward the future, planning an album he would record to get his life and career back on track should he be off the hook. Vicious overdosed at midnight, but everyone present worked together to get him up and walking around in order to revive him. At 3:00 am, Vicious and Michelle Robinson went to bed together. Vicious died in the night and was discovered dead by Anne and Michelle early the next morning.
In his first interview, appearing in the Daily Mirror's June 11, 1977 issue, Vicious said "I'll probably die by the time I reach 25. But I'll have lived the way I wanted to."
A few days after Vicious' cremation, his mother allegedly found a suicide note in the pocket of his jacket:
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.
Since Spungen was Jewish, she was buried in a Jewish cemetery. As Vicious was not Jewish, he could not be buried with her. According to the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Jerry Only of the Misfits drove Anne and her sister, and two of Sid's friends to the cemetery where Nancy was buried, and Anne scattered Sid's ashes over Nancy's grave. In the same book, it is alleged that the cemetery didn't want to be associated with Vicious and his inherent negative reputation, and it is speculated that this was of greater importance to them than the above-stated reason he and Nancy could not be buried together.
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