The history of punk rock is rife with larger-than-life characters, some of them so iconic that they seem plucked out of a movie instead of reality. One of these figures is the infamous Sid Vicious, the bassist for the Sex Pistols.
A pivotal figure in both punk rock and broader counterculture scenes, Sid Vicious made his mark with the Sex Pistols before the band dissolved. But beyond that, he was a complicated man with a troubled love life and addictions that would ultimately end both his career and his life much too soon.
Here, we will look deeper into the life of the man known as Sid Vicious and discover why his figure still looms so large over punk rock history.
The Early Life of Sid Vicious
Born John Simon Ritchie on May 10, 1957, to John and Anne Ritchie, Sid Vicious had music in his DNA. But not the type you might expect.
Sid’s father John had a rather average day job as a guard at Buckingham Palace. But in the evenings, he worked as a semi-professional trombone player amidst the London Jazz scene.
Unfortunately for Sid and his mother Anne, this musical DNA was the only thing that Sid’s father ever really offered them. Soon after his son was born, John left the two high and dry.
After a failed move to Ibiza, Anne returned to England and married a man named Christopher Beverley, but that was not the end of her bad luck. Beverley died only six months after the marriage, leaving Sid and his mother alone once more.
Young Sid’s childhood was tumultuous, to say the least. His mother was in the throes of heroin addiction, and Sid himself was contemplating suicide at a very young age. Compounding these hardships, his mother kicked him out of her home at only 16, leaving him homeless.
That same year, in 1973, Simon became friends with a group of teens close in age to him–John Lyndon, John Grey, and Jon Wardle. At the time, Sid was still going by the name ‘John Beverly’, so he and the other three boys became known around town as the ‘The Four Johns’.
How Did Sid Vicious Get His Name?
It was with this group of boys, The Four Johns, that Sid would get his infamous nickname that he would carry for the rest of his life.
As intimidating as the nickname might sound, Sid Vicious actually got his moniker in quite a funny way. John Lydon had a hamster named Sid, and while playing with the pet, Sid the human was bitten by Sid the hamster.
From then on, the rest of his friend group would call him Sid Vicious, and the nickname stuck.
Sid Vicious’s Early Musical Pursuits
Before he became the bassist for the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious had a few stints with different punk and punk-adjacent bands in the London area. He didn’t always play bass and was first known as a saxophonist and vocalist.
Before he joined the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious was a part of:
The Flowers of Romance- The first band that we know of that Sid Vicious was involved in was the Flowers of Romance. Sid helped to found the Flowers or Love along with other big names in the punk scene, Keith Levene of The Clash and Viv Albertine of The Slits.
As mentioned above, he was both a saxophonist and vocalist in The Flowers of Love, and it was during this time that he taught himself how to play the bass. This band never had any recorded music, and it never even played live.
But it was his time in The Flowers of Romance that first put him on the punk scene and gained him some notoriety.
Siouxsie and the Banshees- Sid Vicious had a very brief stint with Siouxsie and the Banshees, playing a single time with them as the drummer during their first performance.
The Damned- While Sid Vicious never played with The Damned, he was noticed during his time with The Flowers of Romance and offered the chance to audition. This opportunity went nowhere when Sid Vicious failed to show up.
Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols
The original bassist for the Sex Pistols, Glen Matlock, was kicked out of the band in early 1977. At the time, Sid Vicious was attending every Sex Pistol show that he possibly could, and this put him in the prime position to fill the empty bassist role.
Later that same year, he played with the Sex Pistols for the first time, but it was quickly made apparent that Vicious had a few things holding him back.
The first issue was that he was an abysmal bassist. On the Sex Pistol’s debut album, the guitarist, Steve Jones had to play all of the bass parts to cover up Vicious’s inexperience. The second problem was that Vicious was heavily addicted to heroin.
Vicious did eventually learn to play bass well enough to fully participate in the band. But his antagonistic attitude and violent antics did nothing to endear him to his bandmates or audiences.
Despite their rising star, the Sex Pistols only lasted one year after Sid Vicious joined. After their tour in the United States, the band broke up, and Vicious’s problems continued.
Sid and Nancy
During his time with the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious would meet the second most influential woman in his life behind his mother, Nancy Spungen. Like Vicious himself, Nancy was a volatile addict who both abused Sid Vicious and was abused by him in turn.
Once the Sex Pistols had ended, Nancy and Sid stayed together, but both continued to spiral. Sid Vicious would regularly get high on heroin allegedly provided by his own mother, and Nancy would resort to prostitution to fuel their addictions.
Death of Nancy Spungen
Just one year after his time with the Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious would find himself in court on the charge of murdering his long-time girlfriend, Nancy.
Nancy had been found dead on October 12, 1978, of a stab wound. Sid was quickly arrested and charged, with his legal fees being paid by Virgin Records, who still had the Sex Pistols on their label.
In a drug-addled haze, Vicious had admitted to killing Nancy, but many people believed him innocent. He was allowed by the courts to be bailed out by the manager for the Sex Pistols on the condition that he not leave New York. He stayed at the Chelsea Hotel after his bailout, and his mother resided with him.
After Nancy’s death, Sid Vicious became suicidal and violent towards others, cutting himself with a broken lightbulb and assaulting a man named Todd Smith. Even then he wasn’t sent back to prison and was instead forced into a detoxification program.
Vicious completed the program on February 1, 1979, and his release would mark the beginning of the end for Sid Vicious.
Sid Vicious’s Overdose and Death
Once released from Detox, Sid Vicious immediately found a way to acquire more heroin. He met up with a group of his friends and his mother at a local apartment, where they all proceeded to use.
According to some of the people who were present, Vicious did heroin and was later given quaaludes. Sometime during the night he overdosed, and his body was found the following morning by his mother.
There is some debate about whether his overdose was accidental or a means of suicide. Anne Beverley and Nancy’s mother, Deborah Spungen both claimed that Sid and Nancy had a suicide pact and that Sid’s death was his way of completing the pact.
Beverley was also said to have found a suicide note in Sid’s pocket confirming the suicide pact theory. Others have suggested that Sid didn’t mean to kill himself, but that his tolerance had been lowered by his time in rehab.
The Legacy of Sid Vicious and His Impact on Punk
While Sid Vicious was the bassist for the Sex Pistols, his musical impact was modest. The legacy that he left behind had a lot more to do with his aesthetics and attitude than it did with his bass playing.
Sid was wild, careless, and crass. His tragic, violence-laden love story with Nancy Spungen and his brief time with the Sex Pistols are cornerstones of punk rock history, and while he died young, his legacy endures.
“Sid Vicious: Little boy lost”
“The Flowers Of Romance”