Born in Lewisham on 10th May 1957 as Simon John Ritchie. His father, John, was a guardsman and a trombone player and his mother, Anne McDonald was in the RAF at which time they met. His birth father soon left the scene and when Anne married Christopher Beverley in 1965, John changed his name to John Beverley. By that time, they had moved to Kent, but tragically, Christopher died from cancer shortly after, with mother and son left to move around and finally settling in Hackney in 1971.
John was a student at the Hackney Technical College and with John Lydon studying at the same college their paths inevitably crossed, that happened in 1973. John Wardle (Jah Wobble) was also at the college at the same time. By the mid 1970’s John was already injecting heroin, openly doing so, with his mother, in front of John Lydon. Together with the other Johns he frequented the cool spots of London including the SEX store on Kings Road. It was there that he met Chrissie Hynde, who later went on to form the Pretenders. It was Chrissie that gifted John the trademark “Rabbit” padlock that seemed to be on John’s neck thereafter. She also asked him to marry her in, what amounted to a sham marriage, to help her gain residency.
In October ’75, the Sex Pistols were formed by Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook. John was part of the entourage, a mate of the band but not part of it. By this time his name had changed again with John Lydon sticking the name “SID VICIOUS “on him after the name of Lydon’s hamster – it was an ironic title as the hamster was soft and fluffy. The irony swung the other way as Sid took it on himself to live-up to the image that the name suggested. He was credited with starting the “pogo“ the energetic, almost violent dance at the Pistols gigs. But real violence was not far away and Sid was soon in the news after attacking journalist Nick Kent with a rusty motorbike chain and threatening BBC DJ Bob Harris.
Dabbling with Music
Sid was near the punk scene as it exploded in the UK in 1976 and 1977. He would be at most of the gigs for the likes of the Ramones and in 1976, together with Keith Levene (who together with John Lydon set up Public Image Limited) and Viv Albertine and Palmolive (The Slits) he formed The Flowers of Romance. They played many Ramones covers, but Sid did compose some originals, including the black-humoured ‘Belsen Was a Gas’, which was his only composition that was ever recorded. ‘Piece of Garbage’ and ‘Brains on Vacation’ were other compositions but they were never heard. Around the same time, Sid was invited to play drums with Siouxsie and the Banshees at the 100 Club Punk Festival. They didn’t have time to rehearse and instead went for a 20-minute experimental art piece; The Lord’s Prayer with Siouxsie wailing over heavy rock clichéd guitar.
On the two-day event Sid plays drums with Siouxsie, they perform, supporting the Sex Pistols, ‘Twist & Shout’ and ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ alongside ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘Deutschland Deutschland Uber Alles’
Sid’s violent tendencies were back at the 100 Club, in a bust-up feud with Dave Vanian of the Damned, Sid was alleged to have thrown a beer glass at Vanian, missing, smashing against a pillar and with the glass partially blinding a girl in the crowd.
With the Pistols
By February 1977, the Sex Pistols had been building up notoriety, ”spitting, swearing and vomiting“ at Heathrow airport, the famous F-word on TV, contractual disagreements, dropped by EMI, banned from radio, banned from venues. Sid had been hanging out with the band and was a permanent part of the entourage. In 1977, he was interviewed by the Los Angeles DJ Rodney Bingenheimer and during the conversation claims to have been auditioned by the band.
On February 28th Sid Vicious officially joins the Sex Pistols. Malcolm McLaren announces Glen Matlock’s departure in a telegram sent to New Musical Express: “Sid Vicious their best friend and always a member of the group but unheard yet was enlisted. His best credential was he gave Nick Kent what he deserved many months ago.” At the same time Glen Matlock founder bassist and main songwriter announces his departure. One of the first appearances for Sid is at the contract signing stunt outside of Buckingham Palace that is followed by a trip to the offices of the new label A & M where they smash up the offices and abuse the staff. Predictably the relationship with A & M is short-lived and they are “fired“ in March.
The first-time Sid appears live with the Sex Pistols is on March 28th at a short notice gig at the Notre Dame Hall in Leicester Square. The Hall belonged to the Catholic Church, ironic given that most venues were barred to them. The next appearance is on April 3rd, this time at the Screen on the Green in Islington, the gig being filmed by Don Letts and parts of which appear in the Punk Rock Movie.
For the Sex Pistols, 1977 is when it all seems to happen, signed up by Virgin, the release of God Save the Queen in May, the Jubilee Boat Party in June, numerous cancellations of gigs, barred from entering the US but eventually let it. Sid is interviewed by the Daily Mirror newspaper “I’m not a vicious person, really. I love my mum. She understands me and is glad I’ve found something in life I really enjoy.” “I’ll probably die by the time I reach 25. But I’ll have lived the way I want to.” Later he says: “I told him exactly the opposite of what he wanted to hear.”
Nancy Spungeon turned up in London in March 1977. The American groupie and heroin addict was in pursuit of Johnny Rotten, but becomes the object of desire for Sid, who appears to have taken pity on the girl who everyone else seemed to hate. The claim is that Nancy introduced Sid to heroin but there seems no doubt that he had been introduced to that earlier than their meeting. No doubt that their relationship did nothing to abate his use. He was hospitalised with hepatitis, there were miles of newsprint dedicated to Sid and Nancy’s wrongdoings, he accompanies Nancy to court for overstaying her visa and carrying a knife. Sid himself is up before the court charged with carrying a knife at the 100 Club. 24th: In late July 1977 an unfurnished flat is found for Sid in Maida Vale, at 3 Pindock Mews. It’s a 7-year lease. Malcolm says, “That’s fine, he’ll be dead by then…”.
Sid and Nancy’s relationship gradually become a huge issue for the band and by the end of 1977 there is a concerted effort to split them up. It only adds to more friction in the band and the relationship between Sid and Johnny Rotten fractures. The tour of the states went ahead in January 1978 and it was rammed with action from the start, fights at all the gigs, drug binges and more newsprint dedicated to the bands wrongdoings on and off stage. Come January 14th they are at San Francisco’s Winterland and a four thousand capacity. Before the gig, they all get interviewed on radio stations. On KSAN Sid says: “We’ll probably be dead in two years.” ‘Belsen Was a Gas’, written by Sid in his Flowers of Romance days is performed live for the first time. And it’s the last ever Sex Pistols gig.
The band went into free fall and Sid with his co-dependency on Nancy becoming ever stronger decides to go it alone, Sid performs his first gig fronting a band; it’s also his farewell to London gig – he and Nancy are moving to New York. Glen Matlock, the former Pistols bassist who Sid replaced, has put together the band – with Rich Kids’ Steve New, The Damme’s Rat Scabies and Nancy on backing vocals (but her mike is turned off!). They’re given the name Vicious White Kids, after the various bands they’re from. Shortly after Sid & Nancy fly to New York, after Sid has finished filming videos for Eddie Cochran’s ‘Something Else’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’. They move in to the Chelsea Hotel, Room 100.
Sid and Nancy’s time in NY is a continuation of what went before, acting as his manager they spend most of the time on heroin, in hospital or playing with knives. October 12th, 1978 and Nancy is found dead in the hotel room with a single stab wound to the abdomen. Sid is arrested and eventually gets bail thanks to the efforts of Malcolm McLaren, his mother and Virgin.
There are varying accounts of what happened, Sid had confessed that he “poked “Nancy with a knife during a fight and had not realised that he had stabbed her. They were both so wasted on heroin there was no way that Nancy would recover from the knife wound, no matter how it was caused. There is the possibility that Nancy took her own life or had stabbed herself, for attention from Sid, thinking that he would save her but given his state he could not possibly help.
Sid tried to take his own life shortly by slitting his wrist with a broken lightbulb and was hospitalised. In hospital, he tried again to take his life by jumping from the window. Sid continues with his cycle of drug abuse and violence and gets thrown back in prison, this time around he cleans up after the compulsory detox and is released from prison. It is claimed that it is his mother Anne who supplies him with the heroin that finally ends it all. He overdoses and is found dead by his mother on 1st February 1979.
Due to his reputation, the funeral homes in NY refused to take in his body and six days later, Sid is cremated. Sid asked to be buried with Nancy but her family refused. His mother took the ashes herself to the Jewish Cemetery in Philadelphia and his ashes are scattered over Nancy’s grave.
Later that month, January 23rd “Something Else“ is released.
A life so short lived. Sid seemed to foresee his early death. Is impossible to say that he craved an early end but he did little to dispel the notion. What is the legacy or the lesson from Sid Vicious ? Largely rejected due to his drug addiction and general demeanour he remains controversial to this day. Blue plaques honouring his place of birth or other milestones are rejected. That is his legacy and probably what he had wanted – enduring and eternal controversy.