Vicious in Winterland, 14 January 1978, final show of the Sex Pistols
|Birth name||John Simon Ritchie|
|Also known as||
|Born||(1957-05-10)10 May 1957
Lewisham, London, England
|Died||2 February 1979(1979-02-02) (aged 21)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie, 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.
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 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 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 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.
Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie 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. 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.
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.
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. 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 (which was named after Syd Barrett), 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 Grey, and the four were familiarly 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 Vicious' 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.
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. 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. 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.
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 which 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 the book Helter Skelter as a gift.
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. 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.
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 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).
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 Vicious' 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. Before the 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. 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' 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 Vicious 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 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." 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.
Murder charge and attack on Todd Smith
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 single 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'. Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. 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.
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 other 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.
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. 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, 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. John Lydon said that Mick Jagger paid for Vicious' lawyer, praising Jagger for never seeking publicity for this.
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 a friend's Manhattan apartment at 63 Bank St. in New York City. Vicious was clean, having been 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. He 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 acquitted. Vicious overdosed, died in the night, 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.
According to Eileen Polk, Vicious had stated during his life that he wanted to be buried with Nancy Spungen. Spungen, who was Jewish, is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Pennsylvania. 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. Howie Pyro, who also went along with the group to scatter Vicious' ashes, said in a 2009 documentary that he felt Spungen killed herself and Vicious was innocent. "To me, she just did it herself because that's what people like that do, like teenagers who cut themselves." Pyro said that he thought Spungen was desperate for attention and stabbed herself, thinking Sid would come to her rescue, but that he was too intoxicated to do so.
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. 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.
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, 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." 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."
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. 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." 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!"
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 $2000, together with the leather strap with the name "Sid" on it.
Hall of Fame induction
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."
- Sid Sings (1979) UK: Silver BPI
- The Idols with Sid Vicious (1993)
- Sid Vicious & Friends (1998)
- Better (2001)
- Live at Max's Kansas City, NY 1978 (2002)
- At the Electric Ballroom (2003)
- Too Fast to Live (2004)
- Sid Lives (2007)
- Chaos and Disorder Tapes (2008)
- Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (Virgin, 1977) Platinum No. 1
- The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (Virgin, 1979)
- Some Product: Carri on Sex Pistols (Virgin, 1979)
- Flogging a Dead Horse (Virgin,1980)
- Kiss This (Virgin, 1992)
- Never Mind the Bollocks / Spunk (aka This is Crap) (Virgin, 1996)
- Filthy Lucre Live (Virgin, 1996)
- The Filth and the Fury (Virgin, 2000)
- Jubilee (Virgin, 2002)
- Sex Pistols Box Set (Virgin, 2002)
- "God Save the Queen" – 1977 No. 2
- "Pretty Vacant" – 1977 No. 6
- "Holidays in the Sun" – 1977 No. 8
- "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone" – 1980 No. 21
- "Anarchy in the U.K." (re-issue) – 1992 No. 33
- "Pretty Vacant" (live) – 1996 No. 18
- "God Save the Queen" (re-issue) – 2002 No. 15
- "C'mon Everybody"
- "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone"
- "Don't Gimme No Lip"
- "I Wanna Be Your Dog"
- "Belsen Was a Gas"
- "Tight Pants (Shake Appeal)"
- "Something Else"
- "My Way"
- Sex Pistols Number One (1976, directed by Derek Jarman)
- Will Your Son Turn into Sid Vicious? (1978)
- Mr. Mike's Mondo Video (1979, directed by Michael O'Donoghue)
- The Punk Rock Movie (1979, directed by Don Letts)
- The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1979, directed by Julien Temple)
- DOA (1981, directed by Lech Kowalski)
- Buried Alive (1991, Sex Pistols)
- Decade (1991, Sex Pistols)
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- Kill the Hippies (1996, Sex Pistols, VHS)
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- Live at the Longhorn (2001, Sex Pistols)
- Live at Winterland (2001, Sex Pistols, DVD)
- 24 Hour Party People (2002, directed by Michael Winterbottom)
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- Punk Rockers (2003, Sex Pistols, DVD)
- Blood on the Turntable: The Sex Pistols (2004, directed by Steve Crabtree)
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- Who Killed Nancy? (2009, directed by Alan G. Parker)
- Sid! By Those That Really Knew Him (2009, directed by Mark Sloper)
- Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy (2016, directed by Danny Garcia)
- Anne Beverley, The Sid Vicious Family album (1980, Virgin Books) ISBN 978-0-907080-02-2
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- Uncut magazine, issue #117, February 2007
- Sid Vicious at MySpace
- Vicious' confession to the NYPD and other documents
- Sid Vicious day-by-day timeline
- Birth and death of Sid Vicious
- Sid Vicious at Find a Grave
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