On this day in history : 2nd February 1979 – Sid Vicious, bass guitarist and vocalist with punk band ‘The Sex Pistols’, dies from a heroin overdose in New York….

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Chicago Art Department c/o L. Schorr via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Born John Simon Ritchie in Lewisham, South East London on the 10th of May 1957, Vicious first met John Lyndon (Johnny Rotten – front man of the Pistols) whilst they were both studying at Hackney Technical College in 1973…. Vicious was asked to join The Sex Pistols after the departure of Glen Matlock in February 1977…. Manager Malcolm McLaren said of him…. “If Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude”….

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The Sex Pistols 1977 – Vicious left, Steve Jones centre, Johnny Rotten right…. Riksarkivet (National Archives of Norway) Photograph : Billedbladet NA/Arne S.Nielsen via Flickr

It was also in 1977 that Vicious met his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen…. She was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 1958 and after being expelled from college crossed the Atlantic to London, where she became involved with Vicious…. What followed was a turbulent relationship with bouts of domestic violence fuelled by drug abuse….

It was after the break up of the Pistols that Vicious and Spungen moved to New York, living at the Chelsea Hotel…. The couple had plans of Vicious perusing a solo career, with Spungen acting as his manager – but in reality their days were spent in a fog of drugs….

It was on the 12th of October 1978 that Vicious awoke from a drugged stupor to find Spungen dead on the floor of their bathroom…. She had a knife wound to her abdomen and had bled to death…. Vicious was arrested on suspicion of her murder….

At first he admitted to having killed her – they had argued….but he didn’t mean for her to die…. He later retracted his confession, saying he couldn’t remember what had happened….then changing his story once again, to say she had fallen on the knife during the argument….

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Mugshot December 1978 – Fair use

On the 22nd of October Vicious attempted suicide by slashing his wrists using a lightbulb…. He was hospitalised – and whilst there tried to take his life again by jumping from a window – however, quick acting staff managed to prevent him from doing so….

The Sex Pistols’ record label, Virgin Records, managed to secure bail for Vicious pending his trial for the murder of Spungen…. But he found himself in trouble again on the 9th of December 1978; whilst attending a concert at a New York club he attacked the brother of singer Patti Smith with a broken beer bottle…. This time he was sent to Rikers Island jail and spent 55 days on an enforced detoxification programme….

For a second time Virgin Records bailed him out; with a surety of $50,000 he was released on the 1st of February 1979…. That evening a party was held at the Manhattan apartment of his new girlfriend to celebrate his release…. Vicious immediately resumed his heroin habit….

According to witnesses present Vicious collapsed around midnight and had a seizure – classic symptoms of a heroin overdose…. But he recovered and went off to bed – but at some point in the early hours, around 3am, he died….

It was his mother who found him the following morning, lying next to a syringe and a charred spoon…. Some accounts say Anne Beverley was also a heroin addict – others go even further to say she was the one who supplied her son with the drug that night….

Following the death of Vicious a dispute arose as to where he should be laid to rest…. Reputedly no funeral parlour in New York would take him – he was eventually cremated in New Jersey…. It had apparently been his wish to be buried with Nancy but as she was interred in a Jewish cemetery in Pennsylvania this was never going to be the case…. Anne Beverley sought the permission of Nancy’s family to scatter her son’s ashes on Nancy’s grave – but this request was denied…. It is reputed that Anne secretly did this anyway….

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Death certificate of Sid Vicious – New York City Bureau of Vital Records – Public domain

Sid Vicious was always portrayed as being a rather vile character….spitting, swearing, even vomiting on fans…. Perhaps this shocking image is what helped to ‘sell’ the band – all part of the ‘act’…. Some sources, including Nancy’s mother, recount that Sid was actually quite shy and even gentle in nature! As for Nancy, she was painted as being uncouth, wild and totally out of control…. It is now believed that she suffered from an undiagnosed psychiatric disorder….

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Nancy Spungen – Photo : Mary Ellen Mark, 1976 – Fair use

It later emerged from a scrawled note found in one of Sid’s pockets that the pair had a suicide pact…. Nancy had always been convinced that she would be dead before she was 21…. Sid was desperate to fulfil his part of the pact…. Their sorry tale really does bring home the bitter truth of the evilness of drugs….

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