40 years ago this weekend, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols died

Sid Vicious was a total screw-up. In retrospect, John Simon Ritchie (named “Sid” after Johnny Rotten’s hamster and “Vicious” because of his use of a bicycle chain against people who crossed him) was doomed from the start.

After the Sex Pistols disintegrated in San Francisco in January 1978–this came at the end of the Pistols’ only American tour during which Sid was so obnoxious that he got beat up by his own bodyguard–he eventually ended up living at the Chelsea Hotel in New York with his toxic girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

They spend days doing heroin in room 101. That continued until the morning of October 12 when Sid woke up to find her dead. She’s been stabbed.

Did Sid do it? He claimed not to remember a thing. If not Sid, who? Could it have been a suicide? Was it a drug deal gone wrong? A robbery? There were questions around a shadowy guy named Rockets Redglare, but he’s long since died.

Sid was arrested, charged with her death and sent to Rikers Island. After a few weeks, he was sprung on bail and moved to his new girlfriend’s apartment at 63 Bank Street in Manhattan. On the night of February 1, 1979, a bunch of friends (including The Misfits’ Jerry Only and Howie Pyro of the future D Generation) and Sid’s mom, Anne Beverly, gathered for a spaghetti dinner.

Sid had undergone a severe detox while at Rikers and was coping with his heroin addiction by using methadone. But he wasn’t about to stop using. A photographer friend named Peter Kodick arranged for some smack to be delivered. Ma Vicious gave him a bit and then put the rest in her purse.

Details are a bit sketchy, but Sid seems to have ODed that evening, but was revived and put to bed. Sometime after midnight, it appears Sid went into mom’s purse and grabbed a little more. Okay, a lot more.

The heroin hit his bloodstream like a bomb. Sid’s breathing slowed, his lungs filled up with fluid and he died lying next to his girlfriend. It was February 2, 1979. Sid was just 21.

Was it an accident? Or was it a death pact? Ma Vicious later claimed she found a note in Sid’s 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.”

Could Ma Vicious have administered the fatal dose? In a 1996 interview, she says she gave her son that last bit of heroin because he was afraid of being sent back to Rikers. (She died shortly after she gave that interview.)

Sid was cremated with some (or maybe all; we’re not sure) of his ashes sprinkled on Nancy Spungen’s gravesite in Philadelphia, much against the wishes of her parents.

Meanwhile, the legend of Sid lives on. You can read more here.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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