February 2, 1979 – Sid Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie on May 10th 1957 in Lewisham in Southeast London England. His mother dropped out of school early due to a lack of academic success and went on to join the Royal Airforce, 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 realized senior would not be coming. Anne later married Christopher Beverley in 1965, before setting up a family home back in Kent, England. Ritchie took his stepfather’s surname and was known as John Beverley.
Christopher Beverley died a short while later from cancer and by 1968 Ritchie and his mother were living in a rented flat in Turnbridge Wells, where he attended Sandown Court School. In 1971 mom and son moved to Hackney in east London. He also spent some time living in Clevedon, Somerset.
Ritchie first met John Lydon in 1973, when they were both students at Hackney Technical College. Lydon describes Ritchie at this time as a David Bowie fan and a “clothes hound”.
By age 17, Ritchie was hanging around London’s center. One favorite 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, 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 Gray, and the four were colloquially 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 Sid’s personality emerged when he assaulted New Musical Express 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.
His ‘musical’ career started in 1976 as a member of The Flowers of Romance along with former co-founding member of The Clash, Keith Levene, Palmolive and Viv Albertine. 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, along with Dave Vanian, was considered for the position of lead singer for The Damned but failed to show up for the audition. The song “Belsen Was a Gas” originates from this band, and was later performed live by the Sex Pistols, as well as Sid Vicious’ solo act.
He played his first gig with the Sex Pistols on 3 April 1977 at the The Screen On The Green in London. His debut was filmed by Don Letts and appears in Punk Rock Movie. In Nov. 1977, Sid met American groupie Nancy Spungen. Both the group and Sid visibly deteriorated during their 1978 American tour.
The Pistols broke up in San Francisco after their concert at the Winterland Ballroom on 14 January 1978. With Nancy acting as his “manager”, Sid embarked on a solo career during which he performed with musicians including Mick Jones of The Clash, original 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. His final performances as a solo musician took place at Max’s.
On October 12th 1978, Sid claimed to have awoken from a drugged stupor to find Nancy 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. On October 22 1978, ten days after Nancy’s death, he attempted suicide by slicing his wrist and subsequently became a patient at Bellevue Hospital.
A little over three months later, on February 2nd 1979, Vicious died from a heroin overdose as he had been partying in a New York flat to celebrate his release on $50,000 (£29,412) bail pending his trial for the murder of his girlfriend. A few days after his cremation, his mother found a suicide note in the pocket of his jacket: “We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye”.
He was 21 years old.
In 2006 he was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Sex Pistols.