Horror stories surrounding the Sex Pistols are in no short supply, neither are fans, who continue to idolise bassist Sid Vicious 44 years after he died of a heroin overdose on 2nd February, 1979. A drug addict, accused of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen’s murder, and by all accounts unable to play the bass guitar, it was his wild persona that drew him into the spotlight and ensured his status as a reckless youth idol.
Thrust upon the band in 1977 by manager Malcolm McLaren, Sid Vicious had no experience playing bass. “Sid was a singer, not a bass player,” said original bassist, Glenn Matlock. “He was a great frontman, and I think that was why the Pistols broke up in the end. John Lydon was enough for the band.”
Sid did all he could to live up to his namesake, and anarchy ruled within the Sex Pistols as much as it did outside of it. Most famously, he beat music journalist Nick Kent with a bicycle chain for criticizing the band in print – or maybe just for asking Sid to move over at a gig. John Gray, a friend of frontman Johnny Rotten, recalled that when he would visit one of the squats Rotten and Vicious shared, “Sid would strangle cats and slash himself with an old Heinz baked beans tin lid.”
Here are 10 of his wildest moments, both onstage and off.
1. Anarchy in the UK
Sid Vicious was thrust upon the Sex Pistols by their manager Malcolm McLaren, following the departure of original bassist Glen Matlock. Even though Sid had no experience playing bass, his attitude got him the gig. This early performance from Stockholm in 1977 sees Sid getting to grips with the bassline to Anarchy in the UK, the first 14 seconds of which remains among the most triumphant moments in the entire history of punk rock.
2. Sid falls asleep during an interview
To say that Sid’s relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen was fiery would be a colossal understatement. They worked as a double-act of mayhem. This interview clip was taken from a trip to Paris in April, 1978.
3. Bass lessons with Lemmy
In an interview with Louder Than War back in 2011, Motörhead bassist and legendary frontman Lemmy recalled how he tried to teach Sid how to play the bass. “Sid Vicious lived in my flat for a couple of months and I tried to teach him bass but he was hopeless. One day he came rushing in all excited saying ‘Lemmy I got the job with the Sex Pistols’ and I said ‘Great, as part of the road crew?’"
4. Assault at the 100 Club
During the Sex Pistols’ infamous 1978 North American tour, Vicious assaulted Nick Kent, a reporter for the New Musical Express, with a bike chain. At the 100 Club in Nashville, Kent reportedly tapped Vicious on the shoulder and told him to move over so Kent could get a better view. Vicious is said to have responded with a comment on how he didn’t like Kent’s trousers and grabbed a bicycle chain out of his pocket, which he hit Kent over the head with three times.
5. Sid hits out at Randy's Rodeo
The Sex Pistols played just seven shows on their only U.S. tour, which included a stop at Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio. Having been taunted by a rancher named Brian Faltin, Sid grabbed his Fender Precision by the neck and swung it in Faltin’s direction. Luckily for him, it glanced off the shoulder of a roadie who was busy holding back the crowd. The moment was captured at 03:10 in this video clip.
6. Torturing a cat
In the film Who Killed Nancy, Sid’s ex-flatmate claimed that he had seen Sid torture and kill a cat in front of friends. He said: “One night I went round and saw Sid and there was a cat in the flat. For no reason he decided to put a noose around the cat and hang it up in front of me. The cat was trying to get away but obviously it couldn’t.” He went on to say that he had no explanation for why he did it, but called the act “the most disgusting thing that I have seen in my life.”
7. The Jubilee boat trip
To celebrate the release of their infamous single, God Save The Queen, the Sex Pistols rented a boat on the river Thames with the notion of gatecrashing the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations, performing their hits as they went. The police eventually intervened and many of the party were led off the boat in cuffs.
8. Injected drugs mixed with toilet water
In a famous anecdote involving Dee Dee Ramone of The Ramones, Ramone and Vicious attended a party that was freely offering speed. Ramone and Vicious went to the bathroom to find water to mix with the speed in order to be able to inject it, but the bathroom was completely covered in vomit. Unfazed, Vicious stuck his syringe into the toilet and drew water from it ready to inject himself.
9. Cost the Sex Pistols their recording contract
Having been dropped by EMI following a spat at Heathrow airport, the Sex Pistols signed to A&M Records who celebrated with a press conference outside Buckingham Palace and a subsequent party at the labels head office. During the party, Vicious vandalised the director’s office and vomited all over his desk, which ultimately led to the label dropping the band just six days later.
10. Accused of killing his girlfriend
On October 12th, 1978, 20-year-old Nancy Spungen bled to death on the bathroom floor of a room in the Chelsea Hotel in New York. “Vicious, who was found wandering the hallways in an agitated state, was arrested and charged with her murder,” according to the UK’s Independent newspaper. “Though he initially confessed to the crime, he later denied it, claiming he had been asleep when she died.” Some months later, while awaiting trial for her murder, Vicious died from an overdose.