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Sid Vicious

Sid ViciousAKA John Simon Ritchie

Born: 10-May-1957
Birthplace: London, England
Died: 2-Feb-1979
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Accident - Overdose
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered over Nancy Spungen's grave)

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Bassist

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Sex Pistols bassist

A particularly extreme example of the self-immolating celebrity -- and one of the first high-profile casualties of the punk era -- John Simon Ritchie a.k.a. Sid Vicious was given his education in unhealthy lifestyles early in his existence, his mother Anne using (and sometimes selling) heroin throughout his childhood. His father, a Grenadier Guard in the British Army named John Ritchie, left the family shortly after his son's birth, and his stepfather Christopher Beverly died after only six months, leaving Anne to raise young John Simon primarily on her own. Shortly after the dissolution of her first marriage, Anne relocated herself and her son to the Spanish island of Ibiza, returning to England in 1965 just prior to her second marriage and living in Kent for several years before moving to Hackney in 1971. It was here that John made the acquaintance of John Lydon while both were attending Hackney Technical College in 1974; it was also during this period that he initiated his own drug use and began to cultivate the destructive behavior that would earn him such notoriety in later years.

Ultimately, John Ritchie dropped out of school and spent his time hanging around with the so-called "Bromley Contingent", a gang of disaffected youths that adopted the music and fashions of the emerging UK punk rock scene and maintained an orbit around the John Lydon (now "Johnny Rotten")-fronted band The Sex Pistols. In the summer of 1976 Ritchie became a member of The Flowers of Romance alongside future Public Image Limited guitarist Keith Levene, but the group never actually did anything in public; before the end of the year he had joined Siouxsie and the Banshees as a drummer, although this situation did not endure far beyond the group's debut performance in September of 1976. Afterwards, while living in a squat with both Lydon and John Wardle (later Jah Wobble), Ritchie chose to call himself Sid Vicious in order to distinguish himself from the overabundance of Johns, and subsequently did his best to live up to the anti-social implications of his new name. By early 1977 he had been drafted into the Pistols to replace departing bass player Glen Matlock, despite the marked limitations of his playing ability (supposedly, Vicious's bass was turned down during many Pistols shows, and his recorded parts were actually performed by either Matlock or guitarist Steve Jones).

Prior to Vicious's membership, the Sex Pistols had already earned themselves widespread notoriety for their combative attitudes and use of profanity (a couple of fucks and a shit) during an interview on national television with Bill Grundy; their debut single Anarchy in the U.K., released by EMI in November of '76, also created a considerable stir around the band despite EMI's decision to cease manufacturing it after less than two months. Vicious helped to maintain this anarchic reputation by vandalizing the office of A&M's Managing Director (an act he consummated by puking on the director's desk) during the party celebrating their signing to the label. The band was forced to find a new home a week later, and thus it was that their next single God Save the Queen was instead released by Virgin in May of 1977. The song instigated an even stronger negative response than Anarchy in the U.K., but the resulting hype also successfully pushed it up to the #2 position in the British charts -- although there is some evidence to suggest that it might have actually reached #1.

Issued in October, the Pistols' debut full-length Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols lived up to the controversy created by the two preceeding singles, the album's title resulting in an obscenity trial that was ultimately dismissed. A month after Bollocks's release, the fate of the band's already rapidly-deteriorating bass player was sealed through his meeting with ex-prostitute/heroin addict Nancy Spungen. An unbalanced groupie from New York who had come to London with the intention of latching onto a punk celebrity, Spungen found the equally unbalanced Vicious an easy target, and soon had him sharing her heroin habit as well as her bodily fluids. This tumultuous relationship created significant problems between Sid and his bandmates -- Lydon in particular repeatedly pressed his friend to sever his ties with Spungen -- but the unhealty co-dependence that had formed between the two was something that Vicious was unwilling to leave behind.

At the start of 1978 the Sex Pistols embarked on their first American tour, organized by their manipulative manager Malcolm McLaren. The tour fell apart after only two weeks, however, and a few days after a performance at Winterland in San Francisco Rotten announced the dissolution of the band -- apparently as a bluff, but no one called him on it and McLaren and half of the band promptly buggered off to Brazil. Vicious had not fared very well in his forced separation with Spungen during the tour, and he immediately flew to New York to reunite with her. A short period was spent back in England before traveling to Paris to contribute to McLaren's Julien Temple-directed film The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle (1978) (a largely fictional account of the Sex Pistol's history); Vicious' first solo tracks would be recorded for the film's soundtrack, which included a piss-take on the Frank Sinatra standard My Way and covers of Eddie Cochran's Something Else and C'mon Everybody.

After raising some money through a final UK performance with the help of a backing band named The Vicious White Kids, Sid and Nancy relocated to New York City on a permanent basis, taking up residence at the Chelsea Hotel on 23rd Street. Vicious then attempted to launch a solo career, with Spungen assuming the role of manager and various British and American punk musicians acting as his new band The Idols. A poor-quality collection culled from some of his live performances during this period was eventually released as Sid Sings in 1979. These solo ambitions were abruptly brought to an end in October, when he was arrested for killing Spungen, found dead in their apartment from a single stab wound on the morning of the 12th. The drug-addled musican could not remember the incident, but the knife responsible for the wound was still in the room when Spungen's body was discovered. Police found Vicious wandering the hotel hallways, crying; he was immediately taken into custody and charged with second-degree homicide, although Virgin Records put up the money required for bail shortly afterwards.

Vicious' mental state became even more erratic following his arrest, and an attempt at suicide by slashing his wrist was made several days later, resulting in a two-week internment at the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital. Another arrest followed in December due to an assault on Patti Smith's brother Todd at Max's Kansas City; after serving two months in jail, Virgin supplied his bail for a second time, and he was released once again pending his trial for Spungen's murder. That trial would never take place: Vicious was found dead of what is speculated to be a deliberate heroin overdose on February 2nd at the home of his new girlfriend Michelle Robinson. Supposedly his ashes were scattered on Nancy Spungen's grave by his mother Anne Beverly as per his request, but whether this actually was accomplished remains in dispute. A film version of the realtionship between Vicious and Spungen titled Sid and Nancy, directed by Alex Cox and featuring Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb in the principal roles, was released in 1986.

Father: John Simon Ritchie
Mother: Anne Beverley
Girlfriend: Nancy Spungen (murdered by Sid Vicious in 1978)

    High School: Hackney Technical College, Hackney, England (dropped out)

    The Flowers of Romance (1976)
    Siouxsie and the Banshees Drummer (1976)
    The Sex Pistols Bassist/Vocalist (1977-78)
    The Vicious White Kids Bassist/Vocalist (1978)
    The Idols Bassist/Vocalist (1978)
    Sid Vicious
    unknown detox facility Rikers Island
    Drug Possession: Amphetamine London, England (1978)
    Drug Overdose San Francisco (16-Jan-1978)
    Drug Possession New York City (22-Feb-1978)
    Murder 12-Oct-1978
    Suicide Attempt 22-Oct-1978
    Psychiatric Observation Bellevue Hospital
    Autopsy
    Risk Factors: Heroin, Alcoholism, Smoking

    FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
    D. O. A. (12-Sep-1980) · Himself
    The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (11-Sep-1980)
    Mr. Mike's Mondo Video (1979) · Himself
    The Punk Rock Movie (1978) · Himself

Rotten Library Page:
Sid Vicious

Is the subject of books:
The Sid Vicious Family Album, 1980, BY: Anne Beverley
Sid And Nancy: Love Kills, 1986, BY: Alex Cox and Abbe Wool
Sid's Way: The Life and Death of Sid Vicious, a Story in Words and Pictures, 1991, BY: Alan Parker and Keith Bateson
El Sid: Saint Vicious, 1997, BY: David Dalton
Vicious - Too Fast to Live: The Authorised Biography Of Sid Vicious, 2004, BY: Alan Parker
Vicious: The Art of Dying Young, 2004, BY: Mark Paytress
Sid Vicious: Rock 'n' Roll Star, 2005, BY: Malcolm Butt


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