Forty years ago, on Oct. 12, 1978, 21-year-old Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious stabbed his girlfriend, 20-year-old Nancy Spungen.
The two were inseparable. After The Sex Pistols split, Vicious moved to pursue a solo career, so it was natural Nancy would come with him. Vicious wasn’t known for his musicianship—Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones played all the bass parts on Nevermind the Bollocks, the only in-studio Sex Pistols album. Vicious was known for his wild and careless punk rocker personality. He was the epitome of anarchy, chaos and was a pioneer of giving no fucks.
Vicious and Spungen’s relationship was punk rock’s fucked up version of Romeo & Juliet. But was it true love or was it just a couple of junkies?
The movie Sid and Nancy came out only eight years after Spungen’s death and portrayed a couple who, as Rihanna would put it, found love in a hopeless place and fell further into a rabbit hole of drug abuse and domestic violence. It paints the murder of Spungen as an accident that occurred during a brawl. In the movie, Vicious stabs Spungen and also insinuates a drug-infused suicide pact between the two lovers—but the truth is, nobody really knows exactly what happened.
Though the film doesn’t shy away from showing Sid and Nancy’s intense drug addiction, it also romanticizes their relationship. Spungen tells Sid to “never trust a junkie” but the film doesn’t seem to follow that advice. It show Sid and Nancy sharing intimate moments and portrays them as more than just two junkies. About halfway through the movie, Vicious tells Nancy he could never live without her and promises they’d die together in “blaze of glory.” The film’s closing scene, of Vicious driving away with his dead girlfriend in a cab, is open to interpretation but it’s easy to read as meaning the two were doomed lovers fated to be together.
The reality was far messier, however.
Spungen attempted suicide at 14 years old and was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15. She excelled in her academics and was accepted into college at 16. However, the school kicked her out after only five months, so she moved to NYC to work as a stripper and prostitute. When she was 18 she was lured to London by the nascent punk scene and met Sid Vicious, the man she’d be paired with forever.
Vicious had a relatively normal childhood, though his father left him and his mother at a young age and his stepfather died of cancer only six months after marrying his mother. He discovered punk rock at 17 after meeting Chrissie Hynde (before she formed The Pretenders). They squatted together and busked for money with other punks. After Vicious played in a few bands around town and started dabbling with drugs, his friend John Lydon, AKA Johnny Rotten, asked him to join the Pistols around 1977.
Spungen and Vicious really were in love. Still, their relationship was riddled with drug abuse and violence.
The police found Spungen dead by a stab wound, lying on the bathroom floor of the room at the Chelsea Hotel she shared with Vicious. Vicious was coming down from a drug stupor and reportedly claimed he stabbed her, but then later said he actually couldn’t remember what really happened.
Author and music journalist Phil Strongman speculated that it’s possible someone else murdered Spungen—accusing one of the two drug dealers that had been by the place earlier that day. But just shy of four months after Spungen’s death, Vicious died of a heroin overdose, so the trial was never able to happen and a thorough investigation was never conducted. Before his death, Vicious attempted suicide by slashing his wrists with a broken light bulb and while hospitalized for that he tried to jump from his window shouting, “I want to be with my Nancy.”
In February 1979, Vicious’ mother Ann Beverly found him dead. He’d detoxed at Riker’s island after violating his parole by allegedly attacking Patti Smith’s brother with a beer bottle. After his release from prison, he reportedly shot himself up with heroin to celebrate making bail and the new album he was planning. He overdosed and died in his sleep.
No funeral home in NYC would hold a service or burial for Vicious. In Leg McNeil’s punk rock oral history Please Kill Me it says that Spungen’s family denied Vicious’ mother request to spread his ashes over Nancy’s grave. But Vicious’ rebellious spirit must’ve been a family trait, because the book continues, saying his mother and sister joined The Misfits’ Jerry Only and drove to Spungen’s grave where they spread his ashes anyway.
Were the two crazy about each other or confusing their high for love? Either way, together forever, even in death, Sid and Nancy’s story will always be remembered in punk rock history as a tragic romance. But more importantly, their story remains a cautionary tale.