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The Deaths of Sid & Nancy

More than forty years after their tragic deaths, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen remain rock's most tragic power couples.

Separated in death for only four months, the couple’s legacy as a countercultural Bonnie and Clyde is as endemic to punk folklore as ripped jeans and facial piercings. Their romance, and eventual downward spiral, still raises questions more than 40 years on.

Sid and Nancy’s Origins

Nancy Spungen grew up in a Jewish family in Philadelphia. Seen as a problematic child, her physical and emotional outbursts prompted her family to hire a psychiatrist who later diagnosed the young Nancy with schizophrenia. 

Despite medical intervention, Spungen’s behavioral problems continued to manifest. She once threatened to kill a babysitter with scissors and also threatened to beat her psychiatrist after a claim she was merely acting out for attention. Nancy’s family was at a complete loss at what to do and sent her to a boarding school in Connecticut. She didn’t last there very long.

The times were changing when Spungen opted to leave Philadelphia in 1975. The first wave of Punk was in full swing and teenagers everywhere were rejecting the system and embracing anarchy. Although she was only 17, Spungen had seen enough of Pennsylvania and wished for the bright lights of New York City. Young, hungry, and broke, Spungen arrived in rundown Manhattan in 1975, where she took to stripping and casual prostitution to support herself.

After liaising with several figures in New York’s punk and rock scene, Spungen traveled to London in the hopes of seducing Jerry Nolan of The Heartbreakers. Instead, she met the Sex Pistols and was introduced to their bass player, Sid Vicious. 

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A Toxic Love

It didn’t take too long before Sid and Nancy became an item. As the Sex Pistols began their slow decline into debauchery and violence, so did the new couple. Spungen’s potent effect on Vicious became soon noticeable to the other members of the band, who regarded her as a toxic influence on Sid’s young and already weathered mind.

After their disastrous U.S. tour in 1978, the Sex Pistols broke up for good. It was an abrupt ending to a tale of dizzying heights and terrifying lows, one that saw Sid Vicious thrust into the limelight at only 19 years old. As the band dispersed into their respective corners of the world, Sid opted to stay in the United States in order to be closer to Nancy, whose influence on Sid’s life was becoming more apparent throughout the day.

A Tragedy Unfolds

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Sid and Nancy were anything but a fairy tale. There were several reports of domestic abuse between the couple and their drug use reached an all-time high. 

Although Vicious claimed that he had used heroin before meeting Nancy, his friends and colleagues were in unanimous agreement that her presence significantly contributed to his spiraling drug addiction. 

In August of 1978, the volatile couple moved into Room 100 of Manhattan’s Hotel Chelsea. By then, Spungen had graduated from being Vicious’s partner to being his full-time manager and PR agent. As Vicious aimed to embark on a solo career, Spungen was busy pulling the strings in the background. 

Vicious’s new outfit, Vicious White Kids, played their one-and-only solo gig on August 15, 1978, in London. Featuring songs by Frank Sinatra, The Stooges, Eddie Cochran, and The Monkees, the band aimed to recreate the abrasiveness of Vicious’s former band and give Sid some much-needed inspiration. 

It was, sadly not to be. On October 11, 1978, a large gathering in Room 100 ended in tragedy. Vicious, having ingested a cocktail of pills and hard drugs, lay motionless on the floor whilst guests helped themselves to the abundance of booze, records, and junk at their disposal. 

Vicious was spotted in the hotel lobby the next morning frantically pacing up and down. The worried hotel staff promptly raced up to Sid and Nancy’s room where they discovered Spungen’s stabbed body lying motionless in the bathroom under the sink. 

Dressed in only her underwear, the young woman had suffered a single wound to her abdomen and had apparently bled to death. Police quickly descended on the Chelsea Hotel to arrest their prime suspect, Sid Vicious. 

The media went into a frenzy over the case. The press already had plenty of reasons to dislike Sid Vicious due to everything he represented, and the fact he was being arrested on suspicion of murder only added more fuel to the fire. 

Sid’s case didn’t look good. He had no recollection of the evening of the murder, had ingested numerous different drugs, was known to be abusive and possessed a knife. As investigators built their case, Vicious was freed on bail.

A Dark Reunion

Sid was released on bail on February 1, 1979. By then, he was a shell of his former self. Distraught by the absence of Nancy, Vicious found it difficult to find any meaning in his life. 

During an interview with BBC, Vicious stated that Nancy’s death ‘’had to happen’’ and that he would like to be ‘’under the ground’’. Indeed, he had already attempted suicide twice in the period between Nancy’s death and his arrest. 

A gathering commenced on the evening of February 1 to celebrate Sid’s release. Hosted by his mother, Sid asked a photographer friend of his to pick him up some heroin. What followed was an inevitable tragedy. Sid Vicious died from a heroin overdose sometime that evening. 

Punk’s most combative couple were now reunited in death. After Sid’s cremation, his mother allegedly found a note that stated he ‘’had a death pact’’ and that he wished to be ‘’buried next to his baby."

Did Sid Kill Nancy?

Nancy Spungen’s killer has never been positively identified. 

Although Sid Vicious may be everybody’s first guess, the mystery becomes clouded when you consider just how many people drifted through Room 100 that evening. 

Some 100 people meandered through the hotel room and each one was probably under the influence of hard drugs. 

Theories have surfaced over the years about Nancy being murdered by a drug dealer whom she caught stealing from a bedroom drawer. Former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren stated in 2009 that:

 ‘’Sid was capable of anything…but I didn’t think he could kill someone...unless it was a botched double suicide.’’ 

He later added that money was missing from Room 100 and that Sid’s knife had been taken down from the wall.

It will likely always remain a mystery. For a couple who so perfectly encapsulated the nihilism and moral decay of the late 70s, a sudden, tragic end to their tale is only appropriate.

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