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Music / Sid Vicious

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Sid Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie, May 10, 1957 – February 2, 1979) was an English bass guitarist, drummer and vocalist, most famous as a member of the influential punk group Sex Pistols, one of Punk Rock's legends and one of the prime examples of Short-Lived, Big Impact. He started his career at age 19, became the most recognizable punk musician of his time together with Johnny Rotten, and died at age 21 after a murder scandal and an equally mysterious drug overdose/suicide.

Vicious' career started in 1976 as a member of The Flowers of Romance. He later appeared with Siouxsie and the Banshees and was considered lead singer for The Damned, but according to him he was deliberately kept out of the audition. During a concert of The Damned he got drunk and high and hurled his glass at band member Dave Vanian out of revenge, but missed. This partially blinded a girl in one eye and Vicious was arrested and imprisoned the next day. The first of many run-ins with the laws, caused by his Addled Addict lifestyle. Apart from alcohol he was addicted to heroin, a drug that his beloved mother had introduced to him. His drug problem got worse when he met groupie Nancy Spungen, who also frequently shot up.


In 1977 Vicious became a Promoted Fanboy when he was brought into Sex Pistols, a band he had adored from the very start, to replace Glen Matlock who was fired from the group. His charisma and self-destructive personality fit the Sex Pistols' image perfectly, even though he couldn't play bass that well and frequently got into fights on stage.

In January 1978 the Pistols went on tour in the USA, but as Punk Rock became more popular it inevitably became the same kind of commercialized trend as the regular rock bands. While Vicious embraced his "punk superstar" image, lead singer Johnny Rotten felt that they were all being exploited by their manager Malcolm McLaren. Thus Rotten quit the band and formed Public Image Ltd. instead. Without a lead singer the Pistols seemed doomed, though McLaren simply appointed Vicious as the new frontman. He started a solo career with Spungen as his manager, which consisted of covers like "My Way" (1978), "C'mon Everybody" and "Something Else" (1979). Unfortunately junkies don't make for good promoters and he was dismissed as a has-been.


Worse, Vicious remained a drug wreck and on October 12, 1978, Spungen was found 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; she was 21. His life went all downhill from there. Vicious was promptly arrested for her murder, and reportedly infuriated the police since he was so high that he could hardly speak. Eventually he pled innocent, attributing her death to a drug dealer known as 'Micheal'. He made two failed suicide attempts, one of which he was reported to shout "I want to be with my Nancy". On December 9, 1978 he was jailed for assault on Todd Smith, brother of Patti Smith at a concert and underwent an enforced detoxication. On February 1, 1979 he was released. A day later he was dead from a heroin overdose, although it is argued over whether it was accidental or suicide. Just like Spungen, he was only 21 years old. His solo album Sid Sings was released posthumously and his Signature Song "My Way", a cover of Frank Sinatra became a minor hit.

His life was made into the biopic Sid And Nancy (1986), which ought to be taken with a huge grain of salt as none of his former friends or colleagues were consulted about it in any way, and they accused it of being nothing more than a cash grab. John Lydon, who absolutely despised the film, did say that Gary Oldman's performance of Vicious was very good - but that it was ultimately still inaccurate.

Should not be confused with Sid Eudy (who actually wrestled under the name Sid Vicious).



Sid Vicious' life provides examples of:

  • Absentee Actor: Or rather Absentee Musician. Vicious didn't play any bass on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols, except for the song "Bodies", but even there most of his work was buried under overdubs. Other band members Steve Jones and Glen Matlock usually did these bass parts.
  • Becoming the Mask: When the band started, he was described as like a schoolgirl. Things went downhill from there.
  • Biopic: In the 1986 film Sid And Nancy by Alex Cox he is portrayed by Gary Oldman.
  • Briefer Than They Think: Despite being the second most recognizable member of the Sex Pistols, he was only in the band for about a year and only recorded about three songs with them. His solo career only lasted a year and his only album was released after his death.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Used the f-word a lot during "My Way".
  • Country Matters: He added C-bombs in his delivery of "My Way".
  • Cover Version: He never recorded material he had written himself. His best known song is a cover of Frank Sinatra's My Way.
  • Dead Artists Are Better: After his death Sid Vicious became a punk legend and an icon of teen rebels in the '80s and '90s. He is considered more true to the spirit of the genre because he could never grow old and turn into a superstar who betrayed his ideals.
  • Death by Irony: After a first non-lethal heroin overdose "The Sun" reported he was dead. Sid was photographed reading this particular newspaper. Eventually he would die from a heroin overdose.
  • Destructive Romance: Vicious' romance with Nancy Spungen was an endless of cycle of fights, drug abuse and make-up sex. He had major self-control issues and suffered from addiction problems even before heroin addict Nancy came into his life. She was a self-medicating, violently unstable schizophrenic runaway stripper destined for an early grave, and persuaded him to enter a Suicide Pact with her, which was apparently the subject of their final, drug-addled argument. It's impossible to know who made whose life shorter, but tragedy was inevitable and some have referred to it as a tragic romance worthy of Shakespeare.
  • Dreadful Musician: Zig-Zagged. Most of the "Sid Vicious can't play" examples cite events that happened immediately after he was hired, since previously he had been a drummer, saxophonist and singer. While they weren't letting him play bass in concerts, he showed interest in improving for the recording studio, at least until Nancy came along.
    • Regarding the bass on Never Mind the Bollocks, Steve Jones said "Sid was in a hospital with hepatitis, so he couldn't really play, not that he could play anyway."
    • Supposedly, he once told Lemmy "I can't play bass". Lemmy's reply? "I know". However Paul Cook and Keith Levene have both said that Sid Vicious did become a fairly competent bassist with practice.
    • Also worth mentioning that the manager stated he would have hired Sid Vicious to be the singer if it was an option, a logical choice given that Sid seemed to be able to hit notes far more accurately than Lydon when one compares their vocal performances.
    • Vicious apparently once stayed up a whole night on speed with a bass guitar and The Ramones' debut album, practising along to the record until morning, by which time his playing had been greatly improved.
  • Driven to Suicide: He attempted to kill himself twice after Nancy's murder, apparently wanting to complete the suicide pact he made with her. Whether his death was a successful suicide attempt or just an overdose is unknown, since he had just been bailed out and completed a detox program.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "My Way".
  • Icon of Rebellion: He was one to many '80s and '90s punks.
  • Iconic Item: His padlock necklace.
  • Lead Bassist: Type C, with a giant, 72-point "C" (and he couldn't even play!)
  • My Beloved Smother: Sid was very close to his mother. She even introduced him to heroin, and gave him his final fatal dose.
  • Names to Run Away From: Sid was actually not that violent, nor was he particularly good in a fight; his image however fit the Sex Pistols perfectly and the pose of being a "moral danger" was certainly deliberate.
  • No Animals Were Harmed: In "My Way" he adlibs a line about "killing a cat".
  • Recognition Failure: When he was still alive a lot of people outside the Punk Rock scene frequently confused him with John Lydon.
  • Shout-Out: Lydon bestowed the Sid Vicious nickname partly from his pet hamster Sid and also as a tribute to Syd Barrett.
  • Stage Names: His real name was John Ritchie.
  • Take That, Audience!: Famously shoots the audience in the music video released for his song "My Way".
  • We Named The Dog Indiana: He got his stage name thanks to John Lydon's pet hamster, Sid, who once bit him in the finger, causing Sid to exclaim: "That Sid is really vicious!"


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