Sid was a spiky-haired teen who somehow found himself in a punk rock band (without really knowing how to play bass), and Nancy was a lost groupie from New York who flocked to London in search of a rock lover. In Sid, Nancy found an insecure star on the rise, one who was able to deal with and even love her loud behavior. And in Nancy, Sid found someone to bolster his ego and nurture his needs.
Their love story came to a tragic end in the late hours of October 12, 1978, when Sid woke up to find Nancy laying lifeless on the bathroom tiles. Police arrived at the scene to find a fidgeting Sid mumbling incoherently that he was responsible for it.
But was he?
More than four decades later, the case of Nancy Spungen’s fateful end is still as murky as it was the day she took her last breath. Here’s everything you need to know to try and solve this mystery yourself.
Nancy Spungen was a loud-voiced groupie who flung her arms around any rocker who was willing to accept her aggressive embrace. At just 19, she had exhausted the New York punk scene and swapped it with London’s turbulent streets, hoping to find new prey. Lo and behold, she came across the perfect target – The Sex Pistols’ “bass player,” Sid Vicious.
Nancy was staggering her way around the Roxy Bar’s dancefloor, asking for cigarettes when she ran into Sid. Initially, she tried to make a move on his friend and the Pistols singer Johnny Rotten, but after he shot her down, she tried her luck with the guy beside him. Insecure and thirsty for love, Sid took her in without hesitation.
Born to a middle-class family in Philly’s suburbs, Nancy was one difficult child. She threw severe tantrums, bullied her siblings, and physically assaulted those around her. The troubled girl was expelled from school at the age of 11, diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15, and moved to NY to work the streets by the age of 17.
Nancy arrived in the city right when the anarchistic punk scene was blowing up, and the smack epidemic in New York City was at its peak. She soon found herself rubbing elbows and shooting up in clubs with the likes of Johnny Thunder and Cheetah Chrome. But unlike other groupies of that era, Spungen wasn’t a model, and she definitely wasn’t trying to be cute. She was bad news. And everyone knew it.
Born in south London as Simon John Ritchie, Sid’s father ran off when he was just two years old. In his absence, he forged a strong and very distorted bond with his mom, who was less like a parent and more like a friend (a terrible influence, but a friend nonetheless). For as long as Sid could remember, he and his mom, Anne Beverly, would get wasted together.
Sid’s mom was a free-spirited bohemian who dragged her little boy along with her to all her chaotic ventures – adventures that included flying to Morocco, buying “goods,” and smuggling them into Europe by shoving them down Sid’s trousers. Astonishingly, at the young age of seven, Sid was his mom’s mule.
By the time Sid and Nancy met, Sid was already deeply situated in the punk rock scene, having recently transitioned from a pogo jumping fan to an actual member of the Sex Pistols. Even though he didn’t know how to play music, his good friend and lead singer John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) took him in after the band’s bass player, Glen Matlock, took off.
Sid fell perfectly in line with the Sex Pistols’ anarchistic image. The bandmembers were described as “boorish, ill-mannered, foul-mouthed, dirty, obnoxious, and arrogant.” A group of boys who liked to be disliked. Of course, Sid always took it one step further. Going on stage, Sid would turn his act into a bloody sideshow by breaking bottles and slashing himself.
So how did a lost British anarchist get intertwined with a wild Philly girl? Well, Sid was a (pseudo) rocker, and Nancy was on the hunt for a rocker boyfriend. Sid was immature and insecure (despite his loud façade), and Nancy was a pushy soul who reassured him he was an absolute star.
Her influence on Sid was twofold and deadly. A: she told him he was great, and B: she told him he was even greater when he was high. An addict from the age of 14, Nancy convinced her new boyfriend that the world on smack was like living in heaven.
In 1978, shortly after Sid and Nancy met, the Sex Pistols toured across America. While on the road, Sid received heaps of calls from Nancy, whining about how lonely she was without him and how badly his friends in London were treating her. The sad truth was no one wanted Nancy around. The only reason they tolerated her in the first place was because of Sid.
But while Nancy was in London begging him to return, Sid was busy chatting up fans and befriending anyone crazy enough to scream at their shows. It was during that tour that he met Hellin Killer of the band the Plungers. In an interview, Killer recalled how scared she felt when she heard Sid mention her name to Nancy over the phone. She was warned by everyone that Nancy was crazy enough to come and kill her.
The Pistols’ tour in the US was, to put it nicely, bizarre. You would think that their manager would drive them straight to New York or LA, but no. Malcolm McLaren, who thrived off controversy, had different plans in store. He booked gigs in Chicago, Atlanta, and Texas (because nothing is more disastrous than having some odd-looking, uncultured Londoners play in the land of cowboys and rodeos).
This tour would prove to be the end of the road for the Pistols. The hell-raising anarchists got into way too many fights, ending their comedic expedition on a bitter note – with Johnny Rotten sick with the flu and Sid Vicious nearly dead in the hospital after an overdose.
The Pistols disbanded shortly after.
With the Pistols in ruins, Nancy quickly took charge and bolstered Sid’s ego once more by telling him he could make it big without them. She took it on herself to become his manager (how they believed Nancy could manage anything is beyond me), and the couple flew straight to New York to test their luck.
Nancy was delighted to land in NY with Sid on her arm. Coming back to the city she left a few years ago, with a rock star boyfriend by her side, it was a sort of an “in your face” moment to all the people who had mocked her.
New York’s response to Nancy was, as expected, awful. No one was happy to have her back, especially with her ridiculously phony English accent. It wasn’t a successful one at all. It was a perplexing American accent infused with some British twang.
Sid was equally disappointed by New York’s lack of enthusiasm. He was only mildly famous within a group of underground people but was by no means considered a “rock star” by the rest of the public. The couple’s hope of living the American dream died down way before it even began.
Anne Beverly followed her son to New York. And while the boy was happy to have his mother around, Nancy wasn’t. Nancy and Anne had a lot in common, yet they hated each other’s guts. They were both addicts, both obsessed with Sid, and both had full control over him.
The last thing these two women wanted was to try and get along. They played a vicious game of tug-o-war for Sid’s attention, and it drove him mad. When Nancy was out of the house, she used to tell Sid’s friends to watch their apartment and prevent Anne from entering. At times, when Anne would manage to sneak her way in, she would greet her son with a big bag of jujubes (candy) in one hand and a big bag of syringes in the other.
In the fall of ’78, Sid and Nancy checked into the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. To set the tone for those who don’t know, the Chelsea Hotel is a special little place with an unusual history. It’s been visited by brilliant figures like Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin, all of whom have experienced some radical thing or another within those walls.
According to visitors, you’re allowed to do practically anything in the Chelsea. How dingy or how posh your room is, is completely up to you. You can paint the walls and hang whatever you want on them. You can spray them with graffiti or, in Sid and Nancy’s case, with blood.
Nancy and Sid’s time spent at the Chelsea Hotel was filled with whining, murmuring, and nodding off into foggy drug binges. Coming down cold turkey was unbearable, so they were constantly after their next fix. They would call friends over and host parties at the hotel just so they could get a hold of some substance or another.
One chilly October evening, Sid and Nancy called in some friends to kick off yet another one of their mind-numbing gatherings. That night, Nancy was in high spirits, getting drunk and throwing $100 bills all around the lobby. Her friend, artist Leon Neon, reported that he understood at that very instant that Nancy was incredibly out of it and that she had lost her “street smart.” He explained that the old Nancy would have never thrown around dollar bills in a New York hotel lobby.
Sid and Nancy’s hotel room that night was open for everyone and anyone who was in the mood to party, do drugs, fight, and just create random havoc. People went in and out, and no one really kept track of who did what. The couple was so disoriented that you could have probably dragged them into the hallway and locked them out without them noticing it.
Sid spent most of the night passed out on the bed (after taking a ton of Dilaudid), and Nancy kind of dabbled in conversation but wasn’t really able to keep her head in place for more than 10 seconds. Her good friend Neon Leon said that the last time he heard from her was around 4 am when she called and asked if he had some pot.
Between 4 and 5 am, Nancy reportedly had a drug dealer in her room named Michael, a blonde-haired kid who lived on the sixth floor of the hotel and used to party quite a lot with the two. He was a flamboyant character who wore pointy alligator shoes and always had a huge, self-satisfied grin on his face.
No one really knows what happened between Nancy and Michael that night. He could have just sold her some drugs and left, but he could have done something more. What we know for sure is that less than two hours later, Sid woke up from his narcotic haze to find his lover in the bathroom laying in her own pool of blood.
Nancy was stabbed in the abdomen and had gradually bled to death on the bathroom tiles. Unsure how he ended up in this surreal situation, Sid jumped to the first conclusion that came into his mind – he must have been the one responsible. Police found him in the hallway, freaking out and mumbling under his heavy breath, “I killed Nancy, I killed Nancy.”
Sid and Nancy’s friends from the hotel were shocked to discover the news. They admitted that out of the two, they believed it was Sid who would die that night, considering how unresponsive and ghostly he appeared during the party. Many argued that there was no way Sid could have killed her.
Let’s look at the evidence…
The room had a large TV set about two feet in front of the door, which may or may not hint that someone was trying to block the entrance. Whether someone was trying to block a person from getting in or out, is unclear. In addition, investigators found a blood-stained handprint on one of the room’s mattresses, but it’s not the mattress Sid was passed out on.
According to the police evidence file, there were only four of Sid’s fingerprints in the room. Moreover, Nancy was stabbed only once, and it took her around three hours to bleed to death. This means that after she was stabbed, she would have been able to crawl to the nearby room and scream for help. So why did she give into certain death by staying put in the room?
As for the murder weapon, police reported that they found Sid’s five inch-blade placed neatly atop a suitcase next to the door, wiped clean of any traces of blood. Many argue that it makes little to no sense that Sid would have had the energy that early morning to wipe it clean and place it next to the door.
Considering the terrible state he was in, it was more likely that he would have dropped the knife someplace on the floor, leaving it covered in Nancy’s blood.
Guests from the nearby room told the police that they had heard a sound that sounded like heavy metal hitting the floor, then some mumbling, then silence. But Sid was probably (in my opinion) oblivious to all that because he was passed out on the bed.
Poor, poor Sid Vicious. The guy was an absolute wreck when the police arrived at the scene. They slapped him back into a conscious state and proceeded to ask him questions. His statements were full of contradictions. But let’s try to make some sense out of them.
First, he stated he had no idea what had happened to her. He claimed that he took a pill and slept the night through. But then he contradicted himself by confessing to the murder, saying that the two had a heated argument and that it was an accident.
Sid told the police that when he first found her in the bathroom, she was still breathing. He told them that he washed the blood from her and ran off to the clinic to get her methadone (going to the clinic while your girlfriend is bleeding to death might not be the smartest thing to do).
Sid clearly wasn’t 100% at that point. In any case, by the time he came back with the methadone, it was already too late. Nancy had bled to the point of no return.
Sweaty and stuttering, Sid told the police that he wasn’t sure whether Nancy fell on the knife by accident or whether he was the one who had willingly stabbed her.
The most overlooked yet important piece of evidence in Nancy’s murder case is the missing money. Sid and Nancy’s room had a lot of money laying around. And because Nancy was frantically throwing bills in the air that night, everyone knew about it.
Interestingly, when the police arrived at the scene, the money was no longer there (Sid definitely didn’t “rob” the money, because it was his money to begin with). This brings us back to Michael, the drug dealer that was in the room a little before the stabbing.
Witnesses from that night have some interesting tales to share about him…
According to witnesses, shortly after police raided the hotel, Michael was seen with a roll of money tied with Nancy’s purple hair tie. He allegedly entered his room (which he shared with a few other people), flaunted the wad of cash, and said: “Guess what, Nancy is in a body bag, and Sid killed her.”
It’s hard to know whether this actually says something about him murdering her. He could have just snuck in and stolen the money when Sid was out buying methadone. But I guess the worst part about this bit of information is that the NYPD didn’t even care to look into him. Sid was their main suspect.
Apart from Michael, there’s another guy on the suspect list – a self-seeking nutso named Rockets Redglare. Redglare was an actor and a dealer (and an addict). According to witnesses, Redglare was hanging out with Nancy in their room that night between 4 and 5 am.
Nancy’s autopsy confirmed that she died sometime between 5 am and 9 am. And police reports stated that Sid was unconscious between 3 am and 9 am, making it impossible for him to be the one to do it.
What’s more, a group of people reported that Redglare had admitted to doing it, but because he wrapped up his confession with a burst of maniacal laughter, it was hard to know whether he was serious. Redglare died in 2007.
The tragic part about all this is the police’s indifference. For them, it was just another junkie murder case, and hearing Sid’s confession was all they really needed to close the book on it. But what about the missing money? What about the people who were in the room at the time of her death?
The one officer who cared to look into it more was Sgt. Houseman. He said that after taking the time to question the hotel witnesses, he concluded that it couldn’t have been Sid. The poor guy likely confessed out of sheer confusion and shock.
Sid ended up retracting his confession in the subsequent interrogations, claiming he had been fast asleep when she died. Still, he was placed behind bars for a short while until his manager paid to get him out. Malcolm McLaren fully believed in Sid’s innocence, claiming that he would have never killed his one and only love.
McLaren believed that the stolen money was the ultimate proof that Nancy’s murder was theft-related. He argued that “stupid, clumsy foolish” Sid was likely “passed out on the bed” while his girlfriend was trying to fight off a greedy drug dealer from stealing their money.
Sid was in the worst state ever after Nancy died. He was nervously awaiting trial for her murder, a murder so horrific in detail that only a seriously ill mind could have lived with it in peace. His friends noted that going out with Sid during that time was like, “Okay, what’s gonna happen tonight?”
One evening, at the Hurrah (a NY dance club), Sid broke a bottle and cut the face of Todd Smith, the brother of singer Patti Smith. Witnesses claimed that the brawl began after Smith made a comment about Nancy. Incapable of restraining himself, Sid nearly took out Smith’s eye with a shard of glass. Police arrived at the scene and threw him back behind bars immediately.
Once again, Sid was bailed out. This time, by his mom. Even though she acted from a place of love and care for her son, bailing Sid out ended up being the worst possible thing she could have done. Out on the streets again, Vicious had only one thing on his mind – getting high.
Sid’s mom fulfilled his needs, but she gave him some low-quality stuff. Upset by the disappointing high, Sid begged his friend Peter Gravelle to arrange something better for him. Gravelle did as he was told and showed up later that night with an incredibly strong batch of 98% pure heroin.
In the few months after Nancy’s death, Sid started sleeping with Michelle Robinson, a 22-year-old actress who was strangely obsessed with him. Sid needed somebody, and Robinson was there for him as an emotional prop.
On the day of his release from prison, Robinson arranged a little out-of-jail celebration for him at her flat in Greenwich Village. She invited his mom and his closest friends to toast his newfound freedom. Sadly, the celebration would end in tragedy.
Sid had been in good form all afternoon before the house party. He was excited to see all his friends and felt optimistic about his future. At the start of the evening, Anne was in the kitchen cooking her son’s favorite meal, spaghetti Bolognese. In the meanwhile, Sid was in the living room trying on clothes, “playing” air guitar and goofing off with friends.
At around midnight, the mood changed. Peter Gravelle arrived with Sid’s deadly fix, and the atmosphere turned from light and fun to narcotic and dumb. After injecting it, he stumbled to the bathroom, threw up, sat down, threw up again, and just dozed off. Anne was oblivious to it all. She had seen her son in this condition a million times before.
The line between dozing off and overdosing is pretty thin. And in Sid’s case, VERY thin. He took too much of the fix Gravelle bought him and started turning blue. The party echoed with frantic cries of “Come on buddy! Come on!” as everyone tried to get him back on his feet and breathing.
Incredibly, he came out of it. The first thing Sid said was “I’m sorry I scared you all.” But while he recovered quickly from the incident, his friends didn’t. The party was pretty much over at that point. Having your friend nearly die of an overdose is quite the buzzkill.
A “normal” person would call it a night and go to sleep. But not Sid. Not a troubled addict who can’t stand being sober. Having barely survived an overdose, Sid was already begging for a second hit. Peter was reluctant to give Sid more. But to quiet him down, he gave him a teeny tiny dose.
Before leaving the house, Peter gave the drugs to Sid’s mom and asked her to keep them away from her son. At around 3 am, Sid called it a night and laid in bed beside Robinson, with his mom in the living room fast asleep on the couch.
According to Robinson, she was in bed with Sid when he suddenly decided he wanted another dose. He was too shaky and agitated to inject it himself, so he had to have someone do it for him. Robinson refused and eventually left the room to tell Anne what was going on.
Sid’s mom entered the room and looked at her desperate son, shaking and covered in sweat. She agreed to put him out of his misery and filled the syringe for him. Being an addict herself, Anne knew exactly what to put inside that syringe, and she decided to put enough drugs to kill two people.
Anne Beverly killed her own son in the act of mercy. She knew Sid wouldn’t be able to live with what had happened to Nancy, so she took matters into her own hands. With little faith that Sid could get his life together again, she decided it was best for him to fall asleep and never come back.
Not everyone believes that his mom is responsible for his death. The only people that can genuinely say what happened in that room are Sid and his mom, and they’re both gone (she died in 1996 from an overdose). As for whether Peter feels guilty for supplying Sid with his deadly fix, he stated: “If he hadn’t got it from me, he would probably have got it from someplace else. Sid took a lot of chances.”
The day after Sid’s death, Anne found a note in the pocket of her son’s jeans. It seemed to be a death pact between him and Nancy, which had existed since the previous summer. Shortly after Nancy’s death, Sid hinted on this pact in an interview, claiming: “It was meant to happen. Nancy always said she’d die before she was 21.”
But the fact that Nancy and Sid messed around with suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean Sid killed her. It just means that the two of them were really living life on the edge. They taunted death by injecting way too much and surrounding themselves with the wrong crowd.
Following Nancy’s death, Sid repeatedly told the press that he wanted to be six feet underground and at peace with Nancy. He was depressed, lost, and felt like he had no reason left to live. Reuniting with Nancy was the only thing on his mind.
For that reason, some claim that Sid’s mom did well in letting him rest in peace. Still, whether her actions are considered okay is definitely debatable. On the one hand, if Sid were alive today, he might have been found guilty of Nancy’s murder, but on the other hand, he might have not. And in that case, he could have had a second chance at life.
There’s no denying that Sid was a deeply troubled soul. But there’s also no denying that his mom pretty much messed him up with the way she raised him. So Sid wasn’t inherently vicious; his life circumstances made him that way.
But even though he acted like a mad man at times, this wasn’t why he got his nickname. Simon John became Sid Vicious after Johnny Rotten’s pet hamster, Sid, bit him. Sid’s reaction to the attack was, “Ow! Sid’s really vicious.” And that’s the story behind his name.
Even though he wasn’t called Sid Vicious because of his mean character, he eventually became vicious because he had to live up to his name. One story in particular highlights exactly how disturbed he truly was – the story of his friend’s cat.
The Pistols’ original bass player, Glen Matlock, had a cat in his apartment. And one day, for no reason at all, Sid decided to hang the cat by its neck. Matlock’s flatmate, Mark Helfand, witnessed the brutal event and revealed: “It didn’t last long, as far as ticks on the clock, but it seemed like an eternity. It was whining and fighting to get away. Just before it died, it urinated right on its feet. Sid was holding it in front of me. He put the cat in a plastic bag and took it down to the trash.”
Within the walls of the famous London punk venue, The 100 Club, Sid beat music journalist Nick Kent with a bike chain. Prior to the fight, Kent published many snarky remarks about the Sex Pistols’ lead singer Johnny Rotten. Naturally, this resulted in tension between Kent and the band.
At some point during the night, Kent walked past Sid, asking him to move over. Sid responded by pulling out his chains and lashing at him, saying that it was because he didn’t like the journalist’s trousers.
In addition to harming others, Sid used to harm himself too, and a lot. On a meal stop during the Sex Pistols’ tour in America, some guy challenged Sid to put out a cigarette on his hand. Sid laughed. That was hardly a challenge for a guy like him.
He decided he could do a lot more than that. So he took out his knife, cut his finger, and let the blood trail down onto his plate of food, which he then ate to the dismay of everyone around him. On another occasion, Sid carved the words “Gimme a Fix” into his chest with a piece of glass.
During interviews with Sid’s mother, she made it obvious that both herself and Malcolm had talked to him regarding a possible future, but he seemed to be stuck in a mantra regarding joining Nancy in heaven. In a poem he wrote her:
“You were my little baby girl, and I knew all your fears. Such joy to hold you in my arms and kiss away your tears. But now you’re gone, there’s only pain. And nothing I can do. And I don’t want to live this life if I can’t live for you.”
It seems that no matter how vicious one appears, the heart is still capable of love.