The sordid and sad story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen's doomed love has permeated rock n' roll since Spungen's murder in 1978. From their self-abuse to their drug addiction to their co-dependency, no young couple encapsulates the live fast, die young ethos of punk more than the tragic duo.
The starcrossed couple were deeply troubled long before they met. Spungen lived life as a prostitute and drug dealer and Vicious, who replaced Glen Matlock on bass in the Sex Pistols, was the unwanted product of a drug addict mother. The kindred spirits found a soul mate in each other, which wasn't necessarily a good thing. They were both dead within a couple of years of meeting and neither ever reached the age of 22.
Sid Vicious (aka, Simon John Ritchie and John Beverley) seemed destined for hard times. The only child of a hippie mother, Anne, he lived a life of abject poverty as they moved around London in search of cheaper digs. Anne had her own smack habit to contend with and didn't let anything get in the way of her survival—including her son. She threw him out on the streets at just 16. During an interview with writer Jon Savage, Anne recalled throwing Vicious out: "I remember saying to him: 'It's either you or me, and it's not going to be me. I have got to try to preserve myself, and you just f**k off.' He said: 'I've not got anywhere to go,' and I said: 'I don't care.'"
It's been alleged that Nancy bought the murder weapon used by whoever killed her; she wanted it for the couple to use as protection during drug deals. Both had a fascination with knives and New York in the '70s was a dangerous place. According to Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, "Nancy liked the knife. She was into it....she wanted to have a knife because she was getting hassled by people and wanted to have some protection."
Despite his mother being a junkie, Vicious was apparently not a heroin addict until Spungen entered his life. She was, by the time they had met, a groupie, prostitute and sometimes drug dealer who introduced him to shooting up. Gradually, Spungen took over Vicious' life, despite the band and management's, efforts to remove her. Moreover, Sid wouldn't have it. Photographer Eileen Polk said Sid was "weak when it came to drugs...he also had severe mood swings, even before Nancy died. He could be really funny, making obscene gestures and generally goofing off. The drugs probably induced some sort of depression, but I think he had problems even without that. Nancy definitely had some sort of mental illness, and you're attracted to people like you. Whatever Sid had, I wouldn't want to give it a name."
Police immediately suspected Vicious' of Spungen's murder but the jury is still out. Vicious took 30 Tuinal that night—enough to knock him out cold. He was no condition to walk, let alone kill anyone. Some believe the murder was committed at the hands of a drug dealer named Michael Morra, aka, Rockets Redglare. Six people were believed to have been in the couple's room at the Hotel Chelsea prior to Spungen's death, but none were ever questioned. The couple did have money, which was said to be missing. So, why did Sid confess? “I think when Sid awoke stoned out of his mind and realized she was dead, he might have assumed he did it,” says Polk.