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The Tragedy of Sid and Nancy

               On the morning of October 12, 1978, employees at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan were called up to room 100. The initial reports called in by other guests at 7:30 AM about the room were in concern: a woman could be heard moaning presumably in pain from the room. At 10 AM, the inhabitant of the room called down for help himself (“Sid And Nancy: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery”). The occupant was ex-bassist of the broken up Sex Pistols, Sid Vicious. Upon investigating the call, workers find 20-year old Nancy Spungen dead from a single stab wound to the abdomen in the bathroom, clothed only in her underwear, and Vicious wandering the hall in an apparent drug induced haze. At the time, he was wailing that he had killed Spungen (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen came from different, yet somehow similar, backgrounds. Vicious was born to a single mother, Anne Beverly, who struggled with substance abuse just as her son would later in life (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”). He spent time in Ibiza, Kent, and London throughout his childhood and was used by his mother to smuggle marijuana between Spain and England. At 16, Vicious was kicked out by his mother (Maloney). Vicious played the drums for Souixsie, the Banshees, and Flowers of Romance before joining the Sex Pistols as their bassist in 1977, despite not knowing how to play the bass. By the mid-1970s, Sid Vicious was a fixture of the punk scene in Londo (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               Spungen was born in Philadelphia, PA, and reportedly suffered some form of brain trauma at birth. She is said to have been incredibly intelligent, but also a violent child. In one noted instance, she allegedly attempted to kill a babysitter with a pair of scissors (Maloney). Some sources report that she graduated high school at 16-years old (Shelton), while others report that she was expelled from school and diagnosed with schizophrenia at 15-years old (Maloney). Regardless, she is known to have attended the University of Colorado for a time, before either dropping out (Shelton) or being expelled after being arrested. She was arrested for possession of stolen property and either dealing to or buying marijuana from an undercover police officer (“Sid And Nancy: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery”)(Shelton). At the age of 17, Nancy Spungen ran away from home and to New York City, where she found work as a sex worker (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”)(“Sid And Nancy: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery”). She found her way to London in early 1977 and became a well-known groupie, though she was unliked by many other groupies of the time. She was known to have been loud and obnoxious, only tolerated by the musicians because of her ability to obtain drugs for them. She met Vicious after her initial attempt at gaining Sex Pistols front man Johnny Rotten’s attention and being spurned. She turned her eyes to Vicious, and their lives were set from there(“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               The two quickly became inseparable. Where Sid went, Nancy followed, and if Nancy was there, Sid was never far behind. Compared to Nancy, who was more experienced in both sex and drugs and was known for her loud behavior, Sid was shy. He seemed interested in what she knew about the world, while she was looking for the kind of affection he offered her. They moved into a loft in West London together, where they could fall further and further into their substance abuse. Their relationship was a frustration to the rest of the band and their management. Spungen’s behavior and personality was grating to the other members of the band, to the extent that they banned her from their US tour in 1978. The band’s management even admitted to trying to have her “kidnapped” and sent back to New York City at one point, which was impossible to do thanks to the inseparable nature of the couple. During the tour in 1978, Vicious’s behavior was even more erratic than before, likely in retaliation for Spungen’s banning from the tour. He went as far as breaking his bass over a fan’s head during this time, and the band broke up during the tour. After the band broke up, Vicious went on a spree that ended with an overdose that landed him in a hospital in Queens, New York City. Spungen reunited with him after his discharge and the two moved to Paris, France, to take part in a mockumentary on the Sex Pistols, The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle. Spungen’s presence turned out to be detrimental to the production, as the two rarely left their room, Spungen faking a suicide attempt on one of the rare occasions Vicious did go to set (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               Eventually, this turbulent and dependent relationship was likely destined to end in tragedy. The end began in August of 1978, when the couple moved into Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel. From room 100, Spungen acted as Vicious new manager and the two lived in the world they had made for themselves. Just two short months later on October 11, 1978, they would host a party. Vicious reportedly took Tuinal, a known powerful barbiturate mix, in a high dose. The 30 or so pills caused Vicious to spend most of the party in a drug-induced stupor, nearly comatose while various people filtered through the party. By the morning, his life would be over as he knew it (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               On the morning of October 12, 1978, Sid Vicious found the woman he loved dead on their bathroom floor. When police arrived, Vicious was in a stupor still from the Tuinal he took the night before and confessed to killing Spungen, but later redacted this statement. He gave multiple stories about what happened that night. He said they had fought that night and, while he had stabbed her, he hadn’t meant to kill her. Later, he claimed she actually fell on his knife before finally saying he couldn’t remember the night at all. The knife used to kill Spungen was found to be identical the the “007” flip knife Vicious owned, bought down on 42nd street (Shelton). Vicious was released on bail the same day and attempted suicide, using broken shards of a lightbulb (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”)(Shelton). He was taken in to Bellevue hospital for observation after his attempt, where he attempted to jump out one of the hospital windows. According to witnesses, he was saying, “I want to be with my Nancy” (Shelton).

               In the months leading up to Sid Vicious’s deaths, he did interviews and partied. During one such interview he talked about Spungen’s death and how he felt it was meant to happen. According to Vicious, Spungen had spoken about how she would die before 21 many times. In the same interview, Vicious talked about wanting to be “under the ground,” a statement that likely gives insight into his mental state at the time. In December of 1978, Vicious got in a fight with Todd Smith, the brother of Patti Smith, and ended up spending 55 days in Riker’s prison for detox (Shelton).  In February of 1979, Vicious was released from Riker’s and decided to throw a celebration. It was meant to be a celebration of his freedom, but in the end it was more of a going away party. Vicious sent his mother to get the heroin he wanted for his celebration, and on February 2, 1979, Sid Vicious was found dead from a heroin overdose (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               Anne Beverly claimed that she found a letter from Vicious after his death, stating, “We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me by my baby. Goodbye.” Debbie Spungen, Nancy’s mother, also received a letter from Vicious after her daughter’s death that spoke of a death pact between the two. According to the letter, the two had planned to due in each other’s arms, Vicious promising Spungen he would kill himself if anything ever happened to her (Maloney). Beverly claimed that Spungen’s death was actually suicide, and Vicious’s death was the completion of their pact, and she isn’t the only one who feels this was part of the story. Howie Pyro, Vicious’s friend and the guitarist for D Generation, has also spoken about the death pact. He believes that Spungen stabbed herself, though not necessarily in a suicide attempt. As she had faked a suicide attempt before for Vicious’s attention, he has stated he believes she stabbed herself in an attempt to get his attention again. Unfortunately, if this is the case, Vicious was far too drugged to have come to her aid (“Sid And Nancy: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery”).

               There are more theories about what actually happened that night. The obvious one is that Vicious did kill Spungen, though whether by accident or on purpose is up for debate. Other theories state that Spungen was a victim of a robbery gone wrong, possibly from drug dealers. A friend noted that large amounts of money were missing from room 100 after the party that fateful night, but this has never been confirmed by investigators. Phil Strongman proposes in his book, Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk, that Rockets Redglare was the killer (Shelton). Strongman isn’t the only person who believes this, despite the fact that Redglare insisted until the day he died in 2001 that he was not involved in Spungen’s death. Redglare sometimes worked as Vicious’s bodyguard and was known to have gotten the couple drugs on occasion. The theory goes that he was at the party that night and Spungen asked him to get more drugs and he found the couple unconscious when he returned. At the time, Vicious had a lot of money coming in from royalties related to a cover of Frank Sinatra’s My Way he had released, which could have been tempting to take when the couple were both out cold. Those who believe Redglare was involved believe he had decided to take some of this money and gotten into a fight with Spungen when she woke up during the burglary, resulting in her death. Redglare blamed another dealer, known only as “Michael,” who was never followed up on, and maintained his innocence from both the murder and the burglary until his death (“Sid And Nancy: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery”). Those who believe Vicious wasn’t the killer point to his physical state at the time, wandering in a drug-induced stupor. They believe he couldn’t have possibly killed Nancy Spungen (“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”).

               After Sid Vicious’s death, the investigation into Nancy Spungen’s death was dropped by investigators as they believed he was the killer. To this day, many in the punk scene believe he was set up and that someone else, perhaps even an officer, was holding the knife the night Spungen died (Shelton). At the time of his death, Sid Vicious was 22-years old, and Nancy Spungen was only 20 at the time she died. Spungen’s family did not give Anne Beverly permission to spread her son’s ashes on Spungen’s grace, but some claim she did so anyway. Others claim she dropped his urn in a Heathrow terminal, where his ashes were sent into the air vents and throughout the terminal (Maloney).

               Officially, the story of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen is a tragedy with a mysterious end. It is likely that we will never have answers as to what really happened that night in room 100. Those who were there either won’t talk, can’t remember, or are no longer able to talk. Sid and Nancy will always be remembered as one of great couples of the punk scene in the 1970s. They will always be remembered in romanticized songs and movies, viewed as an almost Romeo & Juliet style romance. Perhaps they even saw themselves as such. What will always be remembered is their whirlwind romance and the haunting words, “I want to be with my Nancy.”

“Sid Vicious And Nancy Spungen: Their Turbulent And Tragic Love Story”. Biography, 2020, https://www.biography.com/news/sid-vicious-nancy-spungen-love-murder.

Shelton, Jacob. “Did Sid Vicious Kill Nancy Spungen? Everything We Know…”. Groovy History, 2020, https://groovyhistory.com/did-sid-vicious-kill-nancy-spungen-sex-pistols.

Maloney, Alison. “How Death Pact Of Sid And Nancy Led To Overdoses, Suicide & Murder In Hotel Room”. The US Sun, 2021, https://www.the-sun.com/entertainment/tv/2537924/sid-vicious-nancy-spungen-sex-pistols-murder/.

“Sid And Nancy: A Punk Rock Murder Mystery”. Crime+Investigation UK, https://www.crimeandinvestigation.co.uk/article/sid-and-nancy-a-punk-rock-murder-mystery.