Sid Vicious (1957-1979)

The Sex Pistols were the vanguard of the punk scene in the 1970s, with music and attitude that flew in the face of the British establishment. While Malcolm McLaren was the ‘brains’ behind the short-lived band, and John Lydon the voice, the image of the Pistols, and the punk movement itself, was embodied by the band’s charismatic bass guitarist, Sid Vicious.

Born John Ritchie in 1957 to a hippy mother and a soon to be estranged father, young Sid’s early years were unsettled as his mother took him to Ibiza - where the man she married was soon to die – before moving to Kent in the UK, and then onto Hackney in East London.

In the mid-seventies Ritchie was part of a small but growing group of soon-to-be-famous teenagers hanging out at Malcolm McLaren and Vivien Westwood’s avant-garde clothing store, ‘Sex’, on Chelsea’s Kings Road. It was during this period that Pistols’ frontman John Lydon named Richie after his pet hamster - Sid Vicious. The name stuck for the remainder of Ritchie’s life.

As well as running the boutique – which became a punk Mecca - with Westwood, McLaren was also managing a group of young upstarts called the Sex Pistols that formed in 1975 with an original line up of John Lydon (vocals), Steve Jones (guitar), Paul Cook (drums) and Glen Matlock (bass). Matlock left the Pistols in 1977 and McLaren wasted no time in recruiting Vicious, and even went as far to say at the time that if he had known him when the band was forming he would have made him the front man instead of Lydon, such was Sid’s look and on-stage persona.

Sid's brief tenure with the Pistols was their most productive and infamous period, with the inflammatory God Save the Queen launched onboard a boat on the Thames – a PR event that ended in violence and arrests. It also was around this time that Vicious began his doomed affair with New York punk rocker, Nancy Spungeon, whose influence on Sid even went as far as getting him hooked on heroin. The relationship created a rift in the band that never healed, and in January 1978 they broke up.

Vicious bounced around the punk scene for a while, performing with different artists until he woke from a heroin-induced slumber on 12th October 1978 in a room at the Chelsea Hotel, Manhattan, to find Nancy stabbed to death in the bathroom. Vicious had been too far gone on heroin to remember anything, and despite claims that it was drug dealers that had killed Nancy, Vicious was charged with her murder.

Following a failed suicide attempt, Vicious served 52 days in Riker's Island jail, New York, before he was released on bail on 1st February, 1979. The next morning he was found dead from a heroin overdose.

Sid Vicious makes it onto the Great Britons list for being a true rock icon and living (and dying) true to his live fast, die young principals.