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Guilty or Not Guilty? Sid Vicious is still part of punk’s biggest mystery, 42 years after his death

OTD in 1979, Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols bassist accused of murdering his girlfriend Nancy Spungen died from overdosing on heroin. To this day his name hasn’t been cleared. Is it time to reopen the case to finally discover the truth?

On 2nd February 1979, Sid Vicious, ex-bassist for the disbanded Sex Pistols, was found dead by his mother, Anne Beverly, from a heroin overdose; less than 4 months after his arrest for the murder of girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

The deaths of Spungen and Vicious have been a point of morbid fascination for the punk scene over the last 42 years and it’s easy to see why.

The unresolved mystery of Nancy’s death has been the most fascinating. She was stabbed once in the lower abdomen and found by Sid, slumped under the bathroom sink in their room at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.

Nancy taken from Chelsea hotel
Nancy’s body is taken from the Chelsea hotel

Sid was immediately arrested for her murder but there were conflicting reports as to what really happened that morning, and opinions are split as to whether Sid stabbed her, or was it his bodyguard, another junkie in the Chelsea Hotel, or did she simply stabbed herself as a form of attention-seeking, which she was known to do? All Questions that remain unanswered.

Sid arrested
Sid Vicious arrested for the murder of Nancy Spungen outside the Chelsea hotel

John Lydon said of Spungen’s death: ‘Her death is all entangled in mystery. It’s no real mystery, though. If you are going to get yourself involved in drugs and narcotics in that way, accidents are going to happen.”

For the New York City Police Department at the time, it was a no-brainer; The victim was found in the room that she and her notoriously violent, junkie boyfriend shared. She has been stabbed to death with said boyfriend’s knife. The boyfriend said he was out of it on heroin. He was the only witness. Case close… Thank you and goodnight!

Sid and Nancy’s troubling relationship had already been British tabloid news, so Sid being the perpetrator, as far as the New York City boys in blue were concerned was the only plausible explanation.

Sid vicious mug shot
Sid Vicious Mug shot after arrest

However, some of the details around her murder are curious enough to have many side with Sid’s plea of innocence.

In the 2009 documentary, Who Killed Nancy? by Alan Parker, many of the people who were there that night, give testimony that Sid was passed out from prescription barbiturates and would have been unable to hold a knife never mind stab anyone.

Neon Leon, a friend of Nancy and a Chelsea Hotel Resident at the time, gives his recount:

“Nancy called me (around 4 am), and wanted to know if I had a joint… (She said) ‘(Sid’s) done a couple of Tuinal. He’s out of it and useless.’ There was another voice in the background, and it wasn’t Sid.’

Unfortunately, the presence of another person in the room around the time of her attack was not fully investigated and Sid remained the prime suspect in Nancy’s murder.

Sid with Layer
Sid with layer, James Merberg

Vicious was released on bail due in large part to the stella legal work of James Merberg, paid for, in secret by Mick Jagger, even though Mick Jagger had made clear that there was no love lost between The Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols:

“They’ve (The Sex Pistols) stopped short at violence. I think even Sid Vicious is basically a nice guy, but Johnny Rotten keeps talking bad about me. He’ll get his rotten teeth kicked in one day,” Jagger said in an Interview Magazine article

“I think even Sid Vicious is basically a nice guy, but Johnny Rotten keeps talking bad about me. He’ll get his rotten teeth kicked in one day,” Mick Jagger.

So this act of generosity had Johnny Rotten eating humble pie:

“I heard Mick Jagger got in there and brought lawyers into it on Sid’s behalf… For that, I have a good liking of Mick Jagger…. He never used it to advance himself publicity-wise,” Lydon said in 2016

Only a short time after Sid’s bail release, he found it revoked after he glassed Patti Smith’s brother, Todd Smith, with a Heineken bottle at a Skafish gig at Hurrah nightclub in New York.
He was arrested for the assault on the 9th December 1978 and returned to Riker’s Island metro jail for a 55-day mandatory drug detoxification program.

Virgin records posted his bail again, in large part, according to manager Malcolm McLaren, so that he could play a show in Las Vegas and pay for his mounting legal bills. It turned out to be a pretty poor investment as within less than a day of his release, Sid Vicious would overdose on heroin and die.

Sid with mother
Sid Vicious with mother Anne Beverly only hours before his death

Sid Vicious: The Final 24 gives this recount. Sid was met out the front of the courthouse at 10 am on the 1st February 1979 by his mother and a friend, Peter ‘Kodik’ Gravelle, a music photographer.

“I heard Mick Jagger got in there and brought lawyers into it on Sid’s behalf. For that, I have a good liking of Mick Jagger. He never used it to advance himself publicity-wise,” John Lydon

Kodik describes how Sid’s mother (a drug addict and heroin user for many years herself) had gotten her freshly released son heroin from the streets of New York. “But of course, it was bloody rubbish,” he says.

Sid then demands that Kodik use his connections in the city to get him something decent, and Kodik begrudgingly complies. The irony is that the heroin Kodik returned with was absolute rocket fuel and after a month and a half in detox, Sid’s body no longer had the same resistance to the drug.

There was a party held for Sid’s release at his new girlfriend’s apartment on Baker Street. Around midnight, Vicious shot up the very pure drug and promptly overdosed.

Kodik managed and revive him and explains that “he was fine when I left.” He also says that he left the remainder of the heroin in the custody of his mother and made her promise not to give him anymore that night.

No one living really knows what happened between then and approximately 2 am when Vicious is suspected to have died. His girlfriend slept next to him through the night and his mother went to wake him at midday the next day, only to discover her son was dead.

Anne Beverlyin ambulance with dead Son
Anne Beverly in ambulance with dead son, Sid

“I miss him very much.” John Lydon laments. “He was a great friend but when you are messing with heroin, you’re not a human being. You change and you lose respect for yourself and everybody else.

After Sid’s death, the case was closed on Nancy Spungen’s murder with the assumption it must have been Sid after all.

“He was a great friend but when you are messing with heroin, you’re not a human being. You change and you lose respect for yourself and everybody else. John Lydon

The tragedy of Sid & Nancy has captured the imagination of filmmakers and other artists and has left behind not only a bloodied mark on the Punk scene, but also a cautionary tale.

While NYC police say they have no plans to reopen the Nancy Spungen case it is thought that the soon to be made six-part series about the infamous Sex Pistols by director Danny Boyle will revive interest in the notorious case.

The pressure is likely to mount to reopen investigations so the ghost of Sid Vicious can be laid to rest and the world can finally discover the truth. Was Sid guilty or not?

Sid and Nancy movie poster
1984 film, Sid and Nancy

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