Sid Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie on 10th May 1957 in Lewisham Hospital. His father was John George Ritchie and his mother Anne Jeanette Ritchie (nee McDonald). At the time of his birth the family were living in a two bedroom flat at 18B Glenton Road in Lewisham.
Over the years there has been confusion over Sid's real name, mainly arrising from the fact that his mother refused to call him John and instead always called him Simon. The surname Beverley came from a later marriage when Sid was seven. His father was a rep for a publishing company not as many believed, a Grenadier Guard at Buckingham Palace. Shortly after Sid was born the family moved to Grove Park where by all accounts Sid enjoyed a happy start to life.
In 1960 John Ritchie flew Anne and Simon out to Ibiza with the promise to join them...this never happened and they were left to fend for themselves with Anne dealing soft drugs to earn enough money for food and rent. It was in Ibiza that Anne developed her drink and drug habit that she would never overcome and that would eventually kill her. The following year they returned to England. For a while Anne worked at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club (as well as selling drugs to make ends meet)
In 1964 she and Sid moved to Oxford where in 1965 Anne met and married a middle class ex Oxford student, Christopher Beverley. Sadly six months later he died of cancer.
Anne and the young Sid were helped financially by Beverley's family and they moved to Tunbridge Wells in Kent where Sid attended Sandown Court School and Anne managed a local pub. There is also record of Anne and Sid living for a short while in Clevedon near Bristol where Sid attended Clevedon Secondary Modern but by 1970 they had moved back to London, briefly in Stamford Hill and eventually to Grange Court in Hackney.
By all accounts Sid was a very bright, intelligent if slightly shy young boy but didn't take well to authority and was extremely disruptive at school. He ended his schooldays at Clissold Park in Stoke Newington. Although he had a keen interest in history and art he ended up dropping out of school completely at the age 15 and in 1972 he got a job working for a clothing company in London's Kingsland Rd. The job didn't last long and soon after Sid enrolled at Hackney College of Further Education where he signed up for an art course.
It was here that he met another young man with similar interests and outlook on life. His name was John Lydon.
Sid was given the nickname "Sid Vicious" by John Lydon , after Lydon's pet hamster, Sid. The hamster had bitten Ritchie, who said that "Sid is really vicious!" The animal was described by Lydon as "the softest, furriest, weediest thing on earth." At the time, Ritchie was squatting with Lydon, Jah Wobble, and John Gray, and the four were colloquially known as "The Four Johns".
According to John Lydon, the two of them would often busk for money with Sid playing the tambourine. They would play Alice Cooper covers, and people gave them money to be quiet. Once a man gave them "three bob" (three shillings, i.e. 15p in decimal currency) and they all danced.
According to the band's photographer, Dennis Morris, Sid was "deep down, a shy person", however, he did assault NME journalist Nick Kent with a motorcycle chain with help from John Joseph Wardle (Jah Wobble).On another occasion, at The Speakeasy (a London nightclub popular with rock stars of the day) he threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris.
Vicious began his musical career in 1976 as a member of The Flowers of Romance along with former co-founding member of The Clash Keith Levene (who later co-founded John Lydon's post-Pistols project Public Image Limited) and Palmolive and Viv Albertine, who would later form The Slits. He appeared with Siouxsie and the Banshees, playing drums at their notorious first gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London's Oxford Street. According to members of The Damned, Vicious, along with Dave Vanian, was considered for the position of lead singer for The Damned but failed to show up for the audition.
Before joining the band, Vicious had associations with The Bromley Contingent, the fashion avant garde that followed the Sex Pistols. According to various publications (such as the biography England's Dreaming by John Savage) and films (namely The Filth and the Fury) Ritchie was asked to join the group after Glen Matlock's departure in February 1977 due to his being present at every gig. Manager Malcolm McLaren once claimed "if Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude."
McLaren also said in person and in a documentary that if he'd met Vicious before he had hired Rotten to be the singer, Vicious would have been the Sex Pistols front man, because he had the most charisma of anyone on that stage. Alan Jones described Vicious as "[having] the iconic punk look Sid, on image alone, is what all punk rests on. His nails would be painted in a sloppy manner with purple nail polish. Vicious played his first gig with the Pistols on 3 April 1977 at the The Screen On The Green in London. His debut was filmed by Don Letts and appears in Punk Rock Movie. In November 1977, Ritchie met American groupie Nancy Spungen. Both the group and Ritchie visibly deteriorated during their 1978 American tour. The Pistols broke up in San Francisco after their concert at the Winterland Ballroom on 14 January 1978. With Spungen acting as his "manager", Ritchie embarked on a solo career during which he performed with musicians including Mick Jones of The Clash, original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, Rat Scabies of The Damned and the New York Dolls' Arthur Kane, Jerry Nolan, and Johnny Thunders. Ritchie performed the majority of his performances at Max's Kansas City and drew large crowds. His final performances as a solo musician took place at Max's.
Vicious was not recognised as a competent bass player. During an interview for Guitar Hero III, when Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones was asked why he, instead of Vicious, recorded the bass parts of Never Mind the Bollocks, Jones responded, "Sid was in a hospital with hepatitis so he couldn't really play, not that he could play anyway." Sid asked Lemmy, the bassist of Motörhead, to teach him how to play bass with the words, "I can't play bass," to which Lemmy replied "I know." In another interview Lemmy stated, "Yeah. It was all uphill. And he still couldn't play bass when he died."
According to Paul Cook, in the few months between joining the band and meeting Nancy, Vicious was a dedicated worker and tried his hardest to learn to play; indeed, this period was Cook's favourite in the band. Viv Albertine went further in defence of his ability, saying that one night she "went to bed, and Sid stayed up with a Ramones album and a bass guitar, and when I got up in the morning, he could play. He'd taken a load of speed and taught himself. He was so quick." Keith Levene, a member of The Flowers of Romance with Vicious and later a member of The Clash and then Public Image Ltd, also recounts a similar story: "Could Sid play bass? I don't know, but one thing I do know was that Sid did things quickly. One night, he played the first Ramones album nonstop, all night, then next morning, Sid could play the bass. That was it; he was ready! I told you Sid did things quickly!"
(covered in more depth under the Sid n Nancy Biography..see menu)
On the morning of 12 October 1978, Vicious claimed to have awoken from a drugged stupor to find Nancy Spungen dead on the bathroom floor of their room in the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan, New York. She had suffered a single stab wound to her abdomen and appeared to have bled to death. The knife used had been bought by Vicious on 42nd Street and was identical to a collector's knife given to punk rock vocalist Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys by Dee Dee Ramone. According to Dee Dee's wife at the time, Vera King Ramone, Sid had bought the knife after seeing Stiv's.
Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder. He said they had fought that night but gave conflicting versions of what happened next, saying, "I stabbed her, but I didn't mean to kill her. I loved her, but she treated me like shit", then saying that he did not remember and at one point arguing Spungen had fallen onto the knife.
Bail was originally set at $50,000. However, after court hearings and work from his lawyer, it was lowered. Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols' manager, worked to raise money, and the bond was eventually covered by Virgin Records.
On October 22, ten days after Spungen's death, Vicious attempted suicide by slicing his wrist and subsequently became a patient at Bellevue Hospital. He was charged with assault after an altercation with Todd Smith (singer Patti Smith's brother) at a Skafish concert. Vicious was arrested December 9, 1978 and sent to Rikers Island prison for 55 days. He was released on bail on February 1, 1979.
One theory regarding the murder is that Spungen was killed in a robbery or drug deal gone wrong, in which one of those involved was Rockets Redglare, later to become known as a stand-up comedian and actor. Redglare, who died in 2001, always denied any part in her death. He stated that the other dealer known to have been there that evening had left before him to obtain more heroin, and was due back after he had left the building. He said he believed that the other dealer returned, found Vicious out cold, and attempted to steal the remaining drugs, leading to a confrontation with Spungen.
On the evening of 1 February 1979, a small gathering to celebrate Sid's having made bail was held at the 63 Bank St. New York Apartment of his new girlfriend, Michele Robinson, with whom he had started dating the day he got out of Bellevue Hospital the previous October. Vicious was clean, having been detoxed from heroin during his time at Rikers Island. However, at the dinner gathering, his mother had some heroin delivered, against the wishes of Sid's girlfriend. The person who delivered it, Peter Kodick, came and stayed for a while. Vicious overdosed later that night. Everyone who was there that night worked together to get him up and walking around in order to revive him. Much later that night, Sid and his girlfriend fell asleep together. Vicious was discovered dead late the next morning. An autopsy confirmed that Vicious died from an accumulation of fluid in the lungs that was consistent with heroin overdose. A syringe, spoon, and heroin residue were discovered near the body. It was theorised that he had taken too much of the nearly 80%-pure heroin to shoot up the third dose himself. After his recent overdose, he should have been unconscious all night.
A few days after Vicious' cremation, his mother found a suicide note in the pocket of his jacket:
We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye.
Nancy was buried in a Jewish cemetery and Vicious, who was not Jewish, could not be buried with her. According to the book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain, Vicious' mother scattered his ashes over Nancy's grave.