The Tragic Ends of Sid & Nancy
Nancy Spungen’s infamous death at New York’s Chelsea Hotel and Sid Vicious heroin overdose
On the morning of October 12, 1978, Nancy Spungen, the twenty-year-old girlfriend of former Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, was found dead in a blood-stained bathroom in their room at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan, New York. She had suffered a single stab wound to her abdomen and appeared to have bled to death. The pair had been living in Room 100 for about a month and a half when a desk clerk at the hotel received a call from a man saying “There’s trouble in Room 100.” When a hotel employee entered Room 100, Spungen’s blood-smeared, scantily clad, body was found face-up on the bathroom floor, her head under the sink. Her black bra and panties were soaked with blood from a knife wound in her lower abdomen. Vicious had risen to notoriety after joining the Sex Pistols in 1977, replacing the punk band’s original bass player. He first met the American Spungen when she visited England as part of the entourage following former New York Doll Johnny Thunders’ new band, Heartbreakers, during their 1977 tour. The two quickly became a couple. Following the breakup of the Sex Pistols at the beginning of 1978, the pair had been living in New York City. The same day Vicious (real name John Simon Ritchie) 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 never meant to kill her,” then saying that he did not remember and at one point saying “She must have fallen on the knife.” Vicious was obviously under the influence of drugs. Police searched the hotel room and found drugs and drug paraphernalia as well as a blood-stained folding knife with a five-inch blade with a black jaguar carved into the handle. That knife had been previously purchased by Vicious on 42nd Street. Ten days after Spungen’s death, Vicious attempted suicide by slitting his wrist with a smashed light bulb. He was hospitalized at Bellevue Hospital, where he also tried to kill himself by jumping from a window shouting, “I want to be with my Nancy” or other similar words, but was pulled back by hospital staff. In a November 1978 interview, he said that Spungen’s death was “meant to happen” and that “Nancy always said she’d die before she was 21.” Near the end of the interview, he was asked if he was having fun. In reply, he asked the interviewer if he was kidding, adding that he would like to be “under the ground.” At Bellevue, he was visited by his lawyer James Merberg, who did everything he could to keep Vicious out of jail. Vicious was arrested on 9 December 1978 for attacking Todd Smith, singer Patti Smith’s brother, at a Skafish concert at Hurrah, a New York dance club and sent to Rikers Island metro jail for 55 days to undergo a painful and enforced detoxification. Through the efforts of his criminal defense attorney, Sid Vicious was able to gain his release from jail by convincing the judge to allow a reasonable bond pending the outcome of the criminal charges in the murder case. On the evening of 1 February 1979, a small group of friends gathered to celebrate Vicious having made bail at a friend’s Manhattan apartment at 63 Bank St. in New York City. Vicious had his friend, English photographer Peter Kodick, deliver him some heroin. He had apparently spent hours during the party looking toward the future, planning an album he would record to get his life and career back on track should he be acquitted. Vicious overdosed later that night and was discovered dead by his mother, Anne Beverley early the next morning. The NYPD closed the case against him, and never pursued any other action regarding Spungen’s death. Filmmaker Alan Parker challenged the idea that Vicious murdered his girlfriend in the 2009 movie “Who Killed Nancy?” He paints a less-than-flattering picture of Spungen, a notorious hanger-on and drug addict who had made plenty of enemies in her short life. Howie Pyro, who was a close friend of Vicious said in the documentary that he felt Spungen killed herself and Vicious was innocent. “To me, she just did it herself because that’s what people like that do, like teenagers who cut themselves,” Pyro said that he thought Spungen was desperate for attention and stabbed herself, thinking Sid would come to her rescue, but that he was too intoxicated to do so.
By Ken Warren, 2017-18
Watch the trailer for the Alan Parker 2009 documentary “Who Killed Nancy”
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