Our Music Coordinator Jade writes about the untimely death of Sid Vicious and his struggles with mental health.
Sid Vicious (Photo: Chicago Art Department)
Saturday February 3rd 1979: The death of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious hit front page news, following a heroin overdose in the early hours of Friday morning.
To some, the sad passing of the 21-year-old bassist didn’t come as much of a surprise. Many suspected Sid’s lifestyle would eventually catch up with him, and he had recently attempted to end his own life following the suspicious death of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (age 20), in which he was a suspect.
Fans mourned the loss of the punk icon, whose death popularised the unhealthy term ‘life fast, die young’, but to those who knew Sid personally, his untimely death would leave a lasting impact.
Friend and bandmate Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) is still haunted by the tragedy over 40 years later and, to this day, still lives with guilt around Sid’s death. In 2014, Lydon admitted: “I feel bad that I brought him into the band, he couldn’t cope at all. I feel a bit responsible for his death.”
Lydon, like many others, felt the music industry had played a part in his turbulent lifestyle and ultimately his destruction. Although Sid was infamous for his behaviour on and off stage, often living up to the name ‘Vicious’, many that knew him well described him as a gentle person, and a very fragile, troubled young man.
Sid had a difficult childhood. He was brought up by his mother, who suffered with addiction and expressed very little interest in her son’s life, throwing him out on the streets aged 16. Sid was assigned a counsellor at college, but still suffered with suicidal thoughts.
Arguably exploited by the music industry and media, as well as his own manager Malcom McLaren, Sid Vicious became the poster boy of punk, where drug taking, violence and notorious behaviour was encouraged.
Some people celebrated Sid’s lifestyle as the ultimate ‘punk rebellion’, while others used him as a scapegoat to villainise the punk movement. However, nearly all turned a blind eye to the true issues that lay behind Sid’s drug use, risky lifestyle, and even public self-harming. For reasons unclear, people failed to act on the red flags surrounding Sid's behaviour.
Whichever way you look at it, Sid Vicious was very much a musician in a crisis, but he was not the first, and he unfortunately won’t be the last.
By talking about and continuing to remember the stories of musicians like Sid, we are reminded why mental health awareness is so important, and why support for musicians struggling with poor mental health and addiction has a much-needed place in the music industry.