January 26, 2022

Sex, drugs and cold case, the short story of Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious

Nancy Spungen died of a stab wound to the stomach on October 12, 1978 in a room at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. But her life certainly changed a few months earlier, when she decided to leave New York to fly to London.

That day, she is at the bottom of the hole. The 18-year-old is already lost in the heroine, makes ends meet by prostituting herself in Times Square, and has all the difficulties in the world to find the love that would perhaps save her from precocious decay. Desperate, she telephones her friend, Philippe Marcadé: “I’m calling you to say goodbye, Philippe, I just cut my veins.”

This young French punk who arrived in the Big Apple in 1972, a musician thirsty for experience, recounts the phone call in his incredible autobiography, Beyond Avenue D. He runs to Nancy, lands with a bang in his apartment located on the 23e rue and notices the wounds her friend inflicted on herself. He calms her down, rolls her a joint and consoles her.

Drugs are rotting Nancy Spungen’s life. So, Philippe Marcadé suggests that he leave New York and the temptation, to go to Paris, for example, to go green. Not speaking French, Nancy rejects the idea. “And in England? launches Philippe. They speak English in England … You just have to go to London. It’s nice, London … ” It will do the trick, Nancy Spungen flies to the English capital. The most important decision of his short life.

Lost in the city

Born in 1958 in Philadelphia into a middle-class Jewish family, Nancy was a rowdy kid. Violent, even. A rebel from birth, as if predestined to toast her life like a cigarette, out of step. As a teenager, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, managed despite the pitfalls to enter the University of Colorado, but left her studies after a handful of weeks. Direction New York in 1974, a labyrinthine city submerged by the emerging punk wave, but also by the heroin epidemic which is about to take away a crowd of lost souls. Including Nancy, who was then only 17 years old.

Attracted by music, she manages to befriend a flock of promising young musicians. The punks may cultivate their trash and nihilistic image, these young men are like the majority of their peers attracted by pretty dressed and sophisticated girls. Nancy Spungen is none of that, she clashes. She speaks quickly, loudly, places “fucking” between each word, lands in conversations like a truck launched at full speed. She scares guys, doesn’t just make friends. But it has a joker card: quickly integrated into the dark environment of the Times Square district, it has the possibility of supplying groups with drugs of all kinds and knows how to make itself indispensable in this area. The New York punk movement adopted it, as did prostitution. She assumes it.

It was in 1975 that she met Philippe Marcadé during a concert of The Heartbreakers at Mother’s. They become friends, evolve in the same circle of friends and musicians. Philippe is one of those who, in the midst of the claimed decadence, still have their feet on the ground.

Nancy is from the other category, of those who rub against everything that burns. Until not being able any more, until cutting the veins then leaving New York for England and starting a new life. And, it must be admitted, with the objective of conquering the heart of Jerry Nolan, drummer of the Heartbreakers. The group are due to spend a few days in London on tour with English punk stars, the Sex Pistols. But things will take a different turn.

Le Chelsea Hotel, what else?

A few days later, Philippe Marcadé, who remained in New York, received another phone call from London. It is again Nancy who, this time, seems in heaven, excited to have certainly found love in the person of Sid Vicious, the brand new bassist of the Sex Pistols. Exit Jerry Nolan, then. It’s 1977, Sid is a year older than her. They fall in love, become inseparable, almost dependent on each other. Especially since Nancy quickly introduces him to heroine, from which she absolutely did not drop out. The Sex Pistols go on tour in Scandinavia and return to play in England during the summer.

Gradually, Nancy’s influence on Sid becomes toxic. The other members of the group, however far from being choirboys, take a dim view of this destructive union which terribly harms the relations between the musicians. In rock, there is a sexist, false, and yet widespread image: music is a men’s business; as soon as the women put their two cents in, recess is over. But this time, Nancy’s arrival in the entourage of the Sex Pistols sounds like the beginning of an end that will come too quickly.

The group released their first and only album, Never Mind The Bollocks, in October 1977. The American tour which follows is catastrophic and sees the singer Johnny Rotten bend the saplings. The end of the group is recorded in January 1978. But Sid and Nancy, them, remain indeed united in the love and the high.

In August, they move to New York, to the Chelsea Hotel, a bohemian epicenter having seen Henry Miller, Leonard Cohen, William Burroughs, Edith Piaf and Jimi Hendrix. Over the weeks, their room becomes a dope factory, a place of passage for depraved and junkies too happy to rub shoulders with one of the most famous names in the punk movement and the most famous of its groupies.

Confessions, retraction and reassurance

On the afternoon of October 11, 1978, Sid Vicious went out to New York and bought a Jaguar K-11 knife with a blade measuring 13 centimeters. Once back at the hotel, and as night falls, he puts on a gigantic dose of Tuinal, a barbiturate which, taken in such quantities, often becomes lethal. He sinks, unconscious. Nancy, she stays awake. At 2:30 a.m., she calls Rockets Redglare, who occasionally hires out her bodyguard services from Sid Vicious. He is also, and above all, his dealer. At 7:30 a.m., an occupant of the Chelsea Hotel hears a woman moaning in Sid and Nancy’s room. At 10:30 am, after emerging from his semi-coma, Sid Vicious calls the front desk, asking for help: Nancy is dead, stabbed in the stomach. She drained her blood in the bathroom, he has no memory of last night. The police arrive and arrest Sid.

In shock, memory and mind blurred, the musician confesses the murder with a hint. But retracts very quickly. He was still imprisoned and then released after the payment of a deposit of 25,000 dollars paid by his label, Virgin Records. In the New York punk scene, no one really believes in their guilt. The suspicions are more on Rockets Redglare, who admitted to being passed to the hotel to sell in Nancy not less than forty tablets of Dilaudid, a derivative of morphine. Moreover, he allegedly confessed, a few weeks later, to having killed Nancy and robbed the couple’s room while Sid was in the doldrums. Some witnesses see it as a confession, others as an additional opportunity to rub shoulders with this very reliable junkie.

For a while, the suicide trail is even mentioned. But how can you believe that Nancy had the need, the will and the guts to stick a knife in her stomach, to do hara-kiri when she had enough medicine at her disposal to kill three healthy people? The police investigation therefore focuses on the guilt of Sid Vicious who, ten days after his release from prison and consumed by the loss of his only love, makes a suicide attempt. He survives it.

Always pursued by the heroine and the feeling of guilt, he still finds comfort in the arms of Michelle Robinson, his new companion. But after beating up singer Patti Smith’s brother Todd Smith with a broken bottle in December at a party, he returned to Rikers Island prison and stayed there for fifty-five days. A new deposit is paid by Virgin and some friends, the legal fees are covered by fellow musicians, including Mick Jagger.

Sad funeral

To celebrate her second outing from behind bars, her friends are throwing a surprise party at Michelle Robinson’s apartment on 1is February 1979. Sid was then just 21 years old.

During his stay in the shade, he followed a drug rehabilitation program. It should be noted that a large part of fatal overdoses occur when drug addicts seem to be climbing the slope. When they are partially unaccustomed and they relapse, they often resume their habits of junkies and inject the same doses as before their detoxification. Their body having lost its habit in the meantime, the effects are multiplied and often cause serious accidents. This is exactly what happens to Sid Vicious at this party. He died in his sleep on February 2, 1979 after a hell of a binge. The last.

With her death, the investigation into Nancy’s murder also seems to come to an end. Many observers, actors of the punk scene or friends of the couple, convinced of the innocence of Sid Vicious, still regret today that the track Rockets Redglare, whose presence in the room the night of the crime is proven, did not have not been further investigated by the police.

To this day, Nancy’s death remains unexplained. Redglare embraced a modest career as an actor and stand-upper. He can be seen, among other things, playing poker in a stunning scene. Stranger Than Paradise, directed by Jim Jarmusch and released in theaters in 1984. The man with the cigarette, the black vest and the glasses, it is him.

Before his failed suicide attempt, Sid Vicious had expressed a wish to be buried alongside Nancy. But it rests in a Jewish cemetery in Pennsylvania, in which the remains of Sid, a non-Jew, have not been admitted. It is therefore in New Jersey that he is buried, far from his relatives, many funeral directors who refused to ensure his funeral because of his sulphurous reputation.

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In Sid and Nancy’s story, there is no happy ending. Only two wasted lives and one mystery, enough to create a punk myth and a destructive archetype.