May 10, 1957 - February 2, 1979: Age 21
Born John Simon Ritchie, he was one of the best known artists of the punk rock movement. He began playing music publicly in 1976 with The Flowers of Romance, along with Keith Levene (who later co-founded both The Clash and Public Image Limited). John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) of the Sex Pistols asked him to join the band in 1977.
The band brought punk into mainstream consciousness. For one thing, they were canny; Lydon and their manager, Malcolm McLaren, were both extremely sensitive to the Zeitgeist of the day and knew just what buttons to push to ensure maximum public reaction. At the time, popular music had reached an apogee of self-indulgent, commercial crappiness, young people were frustrated (as usual) by the lies being told them and wanted something truly new. Punk rock was it. It was new, it was real, raw, very creative, and it delivered a satisfyingly profound shock to the previous generation.
Six months later Ritchie met an American named Nancy Spungen, a groupie who introduced him to a heroin habit. Their relationship was passionate, violent, and not particularly healthy for either of them, and Ritchie deteriorated a lot during their 1978 tour of America. The band broke up in San Francisco, and Ritchie embarked on a solo career. He was very successful because he had an amazing attitude: he raised not giving a shit to high art. He never did learn to play the bass properly.
In October 1978 he and Spungen were staying at the Chelsea Hotel in New York (already famous for so many deaths, including Dylan Thomas). He woke up to find her dead on the bathroom floor, with a single stab wound in her abdomen. She had bled to death. He was arrested and charged with murder, although he had no memory of doing it. His mother posted bail for him and plans were in place for him to record an album to raise money for his defence.
During his time in prison he had cleared his system of drugs, but once bailed out he obtained some heroin from his mother (who was a dealer). He overdosed and, despite being revived once by his girlfriend, died at about 10am the morning of February 2, 1979. Lab tests revealed that the heroin was 80% pure, rather than the more usual 5% of the day.
According to Lydon: "Poor Sid. The only way he could live up to what he wanted everyone to believe about him was to die. That was tragic, but more for Sid than anyone else. He really bought his public image."
Here are the Sex Pistols performing Pretty Vacant on YouTube. Enjoy!
And just for fun, check out the top 100 hits of 1977 here. This is what the record companies were pushing down our throats, what was playing everywhere in cars, in malls, on the telly. It's enough to make you want to go throw up on an old lady.