40 Years After Her Death, Why Sid and Nancy Are Punk's Anti-Romeo and Juliet
Many who knew the couple believe Sid Vicious was not capable of killing Nancy Spungen.
“What Charles Manson did for the ‘60s, Sid and Nancy did for the ‘70s.” — Legs McNeil, journalist and author of “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk”
On the morning of Oct. 12, 1978, 20-year-old Nancy Spungen was found stabbed to death inside Manhattan’s landmark Chelsea Hotel.
Police immediately turned their attention to her boyfriend, former Sex Pistols bassist and punk’s resident bad boy Sid Vicious. He was charged with Spungen’s murder but died of an overdose before he got a chance to go to trial and defend himself.
So what really happened between them? Forty years later, that night remains one of the punk scene’s greatest mysteries.
Sid Vicious was born John Simon Ritchie in London in 1957 to single mom Ann Beverly.
A high school dropout, he found himself involved in London’s underground music scene at a young age. He was known for his beat-up motorcycle jackets, spiky hair and distinctive dog collar necklaces.
“Sid was an idiot,” author Legs McNeil, who coined the term "punk," told InsideEdition.com. “He looked great, though.”
In 1977, bassist Glen Matlock departed the Sex Pistols and the group’s manager, Malcolm McLaren, sought out Sid as Matlock’s replacement — despite the fact that he didn’t even know how to play the bass.
But with Sid on board, the band fully embraced what it meant to be punk, dressing in disheveled outfits, abandoning good hygiene, and causing general anarchy and chaos.
Soon after joining the Sex Pistols, Vicious met an American girl who would change the course of his life: Nancy Spungen.
Nancy was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1958. At 15, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia after slashing her wrists. When she was 16, she graduated from high school two years early and enrolled at the University of Colorado Boulder, but ended up getting expelled months later and returning home.
At 17, she left Philly for New York City, where she made a living as a stripper and sometimes sex worker. An avid groupie, she was a devotee of several popular bands of the era, including Aerosmith, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, the New York Dolls and the Ramones.
In 1977, Nancy traveled with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers to London, where she met Sid. It was a relationship fueled by sex and heavy drug use, and the two became inseparable.
“I think she kind of worn out her welcome in New York City. ... So, she went to England and she met Sid,” McNeil said.
In early 1978, the Pistols traveled to America with Nancy in tow for their first and only U.S. tour. After just eight gigs, they broke up following a concert in San Francisco.
Sid and Nancy briefly moved back to London but they eventually found their way to New York City, where the punk scene was flourishing thanks to venues like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.
“When she came back from England, they were full-blown junkies, so I didn't hang out with her too much. I'd see her, [ask,] ‘Hey, Nancy, how are you doing?’ We were friendly,” McNeil recalled.
Anarchy in the U.S.A.
In the late ‘70s, New York City was in financial freefall. Criminals reigned supreme and police, whose resources were stretched thin, struggled to keep the city from tumbling into total ruin amid the economic crisis.
“It's a time when the inmates ran the asylum,” actor and screenwriter Victor Colicchio told InsideEdition.com. “There were no boundaries, no laws, no rules…. It was just a total freedom and no inhibitions.”
“Everything in New York City then was about saying yes,” McNeil added. “Now, it’s about saying no.”
According to a 1977 report in The New York Times, 1,798 serious crimes or felonies were being committed every day in 1976, at a rate of 75 an hour, making the city’s crime rate six times higher than the national average.
“No one wanted to be here,” McNeil said.
No one was safe, save for those who thrived in the anarchy. It was in this New York that Sid and Nancy took up residence at the Chelsea Hotel, then a seedy den of iniquity.
Colicchio, who lived in the Chelsea, said he was friends with the notorious pair.
“No matter what was going on in Manhattan, going to the Chelsea was like going to Thanksgiving and seeing your family because people there were rejected by their families,” he said. “It was normal because of all the abnormal people there.”
The average rent inside the hotel ranged depending on what a tenant could pay. Those who could afford a bedroom with a bathroom were charged anywhere between $300 and $500 a month. Some of the rooms didn’t have a bathroom and guests had to share one in the hallway.
“It was created by a socialist to have an electric mix of economic classes and artistic people,” Sherill Tippins, author of “Inside the Dream Palace,” a history of the Chelsea, told InsideEdition.com. “The Chelsea was a microcosm of New York City at that time and fed off the culture. [The guests] were creating the culture and there was a feedback loop.”
Sid was a constant troublemaker for the hotel, so much so that then-owner Stanley Bard ended up moving him and Nancy to room 100, which was near his office and allowed him to keep an eye on them.
“Stanley didn’t like them being there, but they had the run of the place,” Tippins said. “People came to their room. They were a destination.”
Colicchio recalled how he once invited Sid to his room to hang out. He said the punk star ended up urinating off of the balcony, almost getting Colicchio thrown out of the hotel.
Sid’s hot-and-cold relationship with Nancy started spiraling into something darker, with Sid allegedly beating the 20-year-old on more than one occasion, reportedly with his own guitar at times.
“They were always causing drama,” said McNeil.
During their time at the Chelsea, Sid booked shows around Manhattan, attempting to carve out a solo career. While his gigs were critically panned, people lined up around the block to get a glimpse of the infamous former Sex Pistol.
“He was treated like a celebrity at Max’s and CBGB’s … because punk was a big thing at the time in New York City and he captured it, he was it. He lived it,” Colicchio said.
By the early fall of 1978, Vicious released a cover of Paul Anka’s “My Way,” to great acclaim, bringing in plenty of money for the couple.
“People said that they would walk behind them in Times Square because money would always be falling out of their pockets,” McNeil said. “They had big rolls of bills that didn’t fit in [their] pocket but it would fall out.”
Together, Sid and Nancy seemed destined to conquer the city.
On the morning of Oct. 12, 1978, everything changed.
Late the night before, Colicchio got a call from Nancy, who was looking for drugs, he said. So Colicchio, along with a female companion, went down to room 100. There, he saw Sid passed out on the bed and Nancy with a mystery man and a big bag of money.
Colicchio said he and his companion did not stay long, and they were not the only people in the room that evening. According to reports, many friends of the couple were in and out of room 100 the night of Oct. 11.
The next morning, Sid found Nancy bleeding to death in the bathroom, having been stabbed in the stomach with a knife.
That afternoon, Sid was arrested and charged with her murder.
“The first officer that reported the event said that [Sid] didn’t know what happened, he wasn’t there. He discovered the body at 10:30 [a.m.] He wished they would shoot or kill him,” Sid’s attorney James Merberg told InsideEdition.com.
Initial reports said that Sid confessed to the murder; however, his lawyer says that is inaccurate.
“He never said that 'I killed Nancy,’ at least initially; he made a lot of statements at different times,” he said. A police report Merberg still has in his possession that was viewed by InsideEdition.com states Sid did not confess to killing his girlfriend.
“He was pretty fragile. I think he was a young man who was not used to a lot of the things that he was doing — the fame he had, obviously being charged with murder is not a particularly rewarding type of thing to have suffered from.”
Tippins, the Chelsea expert, added: “Cops were quick to pin the murder on Sid because they were confused by the punk movement.”
For his part, Colicchio was stunned to hear the news. “When I woke up the next day and left, there were reporters and police,” he said. “I remember thinking that the guy was in the room knows I saw him, and that for all I know, he may be afraid that I'm going to go become a witness.”
He said he moved out of the Chelsea that day, afraid that the mystery man he’d seen with Nancy the previous night would come after him. He never reported the man to police.
The fingerprints of six people with police records were found in their room, but none ever were questioned, according to reports. The knife that killed Nancy was wiped clean and was lying on top of a suitcase, according to reports.
“They had some cash around. There certainly was a reason for people to come in that room. Sid, at one point, when he gave a statement thought that she was still alive and she had just been under the influence and he was just going out to get more drugs,” Merberg said.
Sid, who denied having anything to do with Nancy’s death, spent five days in jail before he was released on $50,000 bail, which was posted by his record label, Virgin Records.
Friends of Sid say women were all over him, even when he was with Nancy, who was fighting them off. After she died, he struggled to move on and started dating an actress as soon as he was released from jail.
The new woman, Michelle Robinson, looked much like Nancy, McNeil said.
No One Is Innocent
Nancy’s death completely changed people’s views of the punk scene.
“Punks became murderess, crazy people. ‘Yeah, look, they shoot dope and act like imbeciles and kill each other,’” McNeil said. “... If you had long hair and you were hitchhiking at that time, no one would pick you up. In like a week's time, they'll go from picking you up to, ‘Who wants to risk it?’ And who blames them? It was like punk suddenly became homicidal.”
The Spungen family came from Pennsylvania to identify their daughter’s body.
“Her parents were distraught,” former Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Schacter told InsideEdition.com. “They told me that their daughter had been a fan and somehow met him.”
Sid’s mother flew from England to New York City to be with her son, and according to McNeil, brought him drugs while he was in jail.
Once he got out on bail, Sid was unable to escape the public eye.
“There was media everywhere. Any place Sid went, anything to do with his case, any tangentially related was the subject to wide media coverage,” Merberg said. “It was absolutely unbearable; they were everywhere that Sid went.”
And Sid didn’t stay out of trouble for long. On Dec. 8, 1978, he was out at a bar when he got into a fight and landed himself back in jail. He was locked away on Rikers Island, where he managed to get clean.
On Feb. 1, 1979, Sid was released from jail after nearly two months locked away. His mother threw him a huge party at his girlfriend's West Village apartment, where dozens of friends and hangers-on came to visit.
The next afternoon, when Sid’s mother went to check on her son, she found him dead of an overdose. He was just 21.
“It was heartbreaking,” Merberg said. “I had just gone to New York to get him released on bail … I remember getting on the shuttle to Boston that night … I think they were already reporting that there was a problem with Sid Vicious. It wasn’t very long after I left him that day.”
Sid was the NYPD’s only suspect in Nancy’s death. After his death, the investigation was closed. Room 100 at the Chelsea was permanently closed afterward and was eventually split into small two rooms.
Nancy was buried inside King David Memorial Park in Bensalem, Pennsylvania. Sid was cremated, and some of his close friends sprinkled his ashes on Nancy’s grave.
In 1983, Nancy's mother, Deborah, wrote her daughter's biography, "And I Don't Want to Live This Life: A Mother's Story of Her Daughter's Murder." The book detailed how difficult it was to raise and discipline Nancy as a child before her schizophrenia diagnosis and the cross Deborah had to bear when her daughter left home.
"I was at work when I received the phone call from the New York City police that changed my life and that of my family forever. 'I'm sorry to tell you that your daughter is dead.' I had been expecting that phone call and those words for years," she wrote.
In the book, Deborah wrote she believes Sid did kill Nancy but she wonders how. "No one will ever know for sure what happened that night," she wrote.
To this day, many who knew Sid say there was no way he would have killed Nancy, whom he loved deeply, and say the real killer is still out there.
“It looked like an open-and-shut case, but there were a lot of doubts, and I never honestly felt that he would have did time, and that's why I felt bad,” Colicchio said. “The neighbor didn't hear an argument or anything.
“... If he would have killed her, the whole hotel would have heard it, because they did have some fights you can hear,” he added.
Others think Nancy plunged the knife into her own stomach in a bid for attention.
“I think she might have stabbed herself and [thought] Sid would have come to her rescue and Sid didn't get up. He was passed out,” McNeil said. “She was probably very, very high herself.”
With the way people were in and out of Sid and Nancy’s room, it’s even possible someone could have entered the room the night Nancy died and stabbed her while Sid was passed out. The amount of money they had lying around would have made them prime targets for robbery and the money Colicchio said he saw was never found.
Merberg, meanwhile, isn’t even sure Sid would have been physically able to stab Nancy.
“The other question was whether Sid was capable of committing the crime in the state that he was in,” Merberg added, saying he believes he could have gotten Sid acquitted.
Tippins, who has spoken to many people who lived inside the Chelsea Hotel at the time of Nancy’s death, said “no one thinks [Sid] did it.”
“He loved her, and that's what people have to remember,” Colicchio added. “You have to respect them, and they loved each other for whatever reasons, whatever they saw in each other.”
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