Flashback: Nancy Spungen Found Dead at Chelsea Hotel

Flashback: Nancy Spungen Found Dead at Chelsea Hotel
From Rolling Stone - October 12, 2017

In 1975, a 17-year-old Philly girl named Nancy Spungen dropped out of the University of Colorado and moved to New York City. She pushed her way in with the emerging punk crowdmeeting seminal rockers like Johnny Thunders and Cheetah Chrome. Spungen quickly established herself in the punk scene as a new kind of groupie, as punk journalist Legs McNeil told New YorkMagazinein 2008and she embodied the nastiest parts of the scene. "We were tired of being nice. It was like,f**k you," McNeil said. "The left... invented that political-correctness stuff. Punk was supposed to piss off everybody and make people think."

Though most found Spungen abrasive, one person did not seem to mind her crass exterior: Sid Vicious, the bassist for the Sex Pistols. The two met in London in 1977 and quickly became an item. The couple rattled around the U.K. and the United Statesfirst with the Pistols and then, when the band broke up, just the two of them on their own.

And then, on October 12th, 1978, 20-year-old Spungen bled to death on the bathroom floor of a room in the Chelsea Hotel in New York. Months later, while awaiting trial for her murder, Vicious died from an overdose. For many, it was the end of an era.

"She brought drugs for the bands"
Born in the Philadelphia suburbs in 1958 to a middle-class family, her mother Deborah Spungen described Nancy as a difficult child. In a memoir written after her daughter's death, And I Do not Want To Live This Life: A Mother's Story Of Her Daughter's Murder, Deborah describes Nancy's physical assaults, screaming tantrums and bullying her siblings.

At 11, Spungen was expelled from school and sent to a boarding school in Connecticut for children with special needs, from where she graduated at age 16, according to She also spent time in a mental institution and was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teen, according to New York. Spungen attended the University of Colorado briefly before dropping out to go to New York City.

She arrived right as the punk movement was blowing upand the heroin epidemic in New York City was white-hot. "She was blatantly honest about it: She brought drugs for the bands," photographer Eileen Polk, who knew Spungen, told New York magazine. "In order to be a groupie you had to be tall and skinny and have fashionable clothes.... And then here comes Nancy. She's not trying to be cute or charming. She was not telling people she was a model or a dancer. She had mousy brown hair and she was a bit overweight. She basically said 'Yeah, I am a prostitute and I do not care.'"

In 1977, Spungen followed Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the Heartbreakers to London. It was there that she met John Simon Ritchie, better known as Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious.

"Deep down [Sid] was a shy person"
The Sex Pistols initiallyformed in 1972, but it was not until 1975when their manager, Malcolm McLaren, found John Lydon, changed his name to Johnny Rotten and stuck him in the bandthat the Pistols really took off. The following year they were signed to EMI.

In late 1976, they broke into the mainstream with their caustic hit, "Anarchy in the U.K." A few months later, bassist Glen Matlock left the band after "clashing" with Johnny Rotten. So in February of 1977, John Ritchie, one of the group's earlier fans, took the stage name Sid Vicious and joined the banddespite not knowing how to play the bass.

Vicious' mother was a heroin addict, according to Rotten, and Sid seemed drawn to stronger personalities. "Deep down he was a shy person," wrote Dennis Morris in Never Mind The Bollocks: A Photographic History of the Sex Pistols, as reported by People. "I think he was frightened of the audiences."

Once Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious met, they were inseparable. "Nancy...taught Sid all about sex and drugs and the lifestyle of a New York rocker," wrote Malcolm McLaren on The Daily Beast in 2009.But the other members of the Sex Pistols hated Spungena woman viewed by even people who liked her as domineering and combative. Their contempt ran so so deep that they banned her from their 1978 tour, according to New York.

As the Heartbreakers tour manager LeeeChilders said of Nancy in Legs McNeil's seminalPlease Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, "[S]he was a junkie, a drug supplier and an all-around lowlife.She was a very, very, very, very, very, very bad influence on people who were already a mess. She was a troublemaker and a stirrer-upper."

Sid Vicious was one of those people who was already a mess. Even the Sex Pistols' official website acknowledges Vicious' drug addiction hindered band, interrupting their 1978 tour that was already riddled with "in-fighting." Spungen had fueled their mutual addictionsincluding, it would seem, to each other. As the Sex Pistols' tour manager Nils Stevenson told People, Sid began to "dislike everythingexcept heroin and Nancy." After a last performance in January 1978 in San Francisco, the Sex Pistols broke up.


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