On October 12, 1978, 20-year-old Nancy Spungen died of a knife wound to the stomach. Just a few months later her 21-year-old boyfriend Sid passed away from what is widely believed to have been an intentional heroin overdose while awaiting a trial for Nancy’s murder.
Already notorious for their bad behavior, their deaths propelled them into a myth of a couple, a punk rock Romeo and Juliet. The Sex Pistols were a bit of a marketing scheme: an attempt to capitalize on the thriving young anger of the 1970s punk scene. When I look at photos of Sid and Nancy, I think Sid has that bad boy look that a lot of misguided girls go for, but it’s Nancy I’m drawn to, both her style and her pathos.
A parent’s memoir isn’t always the most trustworthy source of information for a person, but it is a special kind of zoomed-in lens. A mother sees the child in a way no one else can and can’t help but paint the story with raw and myopic emotion. Nancy’s mom Deborah’s book And I Don’t Want to Live This Life doesn’t hold back with these emotional filters, trying to sort through all the love and hate she had for her difficult child. That’s often the truth about families: they can exist in a dizzying tension of positive and negative feelings, of maddening confusion and ambivalence. Nancy isn’t the only kid in the world with behavioral issues that far exceed any help psychologists, doctors, schools, and other authorities can give, and though her case is an outlier, she represents a very real group. Some people have much more trouble just existing in their own skin than other people. Some people are born with brains that seem to be fighting against them.
According to Nancy’s mom, many her difficulties may have stemmed from trauma at birth: the umbilical cord wrapped around her head and deprived her of oxygen for a short period of time. After the doctors rescued her from cyanosis, (turning blue from lack of oxygen,) she was jaundiced. She seemed to have developed no cognitive problems from these early traumas, but her mother still believes this experience must have affected her somehow. Nancy had two younger siblings who seemed normal in their behaviors and emotions according to their mother, but they had to put up with abuse from the volatile Nancy.
A video interview with Deborah:
According to her mother, the truth about Sid and Nancy was that while on the surface they seemed like they were living a junky Rock-n-Roll fantasy, they were as miserable and desperate and close to death as human beings could get. They had a sliver of a used-up dream, and seemed delusional about how they could make a career out of the shambles of the Sex Pistols experience. Nancy had been a difficult child all her life, and her mother believed that she had lived with a tremendous amount of emotional pain that was never alleviated. Sid and Nancy related to each other, mistaking self-destruction for the deepest kind of love.
Shortly before Nancy died, Sid wrote this list of reasons why he loved Nancy so much:
“I worshipped Nancy. It was far more than just love. To me she was a goddess. No one ever loved the way we did, and to spend even a day aawy from her, let alone a whole lifetime, is too painful to even think about. Oh Debbie, I never knew what pain was until this happened. Nancy was my whole life. I lived for her. Now I must die for her,” Sid wrote Nancy’s mother Deborah Spungen.
Their relationship was sensationalized in the headlines, but they were just a couple of sick kids who had no idea how to take care of themselves. “Sid and Nancy as a couple were going down the toilet, and everybody could see it,” says Television guitarist Richard Lloyd. “To hang out with Nancy and Sid was to make a grievous mistake for your own health. I took lethal doses of everything known. You couldn’t call the kettle black. Mine was jaw-droppingly black. But I’m still here. They’re not.”
Although Nancy’s mother believes her daughter someone persuaded Sid to kill her in order to fulfill a death with, many people, including his manager, don’t believe that Sid killed Nancy that night. Malcolm McLaren, the guy who created the Sex Pistols and managed the band has said that it couldn’t have been him that stabbed Nancy unless it was a “botched double suicide.”
He wrote in The Daily Beast:
No! I don’t believe Sid killed Nancy. She was his first and only love of his life. As everyone knows, you may argue with your first (he lost his virginity to Nancy), sometimes might want to beat their brains in, leave them, move on, and be with others—but you never get over them. No. Sid was the sucker. The stupid, clumsy fool that night at the Chelsea Hotel. He passed out on the bed, having taken fistfuls of Tuinal. All around him, drug dealers, friends of Nancy came and went from Room 100. Money was stolen and Sid’s knife (similar to that of 007’s) was taken from the wall where it was hung and seemingly used by someone defending themselves in a struggle with Nancy. Nancy was no pushover. I tried having her kidnapped in London and put on a plane back to New York. Probably, she caught this person stealing money from the bedroom drawer.
A 2010 film Who Killed Nancy? has a similar, but more specific story. It posits that a man named “Michael” had been in Nancy and Sid’s hotel room the night she died, and possibly killed Nancy while Sid was asleep/zonked out on drugs so he could take the stash of cash the couple reportedly kept with them in the room.
According to TV show The Final 24, Sid’s mom confessed to helping Sid overdose on heroin to journalist Alan Parker. In his pocket was a suicide note requesting to be buried next to Nancy. When his mother Anne Beverly asked Nancy’s mother to let that happen, she refused, but Anne reportedly found out where Nancy was buried, and sprinkled her son’s ashes on top anyway.
Sid’s suicide note:
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