Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Punk Rock Romeo and Juliet: Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen

The Downward Spiral

Max's Kansas City, outside bar
Max's Kansas City, outside bar

Nancy, who declared herself Sid's new manager, got him a few gigs at Max's Kansas City, a popular Manhattan rock club. The gigs generated some cash, but the dates were a disaster. Fans flocked to see the famous former Sex Pistol, but what they got was a strung-out junkie who more often than not could barely stand up. According to David Dalton in his book El Sid: Saint Vicious, Nancy frequently had to "yank him back up onto his feet." His set list included an excruciating version of the Frank Sinatra hit, "My Way," which was included on a live recording released by Virgin. As Malcolm Butt writes in his book Sid Vicious: Rock'n'Roll Star, Vicious looked like a "pensioner" at Max's Kansas City and was "merely going through the motions." For her part, Nancy did her best to antagonize the press and alienate anyone who tried to help them.

Book cover: El Sid: Saint Vicious
Book cover: El Sid: Saint

The couple made an effort to kick their habits by signing up at the Spring Street Methadone Clinic, but it was a sour experience for Vicious, who suffered frequent beatings from other addicts. His smart mouth and recent fame didn't help matters, making him a target for abuse. Eventually he and Nancy started taking methadone in addition to their other recreational drugs.

A worsening kidney ailment exacerbated Nancy's foul moods and temper tantrums, and Sid was at the end of his rope. When they could summon the strength, they took to beating one another, though she seemed to carry more scars than he did — mainly bruises and cigarette burns.

After not seeing her parents for some time, Nancy decided to pay them a visit with her famous boyfriend. Sid and Nancy traveled from New York to suburban Philadelphia to stay with Deborah and Frank Spungen. It was an awkward visit for the Spungens, who treaded lightly around the punk couple, but Vicious stayed on good behavior as Nancy uncharacteristically gushed over how good it was to be home. Deborah Spungen found her daughter's boyfriend surprisingly "subdued."

Book cover: Sid Vicious: Rock 'n' Roll Star
Book cover: Sid Vicious:
Rock 'n' Roll Star

"My initial impression was that he simply wasn't very bright," she writes in her book. Nevertheless, Sid's comments did raise a few eyebrows. His reaction to the Spungens' aluminum-sided suburban home: "It's a fucking palace." His opinion of steak and corn served on the patio: "The best fuckin' food I ever ate." The visit ended without major incident, but Deborah felt that the Nancy she hugged goodbye wasn't her daughter anymore. "I felt as if I were holding a stranger."

Sid and Nancy took the train back to New York where scoring drugs had become their major preoccupation. As their physical conditions deteriorated, so did their relationship. The beatings increased. At one point Sid bashed her in the jaw with a guitar, leaving a large bruise. It wasn't the first time he had used his guitar to beat her, an unidentified friend of the couple told the New York Post's Deborah Orin. But Nancy laughed it off in a phone conversation with her mother. As long as she was high, she felt no pain, but she failed to recognize the seriousness of such abuse.

Vicious now felt more vulnerable than ever. Though he already owned a collection of knives, he felt the need to have a larger weapon to protect himself from the street people who picked on him. Nancy bought him one. On Wednesday, October 11, 1978, Nancy purchased a five-inch folding hunting knife with a jaguar carved into the handle at a Times Square knife shop and gave it to Sid as a gift.

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