Remember When: Sid Vicious’ Final Performance

Yes, Sid Vicious was the bassist of the Sex Pistols, but he was also a force of nature in his own right. That’s one reason it’s sad that his final concert—at Max’s Kansas City in New York in 1978 —was a disaster. Vicious was chaotic and erratic, though he was backed by New York Dolls and the Clash members, according to Lantern House Arts.

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During the September 29 concert, Vicious performed 10 songs. The following month, his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, was found stabbed to death at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. Four months later, in February 1979, Vicious died of a heroin overdose. Clearly, it was a sad ending to a raucous life and band.

Before the Max’s Kansas City gig, Vicious and the other Sex Pistols did a 1978 tour of 12 bars in the Deep South. Vicious’ heroin addiction and the alienation between lead vocalist Johnny Rotten and his bandmates were in full bloom. Not surprisingly, the audiences did not positively respond to the Sex Pistols, especially when Vicious called the crowd a “bunch of faggots,” according to Rolling Stone.

“In America, what fucked it up was that they treated us like rock stars,” guitarist Steve Jones said in Jon Savage’s punk-history book England Dreaming. “They didn’t know any different. They treat anyone who comes over the same way. At Winterland, I had a cold. Sid wasn’t playing a note, and he wasn’t even plugged in half the time. Me and [drummer Paul Cook] just wanted to play. I kept cutting out, strings breaking left, right and center.”

Amid what was deemed “absolutely atrocious” sound, Rotten’s voice gave out before he melted down on stage, dropped the mic and walking off. The group never performed together again.

Just before that concert, Vicious told biographer Savage: “I can’t drink, I can’t, like the doctor said if I drank anything even remotely like the way I’ve been drinking for the past however long, I’ve got six months at the absolute outside to live,” reported The Guardian.

He wasn’t far off.

Vicious was born Simon John Ritchie on May 10, 1957. He moved constantly throughout England with his mother until he was 16, when she threw him out. Vicious’ mother spent her life indulging her heroin and opiate addictions and paying little attention to her son. 

Vicious’s mother recalled to The Guardian that he had “a weird, brooding quality. He would loon about, he was very bright, but he had another side. He was very hurt, I now realize. Even then, he made me feel cautious. An hour or two of his company was enough.

“I sensed his dark side as early as 1975. He had a counselor at Kingsway; they had obviously identified him as a kid with problems. He’d already said that he was going to kill himself. The counselor had told him to bring a friend along, so we both went one day for a laugh.

“The counselor said: ‘John says he’s going to kill himself,’ and I said: ‘He might as well end it all.’ Sid nodded his head very gravely. The counselor was a very earnest Hampstead bloke, and he didn’t know what he was dealing with. His mouth was open. It was supposed to be fun, but as I came out, I thought: ‘Oh God.’”

Vicious learned the bass by listening to The Ramones and was compelled to hone his playing by the inspiration they provided. In February 1977, he replaced Glen Matlock as the Sex Pistols’ bassist. Not long after that pivotal change, he met and became deeply involved with Nancy Spungen.

During the tumultuous final Sex Pistols’ tour, Vicious, in a fit of rage, struck an unsuspecting audience member with his bass. In a seemingly desperate cry for help, he carved “Gimme a Fix” on his chest during a harrowing show in Dallas.

As his life spiraled, Vicious seemingly sunk further into an abyss of madness, culminating in the tragic stabbing death of Spungen at the iconic Chelsea Hotel. He was swiftly arrested, let out on bail, and attempted suicide. Soon after this episode, he violently attacked singer Patti Smith’s brother, was arrested again, and endured two harrowing months in Rikers Island jail. 

The final blow came when he overdosed on pure heroin the very night he was granted release.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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