Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark, 1976
Nancy Laura Spungen
February 27, 1958
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Died||October 12, 1978 (aged 20)|
New York City, New York, U.S.
|Cause of death||Stab wound|
Nancy Laura Spungen (//; February 27, 1958 – October 12, 1978) was the American girlfriend of English Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and a figure of the 1970s punk rock scene. Spungen's life and death have been the subject of controversy among music historians and fans of the Sex Pistols.
Raised as Jewish in Philadelphia, Spungen was an emotionally disturbed child who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15. After being expelled from college, she went to London at the height of the punk rock craze and became involved with Sid Vicious. Their relationship was punctuated by bouts of domestic violence and drug abuse. The press soon labelled Spungen "Nauseating Nancy" for her shocking behavior. After the Sex Pistols disbanded, the couple moved to New York City and checked into the Hotel Chelsea where they spent their time consuming drugs.
In October 1978, Spungen was found dead in the bathroom of the couple's room, of a single stab wound to the abdomen. Sid Vicious was charged with her murder but died of a heroin overdose while on bail in February 1979, before the case went to trial. Various authors and filmmakers have speculated about Vicious's role in Spungen's death and the possibility that Spungen was killed by a drug dealer who frequently visited their room.
Nancy Laura Spungen was born on Thursday, February 27, 1958 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital[page needed] to Franklin "Frank" and Deborah Spungen. She was born with severe cyanosis and nearly died of oxygen deprivation after being choked by her umbilical cord during delivery. She appeared to have suffered no brain damage and was released from the hospital eight days after birth.[page needed] The Spungens were a middle-class Jewish family that resided in Lower Moreland Township, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her father was a traveling salesman and her mother later owned an organic food store called The Earth Shop in nearby Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.[page needed]
Young Nancy was a difficult baby, throwing crying fits and temper tantrums late into childhood. At three months old, she was prescribed a liquid barbiturate by a pediatrician, but her violent behavior persisted.[page needed] In an interview, Deborah Spungen stated, "I know it's normal for babies to scream, but Nancy did nothing but scream."
She scored "superior" on an intelligence quotient test at age five,[page needed] and was allowed to skip the third grade. Though she excelled academically, she had few friends during her elementary-school years.[page needed]
Spungen was a temperamental child who exhibited violent behavior toward her younger sister, Susan, but was very caring towards her younger brother, David. She allegedly threatened to kill a babysitter with scissors and attempted to batter her psychiatrist, who accused her of "acting out" for attention. At age 11, she was expelled from public school when she was absent from class more than two weeks.[page needed] Weary of her erratic behavior, her parents enrolled her at Devereux Glenholme School, Connecticut and Devereux Manor High School, Pennsylvania. In January 1972, she ran away from Devereux Manor and attempted suicide by slitting her wrists with scissors. When she was 15, her psychiatrist diagnosed her with schizophrenia.
Spungen graduated from Lakeside High School in April 1974, two weeks after her application to attend the University of Colorado Boulder was accepted. She began attending the university at 16, but five months into her freshman year she was arrested for purchasing marijuana from an undercover police officer. When she was later arrested for storing stolen property in her dorm room, the University of Colorado decided to expel her.[page needed] Her father traveled to Boulder and accepted a plea bargain for her, which resulted in her being banished from the state of Colorado.[page needed]
After being fired from her first job on the first day, she began financing herself by stealing from her family and dealing drugs.
Relationship with Sid Vicious
Spungen left home at 17 and moved to New York City, where she worked as a stripper and prostitute. She followed bands such as Aerosmith, Bad Company, The New York Dolls, and Ramones. In 1977, she moved to London, possibly to win over Jerry Nolan of the Dolls and The Heartbreakers, but met the Sex Pistols instead. When lead singer Johnny Rotten showed no interest in her, she pursued bassist Sid Vicious, and they soon moved in together.
During a tumultuous 19-month relationship, Spungen and Vicious (who was already abusing multiple drugs) became addicted to heroin and other drugs. The tabloids dubbed Spungen "Nauseating Nancy" for her frequent public displays of verbal abuse and violence. After the Sex Pistols broke up in January 1978, Spungen and Vicious moved to the Hotel Chelsea in New York City. They stayed in room 100, registered as "Mr. and Mrs. John Simon Ritchie", Vicious's real name.
Over the next few months, Vicious and Spungen spiraled into deeper drug abuse punctuated by domestic violence, with Vicious allegedly attacking Spungen. Their relationship ended violently on October 12, 1978 when Spungen's body was found under the sink in the bathroom of their room at Hotel Chelsea. Spungen had suffered a single fatal stab wound to the abdomen. Vicious reportedly owned the knife that made the wound. This was reportedly a "007" hunting knife he had obtained after seeing Dee Dee Ramone give one to The Dead Boys' Stiv Bators, although conflicting reports claim the knife was a Jaguar K-11 with a five-inch (13 cm) blade.
Vicious was immediately arrested and charged with second degree murder. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. Four months after Nancy's death, he died of a heroin overdose before the trial could take place and, consequently, the NYPD closed the case.
There are several theories that Spungen was murdered by someone other than Vicious, such as one of the two drug dealers who visited the apartment that night, and that a possible robbery was involved, as certain items (including a substantial bankroll) were claimed to be missing from the room. In his book Pretty Vacant: A History of Punk, Phil Strongman accuses actor and stand-up comic Rockets Redglare of killing Spungen; Redglare had delivered drugs to the couple's room at the Chelsea Hotel the night of Spungen's death.
Throughout his life, Redglare, who died in 2001, steadfastly denied any involvement in Spungen's murder. He stated that the other dealer, known to people as "Michael", had been there that evening and had left before him to obtain more heroin and was due back after he had left the building. He said[where?] he believed "Michael" returned, found Vicious out cold, and attempted to steal the remaining drugs, leading to a confrontation with Spungen. This was said in the HBO Film Who Killed Nancy.
In other media
"Horror Business", a 1979 song by the American punk rock band Misfits, is commonly said to have been inspired by Spungen's murder. This is because of the song's lyrics, which include lines such as "You don't go in the bathroom with me" and "I'll put a knife right in you", as well as because of connections between the Misfits and Vicious. Prior to Vicious's death, the Misfits were rumored to potentially back Vicious on his proposed debut solo album. Additionally, Misfits bassist Jerry Only attended a dinner gathering at the apartment of Vicious's girlfriend Michelle Robinson the night that Vicious died.
The 1986 British biopic Sid and Nancy, directed by Alex Cox, portrays the life of Vicious (played by Gary Oldman) and his relationship with Spungen (played by Chloe Webb). Critics praised Webb's performance as Spungen. In the film, Cox also put forth the theory that Spungen and Vicious had a suicide pact, but they got into an argument when Vicious reneged. The argument escalated when Spungen assaulted Vicious, who was trying to leave the apartment, and as portrayed in the film she was stabbed accidentally when she charged him while his knife was out.
Veronica Schanoes' story Rats appeared in the 2007 Interstitial Arts Foundation anthology Interfictions. The story is a punk rock fairytale inspired by Spungen's life. About her work, the author said: "I wrote Rats because I was angry with the way the recent coffee-table histories of punk seem to have no problem demonizing a dead, mentally ill, teenage girl."
Alan G. Parker directed the 2010 documentary film Who Killed Nancy?, which includes interviews with Vicious and Spungen's associates, including John Holmstrom, Don Letts, Glen Matlock, and Howie Pyro.
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