Today is the 65th birthday of Nancy Spungen. The tragic ending to her short life has been the inspiration for every form of art, including conspiracy theories. The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.
NAME: Nancy Spungen
FULL NAME: Nancy Laura Spungen
DATE OF BIRTH: 27-Feb-1958
PLACE OF BIRTH: Philadelphia, PA
DATE OF DEATH: 12-Oct-1978
PLACE OF DEATH: New York City
CAUSE OF DEATH: Murder
REMAINS: Buried, King David Cemetery, Bensalem, PA
FATHER: Frank Spungen (d. 2-Jul-2010)
MOTHER: Deborah Spungen (b. 1937)
SISTER: Suzy (b. 1959)
BROTHER: David (b. 1961)
BOYFRIEND: Sid Vicious (dated 1977-78, until her murder)
HIGH SCHOOL: Devereux Manor High School, Berwyn, PA (1974)
UNIVERSITY: University of Colorado at Boulder (dropped out)
BEST KNOWN FOR: American girlfriend of Sid Vicious, bassist for the English punk rock band the Sex Pistols, and a figure of the 1970s punk rock scene.
Nancy Spungen was born on February 27, 1958, in Philadelphia, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital to Franklin “Frank” (1934-2010) and Deborah Spungen (born 1937). She was born with severe cyanosis and nearly died of oxygen deprivation after being choked by her umbilical cord during delivery. Spungen appeared to have suffered no brain damage and was released from the hospital eight days after birth. The Spungens were a middle-class Jewish family that resided in Lower Moreland Township, a suburb of Philadelphia. Spungen’s father was a traveling salesman and her mother later owned an organic food store called The Earth Shop in nearby Jenkintown.
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. In an interview, Deborah Spungen stated, “I know it’s normal for babies to scream, but Nancy did nothing but scream.” Though she excelled academically, she had few friends during her elementary school years.
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, Spungen was expelled from public school when she was absent from class more than two weeks. Weary of her erratic behavior, her parents enrolled her at Devereux Glenholme School in Connecticut and at Devereux Manor High School in 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. Spungen’s father traveled to Boulder and accepted a plea bargain for her, which resulted in her being banished from the state of Colorado.
Spungen left home at 17 and moved to New York City, where she worked as a stripper and sex worker. She followed bands such as Aerosmith, Bad Company, The New York Dolls, and the Ramones. In 1977, Spungen moved to London, possibly to win over Jerry Nolan of the Dolls and The Heartbreakers, but met the Sex Pistols instead. Because of this meeting, Spungen pursued bassist Sid Vicious, and the couple soon moved in together.
During a tumultuous nineteenth-month relationship, Spungen and Vicious (who was 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’ real name.
Over the next few months, Vicious and Spungen spiraled into deeper drug abuse. On October 12, 1978, Spungen’s body was found under the sink in the bathroom of their room at the Hotel Chelsea. Spungen had suffered a single fatal stab wound to the abdomen. Vicious reportedly owned the knife that made the wound. A “007” hunting knife he had obtained after seeing Dee Dee Ramone give one to The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators, was long rumored to be the murder weapon, but the NYPD police report notes the knife being a Jaguar Wilderness 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.
Spungen was buried in the King David Memorial Park in Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania.
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 to the press, but often “confessed” to the murder within his circle of friends, to mixed reaction. Friends like Zoe Hansen took Redglare at his word, but others like Howie Pyro have cast doubt on Rockets’ alleged claims, insisting he enjoyed telling exaggerated stories for attention. Rockets also told the press that he believed a drug dealer he had seen in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel on the morning of Nancy’s murder had actually committed the crime, and not Vicious.
“Horror Business”, a 1979 song by the American punk rock band Misfits, is commonly said to have been inspired by Spungen’s murder 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’ girlfriend Michelle Robinson the night that Vicious died.
Spungen’s mother Deborah wrote the memoir And I Don’t Want to Live This Life (1983). Its title is taken from a poem Vicious wrote.
The British biopic Sid and Nancy (1986), 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.