One of the most infamous punk-rock groupies, 20-year-old Nancy Spungen was found fatally stabbed at the Chelsea Hotel in 1978. Was her boyfriend Sid Vicious to blame?
In the early hours of October 12, 1978, residents of the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan heard sounds coming from the room of Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious. Given the wild clientele at the hotel in the ’70s, screams, moans, and cries were hardly unusual. These cries, however, were out of the ordinary, which the hotel’s residents would realize the next morning when the corpse of Nancy Spungen was rolled out of the hotel in a body bag.
Before her untimely demise at age 20, Nancy Spungen was a pretty girl from Philadelphia who had moved to New York City a few years prior. She was widely known as a groupie and a hardcore partier in the punk music scene.
“She was blatantly honest about it: She bought drugs for the bands,” said photographer Eileen Polk, who knew Spungen in the 1970s.
As Polk remembered, “In order to be a groupie, you had to be tall and skinny and have fashionable clothes… And then here comes Nancy. She’s not trying to be cute or charming. She wasn’t telling people she was a model or a dancer. She had mousy brown hair and she was a bit overweight. She basically said, ‘Yeah, I’m a prostitute and I don’t care.'”
Eventually, Nancy Spungen’s paths crossed with Sid Vicious. She then shared a tumultuous relationship with the punk rocker in the months leading up to her violent death — which some believe Vicious was responsible for.
How The Tumultuous Relationship Between Nancy Spungen And Sid Vicious Began
Born on February 27, 1958, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Nancy Spungen was known for being abrasive at an early age. As a child, she was expelled from school and later diagnosed with schizophrenia. But despite her mental health problems, she eventually graduated from a boarding school and even pursued higher education. But after briefly attending college in Colorado, she decided that schooling wasn’t for her and moved to New York at age 17.
In the Big Apple, Spungen soon made a name for herself as a groupie. Most of her fellow groupies were turned off by her crass exterior. But she didn’t seem to care. Spungen followed Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan of the Heartbreakers around New York and eventually to London. There, she began following around a newer band known as the Sex Pistols, taking an interest in their bassist John Simon Ritchie — better known as Sid Vicious.
Unlike the rest of the Sex Pistols band members — who were so opposed to Spungen that they actually banned her from their tour — Sid Vicious found the groupie’s abrasive attitude captivating. When the two met in 1976, he instantly took a liking to her despite her infamous reputation as a junkie and a troublemaker. From then on, the couple was inseparable.
“Nancy… taught Sid all about sex and drugs and the lifestyle of a New York rocker,” Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren recalled.
Though, truly, Vicious needed little education.
Even before meeting Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious was a “mess.” The band wasn’t shy about the fact that Vicious’ issues with drug addiction had hindered the group and interrupted several of their gigs. And his intense relationship with Spungen, if anything, exacerbated his problems. Eventually, in January of 1978, the Sex Pistols broke up, citing Vicious’ drug addiction and his relationship with Spungen as a couple of the main reasons.
A Downward Spiral At The Chelsea Hotel
In August 1978, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen moved into the Chelsea Hotel. This hotel was famous among artists and musicians. Figures like Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Iggy Pop, and Jimi Hendrix had all called it home at one point, along with painters like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol.
According to New York Magazine, the hotel was the couple’s hideaway for two months. It was a place for them to get high and escape from the world, which they did for days and sometimes even weeks at a time. Friends of the couple were worried, fearing that their drug addictions would eventually get the best of them. Then, in the early hours of October 12, 1978, they did.
On the night of October 11th, several of Vicious’ friends were in the couple’s hotel room and watched the bassist take copious amounts of drugs.
“Several visitors to the room saw Sid take as many as 30 tablets of Tuinal — a far larger dose of the barbiturate than most of us could survive, and one certain to put nearly anyone into a deep state of unconsciousness for hours, and he remained comatose for through the morning’s early hours,” wrote author Sherill Tippins in her award-winning book Inside the Dream Palace: The Life and Times of New York’s Legendary Chelsea Hotel.
Then, around 2:30 the next morning, Spungen asked Rockets Redglare, a bodyguard/drug dealer for Vicious, for Dilaudid, an opioid painkiller.
The Horrific Death Of Nancy Spungen
At about 7:30 that morning, hotel residents and guests heard “female moans” coming from the couple’s room. Then, a couple of hours later, at 10 a.m., Vicious called the front desk, asking the hotel staff for help.
Staff members arrived to find 20-year-old Nancy Spungen dead and half-naked on the bathroom floor. She had been brutally stabbed in the stomach with a knife and had apparently bled to death. And it didn’t take long for Sid Vicious to be arrested and charged with Spungen’s murder.
Several sources initially reported that Vicious had confessed to the crime, which was why the police hadn’t suspected anyone else. According to the Daily Mail, Vicious even reportedly said, “I did it because I’m a dirty dog,” while he was in a holding cell at the Third Homicide Division.
But soon afterward, Sid Vicious recanted his confession, claiming that he had been asleep while the murder had occurred. He also said that he couldn’t remember anything that happened that night. Though police were skeptical, Vicious’ friends and family members believed him.
“She was his first and only love of his life,” McLaren said, insisting that Vicious wasn’t responsible. “I am positive about Sid’s innocence.”
Either way, Vicious didn’t remain in jail for long. He was soon out on bail, and despite encountering more legal trouble after a fight with a man at a New York club, he was released on bail yet again thanks to help from his lawyer.
It was never confirmed whether Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungen. Shortly after his last release from jail, he was found dead of a heroin overdose in his new girlfriend’s apartment on February 2, 1979. The night before, he had been partying with his girlfriend, his mother, and a few of his friends. Though Vicious was no stranger to heroin, this batch was unusually powerful, leading to his demise. Like Spungen, Vicious had died young, at age 21.
With Vicious dead, the police dropped Nancy Spungen’s murder case. Their prime suspect was gone, and to them, it appeared pointless to pursue the case any further. However, Vicious’ friends and relatives — and other theorists — remain convinced that he did not kill Spungen.
In the years since Nancy Spungen’s death, several theories have floated around. Some believe that Vicious’ bodyguard/drug dealer was the murderer. Others think that Spungen’s death was part of a botched double suicide. One musician who was with Vicious on the night that he overdosed even suggested that Spungen had stabbed herself in an attempt to get Vicious’ attention so that he would “rescue” her, only to succumb to her wound.
To this day, the case remains officially unsolved, a mysterious scandal that shows just how dark and tragic the life of a young groupie can be.
After learning about Nancy Spungen and her tumultuous romance with Sid Vicious, read the stories of other groupies, like Sable Starr and Lori Maddox.