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Lydon was chosen by Malcolm McLaren to front the Sex Pistols on the basis of his image. Lydon was hanging around McLaren's clothes shop Sex (co-owned with designer Vivienne Westwood) in 1975 after McLaren had returned from a stint of travelling with the outrageous proto-punk band The New York Dolls and was hatching plans for world domination. Lydon was apparently wearing a Pink Floyd T-Shirt with the words 'I Hate' scrawled in felt-tip pen above their name when offered the job. He was always an unlikely candidate to be involved in someone else's media scam though, being at all times un-cooperative, touchy and supremely self-confident.
His interest in dub music and his post-Sex Pistols work with PiL and artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and Leftfield showed him to be far more musically sophisticated than his Pistols persona suggested. Indeed, Malcolm McLaren was said to have been quite upset when Lydon revealed during a radio interview that his influences included Can, Captain Beefheart and Van Der Graaf Generator. Such acts were not in keeping with the 'punk' image McLaren wished to see projected.
Today Lydon is a freelance counter-culture journalist in Los Angeles and has reported from events such as the Seattle Riots.
In January 2004, Lydon appeared on British reality television programme I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, which took place in Australia. He proved he still had the capability to shock by calling the show's viewers "fucking cunts" during a live broadcast. The television regulator and ITV, the channel broadcasting the show, between them received 91 complaints about Lydon's use of bad language.
In an interview previous to the show's first episode, he had described it as "moronic", and throughout the show's run he had displayed an indifferent attitude to staying and threatened to walk out on numerous occasions. 30 hours following ex football star Neil Ruddock's departure, Lydon left the show for unclear reasons.
British newspapers claimed that Lydon had won a £100 bet with Ruddock over who would stay in the longest. Lydon, however, stated on air that he felt he would win outright and that it would be unfair to the other celebrities for him to win. He also loudly proclaimed dislike for a fellow competitor, British glamour model Jordan, though it is unclear whether this was any more than pure theatre or contributed to his leaving the show.
In a February 2004 interview with the Scottish Sunday Mirror Lydon said that he and his wife "should be dead", since on December 21, 1988—thanks to delays caused by his wife's packing—they missed the doomed Pan Am Flight 103. It was the "appalling" refusal of the programme makers to let him know whether his wife had arrived safely in Australia that led to him to leave the show, he said.