Vicious, whose stage name was allegedly named after his friend John Lydon's (aka Johny Rotten) pet hamster, was born in London. During his early years he moved with his mother to the Spanish island of Ibiza where she made a living from selling drugs, although they later moved back and again settled in London. The nickname was also important because his group of friends, including Johnny Rotten, were mostly named John and because of his often vicious personality.
Vicious was initially part of the Bromley Contingent, the group of followers and fans of the Sex Pistols that consituted the fashion avant garde of the early UK punk rock movement. He began his musical career as a member of The Flowers of Romance along with Keith Levine and Jah Wobble, who later went on to co-found John Lydon's post-Pistols project Public Image Limited. Shortly afterwards he was recruited to Siouxsie and the Banshees, playing drums at their notorious first gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival in London's Oxford Street.
Described as being "the ultimate Sex Pistols fan", Vicious joined the group after the departure of bass player Glen Matlock in February 1977. Legend has it that manager Malcolm McLaren wanted Vicious in the band because of his looks and punk attitude, it was said "If Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the look." This "punk persona" counted far more than any actual playing ability. In fact Vicious was notoriously inept musically, and according to Jon Savage's biography of the Sex Pistols, England's Dreaming, most of the bass parts on the band's later recordings were actually played by guitarist Steve Jones, and at live performances his amplifier was often switched off. Reportedly, Sid asked Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead to teach him to play bass. He said "I can't play bass" and Lemmy's reply was "I know". According to Lemmy, Sid Vicious was a hopeless student.
Although "deep down, a shy person", according to the band's photographer Dennis Morris, Vicious was renowned for his violent streak. At the aforementioned 100 Club punk festival, a glass was thrown which shattered against a pillar, causing a young girl to lose her sight in one eye. Vicious is widely believed to have been responsible, but this was never proven. At the same event he also assaulted NME journalist Nick Kent with a bicycle chain and on another occasion threatened BBC DJ and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris at a London nightclub.
In November 1977 Vicious met and soon after began a relationship with American Nancy Laura Spungen, who, legend has it, had come to London "to sleep with a Sex Pistol". Spungen was a heroin addict, and inevitably Vicious, who was already believing in his own "live fast, die young" mythology, came to share this dependence. Although deeply in love with each other, their often violent relationship had a disastrous effect on the Sex Pistols, with both the group and Vicious visibly deteriorating throughout the course of their 1978 American tour. Things finally came to a head at their concert at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco on January 14, when Johnny Rotten walked out of the band. Vicious also left shortly afterwards, and with Spungen acting as his 'manager', embarked upon a short and ignoble "solo career".
By this time Vicious and Spungen had become locked in their own world of drug addiction and self-destruction. Contemporary interview footage shows the couple attempting to answer questions from their bed: Spungen is barely coherent whilst Vicious lapses in and out of consciousness. Vicious also came very close to death following a heroin overdose, and was, for a while, hospitalised.
On the morning of 12th October 1978 Vicious awoke from a drug-induced stupour to find Spungen dead in their apartment at the Hotel Chelsea, Room 100 in New York. She had been killed by a single stab wound to her abdomen. Vicious was arrested and charged with her murder, although he claimed to have no memory at all of the previous night's incidents. Bail of $50,000 was put up by Virgin Records at the request of Malcolm McLaren, and in February 1979, a party was held at the home of his new girlfriend Michelle Robinson to celebrate his release. During his time at Rikers Island prison, Vicious had undergone drug rehabilitation therapy, and was supposedly "clean". However, at the party, he was able to obtain some heroin (supplied by his mother, Ann Beverley, herself an ex-addict), and was discovered dead the following morning, having taken a large overdose. Speculation has persisted that Vicious, unable to live without his beloved Nancy, took his own life. He wrote the following poem about her:
You were my little baby girl,
I knew all your fears.
Such joy to hold you in my arms
and kiss away your tears.
But now your gone, theres only pain
and nothing I can do.
And I don't want to live this life,
If I can't live for you.
After his death, his mother phoned Nancy's mother to request that Sid be buried next to Nancy, and she declined. So late at night, Sid's mother jumped the graveyard fence where Nancy was buried and scattered his ashes over his beloved for them to be together for all time.
Sid Sings, a solo album, was released posthumously by Virgin records. This was largely a collection of poorly recorded cover versions of rock-'n'-roll numbers such as "C'Mon Everybody" and "Something Else" by Eddie Cochran, and material by Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders, as well as a rendition of the Paul Anka / Frank Sinatra standard "My Way". Striking footage of Vicious' performance of this song provides the closing sequence of Julien Temple's film The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.
A fictionalised film account of the relationship between Vicious and Spungen, Sid and Nancy, was made by director Alex Cox in 1986.