What happened to the members of the Sex Pistols?
28 October 2023, 08:00 | Updated: 14 November 2023, 12:25
The punk pioneers were the subject of a recent biopic by Danny Boyle but what were the reasons for them breaking up in January 1978? And what happened next?
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Sex Pistols were one of the most influential British bands of all time. Their confrontational music took classic garage rock and dressed it up with socially-relevant lyrics and a lo-fi style. Their brief and brilliant career was the subject of a 2022 biopic by Trainspotting man Danny Boyle - PISTOL.
Watch the official trailer for Pistol
They imploded spectacularly in January of 1978, resulting in bitter comments from frontman Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon, and a major court case between the singer and controversial manager Malcolm McLaren.
After achieving notoriety in the UK across the summer of 1977, McLaren decided to launch the Pistols to the American public by sending them off on a tour that led them around some of decidedly “non-punk” parts of the country.
The Pistols were to kick off in Pennsylvania just after Christmas ’77, taking in Chicago and Cleveland before heading South to Atlanta, Memphis and San Antonio, Texas.
This was a calculated ploy for two reasons: firstly, McLaren wanted to avoid the glare of publicity that would have surrounded a showcase in New York or Los Angeles.
Secondly, the prospect of sending a group of uncultured, uncouth, weird-looking young Londoners into the land of cowboys, rodeos and racial tension was irresistible to the manager, who was always on the lookout for a controversial angle.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything.
Sex Pistols At Randy's Rodeo-New York-Sid Hits Guy With Bass.
US authorities didn’t want to give the hell-raising anarchists work permits at first, so initial dates for the tour were cancelled, meaning the tour started on 5th January 1978 at the Great Southeast Music Hall in Atlanta, Georgia. The seven remaining dates were to climax with a show at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland Ballroom, home of the hippy music scene of the 60s.
The dates involved the band and crew travelling across the United States in a bus in the middle of winter. Singer Johnny Rotten contracted the flu. Bassist Sid Vicious was struggling with a serious heroin addiction and there was plenty of temptation on the road. Tension was high and violence was never far away. Everyone hated each other.
Rotten's resentment of McLaren only intensified after he was told of the band’s plans after the tour finished in San Francisco on 14th January. They were due to travel to Rio de Janeiro to make a record with "Great Train Robber" Ronnie Biggs.
For Rotten, isolated from his bandmates, alienated from his friend Vicious and treated as a commodity by his manager, it was the last straw. The idea was tacky and tasteless.
The singer knew that the Winterland Ballroom was the end of the road. The Pistols encored with a cover of the Stooges’ classic No Fun and ended with Rotten mocking the audience, laughing: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
What did the Sex Pistols play at their final show with Sid Vicious?
Sex Pistols live at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, 14th January 1978
- God Save The Queen
- I Wanna Be Me
- New York
- Belsen Was A Gas
- Holidays In The Sun
- No Feelings
- Pretty Vacant
- Anarchy In The UK
- Encore: No Fun (cover of the Stooges song)
The Sex Pistols - No Fun - 1/14/1978 - Winterland (Official)
He later wrote in his autobiography: “It was a ridiculous farce. The whole thing was a joke at that point.”
Now completely disillusioned with McLaren and with drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones siding with the boss, Rotten had only one option: he jumped ship. He managed to scrape together enough money to fly to New York, where he announced the Sex Pistols had split.
This was news to Malcolm McLaren, who was in Rio jollying it up with Cook and Jones and Ronnie Biggs. Sid Vicious had disappeared, winding up in hospital in New York in a very bad condition.
Public Image Limited - Public Image (Official Video)
What happened to John Lydon after the Sex Pistols?
Rotten now reverted to his real name John Lydon and was thrown a lifeline by Richard Branson, the head of the band’s label, Virgin. Brandon flew Lydon to Jamaica to schmooze the singer and introduce him to some of his favourite reggae stars.
Lydon formed the more experimental Public Image Ltd. This was “post-punk” and the band’s first single, Public Image, was a rant by Lydon against his former manager: “You never listen to word that I said / You only seen me for the clothes that I wear"
PiL released eight albums between 1978 and 1992: Public Image (First Issue, 1978); Metal Box (1979); The Flowers Of Romance (1981); This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get (1984); Album (1986); Happy? (1987); 9 (1989) and That What Is Not (1992).
After Public Image went on hiatus, Lydon tried a solo career, appeared on Leftfield's 1995 track Open Up and then did the unthinkable: he appeared with the reunited Sex Pistols for a series of shows in 1996, featuring original bassist Glen Matlock - for a reunion.
The high-profile "Filthy Lucre" tour saw the original line-up get back together at London's Finsbury Park, and there was a further reunion for the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002. Their last outing was a series of festival shows in 2008, including one last date at London's Hammersmith Apollo.
After the Pistols reunion petered out, Lydon reformed Public Image in 2009 and the band have performed together ever since, with 2023 seeing PiL unsuccessfully compete to represent Ireland in Eurovision.
Alongside Lydon's career as a TV personality, he also had a brief attempt at acting, starring alongside Harvey Keitel in the 1983 movie Copkiller and appearing in 2000's The Independent.
What happened to Sid Vicious after the Sex Pistols?
After shooting the famous "My Way" scene for the Pistols movie The Great Rock And Roll Swindle, Vicious - real name John Simon Ritchie - made a bid for solo stardom under the watchful eye of his manager/partner Nancy Spungen.
After performing several shows at the New York club Max's Kansas City, Sid and Nancy slid into the depths of the NYC drug scene. On 11th October 1978, Nancy was found dead at their room at the Chelsea Hotel, having been stabbed with a hunting knife. Sid was arrested for the crime, although the bassist's account of the evening was confused.
On 2nd February 1979, having just been released from rehab as part of his bail conditions, Vicious died from an accidental heroin overdose. He was 21 years old.
What happened to Steve Jones after the Sex Pistols?
After working on the film The Great Rock And Roll Swindle, both guitarist Jones and drummer Paul Cook turned against Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who had been using their money to finance the movie. The duo then formed a short-lived band called The Professionals, but Jones went on to become a guest guitarist with many different artists, including Siouxsie & The Banshees, Adam Ant, Billy Idol, Thin Lizzy and even Bob Dylan. Jones also formed a band with Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum of Guns N'Roses in 1996 called Neurotic Outsiders.
In 2004, the musician began a successful career in radio with the show Jonesy's Jukebox, and has spent much of the past 20 years hosting shows in the US and UK.
2023 saw Jones collaborate with fellow Pistol Paul Cook on the band Generation Sex, which also featured Billy Idol and Tony James from Generation X. The supergroup played a number of shows across the summer, including a spot at Glastonbury.
What happened to Paul Cook after the Sex Pistols?
Cook and Jones were responsible for some of the Pistols tracks on the Great Rock And Roll Swindle film soundtrack - the drummer sang vocals on Silly Thing on the album.
After a couple of years in The Professionals, Cook worked with the group Bananarama and produced their debut single Aie a Mwana. Between 1984 and 1989, Cook was in the band Chiefs Of Relief with former Adam And The Ants and Bow Wow Wow musician Matthew Ashman. In the 90s, Cook worked with Edwyn Collins, playing on his hit A Girl Like You, and Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen.
After the Sex Pistols reunion came and went, Paul Cook joined another veteran punk act Subway Sect, and briefly reformed The Professionals, minus Steve Jones. Jones and Cook are currently in the punk supergroup Generation Sex (see above).
What happened to Glen Matlock after the Sex Pistols?
After Matlock left the Sex Pistols in February 1977, he formed the band Rich Kids with future Ultravox star Midge Ure. The bassist played in the bands The Spectres, Hot Club, The Philistines, The Flying Padovanis, Slinky Vagabond, The International Swingers plus the punk supergroup Dead Men Walking.
Matlock has also made guest appearances with Primal Scream, Blondie, The Faces, Iggy Pop and The Damned, plus he was, of course, part of the reunited Sex Pistols on their Filthy Lucre tour and beyond.
2023 saw Matlock release his seventh album with The Philistines, titled Consequences Coming, which he claimed concerned Brexit, the Trump Presidency and beyond.
What happened to manager Malcolm McLaren after the Sex Pistols?
After losing control of the Great Rock And Roll Swindle film in 1979, McLaren walked away from the band. He tried his hand at managing other artists - he controversially split Adam And The Ants to form Bow Wow Wow, but Adam Ant went on to greater success without McLaren. He also unsuccessfully tried to launch Boy George's career before the Culture Club days.
After his management career floundered, McLaren reinvented himself as a musician, forging a successful solo career with hits like Buffalo Girls (an early example of hip hop scratching skills to make the UK charts), Double Dutch (which introduced the skipping craze to the UK) and a reinterpretation of the opera Madame Butterfly, which made the Top 20 in 1984.
After a high profile court case which saw the members of the Sex Pistols regain the rights to the band name and music, McLaren concentrated on TV and film work, which included the Channel 4 show The Ghosts Of Oxford Street (1991) and would curate the occasional fashion and art exhibition.
Malcolm McLaren died on 8th April 2010 from the cancer peritoneal mesotheliom. He was 64.
Now it seems like the Sex Pistols are finally over for good - a lawsuit between Lydon and the rest of the band over the use of the Pistols' music in the new Danny Boyle biopic seems to have laid the pioneering punk outfit to rest.