He could not play a note but he was as foul-mouthed and audacious as singer Johnny Rotten – John Lydon, now of I’m A Celebrity… fame – often stripping down to his underpants to reveal a skinny torso scarred by self-inflicted knife wounds.
As well as his punk rocker persona – he will be forever remembered for his turbulent romance with girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Nancy reportedly bought drugs to meet musicians and became a heroin addict, funding her habit at one time by working as a prostitute.
Later, she moved to England ‘specifically to get a Sex Pistol for a boyfriend’, recalled a friend. Other contemporaries she came to the UK to chase after Heartbreakers Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, who had left New York.
Sid Vicious, born John Ritchie, was a fixture of the King’s Road punk scene who had been brought in earlier that year to replace original Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock.
The couple moved in together in London and Nancy reportedly introduced her boyfriend to heroin. She joined the Sex Pistols on their US tour the following year.
The band collapsed at the end of the tour and Sid returned to London with Nancy to attempt a solo career.
By the end of August 1978, they returned to New York to start a new life, but overdoses were taking their toll and they were still dependent on drugs.
They moved into the Chelsea Hotel, which had once been a Mecca for writers and artists – Dylan Thomas, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan had all once lived there – but by the late 1970s, was little more than a sprawling drugs den populated by users.
On October 12, 1978, Nancy was found dead in the bathroom of Room 100 of the Chelsea Hotel, a trail of blood leading to the bed she shared with Vicious, who had bought a hunting knife a few days earlier.
Witnesses who were at a party in their room the evening before say Vicious was out for the count, thanks to a heavy dose of barbiturates.
Some theories say she could have been killed by a visitor in a squabble over drugs or money.
It was Vicious himself who phoned police to say he had found her dead body, and an hour later, in a holding cell at the Third Homicide Division, Vicious famously confessed: ‘I did it because I’m a dirty dog.’
The police, it seemed, had their man. But Vicious was later to retract his confession, claiming he could not recall anything about the night Nancy had died.
Nevertheless he was remanded in custody, but his manager, the colourful Malcolm McLaren, hired a top New York lawyer called James Merberg to win him bail.
Within days, Vicious was free on a $50,000 licence which had been put up by his record label boss, Richard Branson.
A little more than a month later, however, Sid was back inside the maximum security Riker’s Island jail after glassing a man in a fight in a New York club. He spent nearly two months behind bars in the prison’s detox wing before he was again released on bail.
By then, Vicious had a new girlfriend, a would-be actress called Michelle Robson. On the day of his release – February 1, 1979 – Vicious, his mother Anne Beverley and a few friends went back to Robson’s apartment for a celebration meal.
After eating spaghetti bolognese, Vicious asked his mother – herself a hopeless addict – to find him some drugs.
Unknown to Vicious, this batch of heroin was more than 95 per cent pure and nearly three times stronger than most of the heroin sold on the streets of New York. After taking it, Sid collapsed.
He was revived by his girlfriend and mother, but they decided not to call an ambulance because they feared he would be thrown back in jail for breaking his bail conditions. It was to prove a fatal mistake.
Later that night, alone in the bedroom, he injected more of the powerful heroin. The following morning, he was found dead.
Whether or not Vicious killed Nancy is unlikely to ever be resolved with any certainty, but in her memoir, Deborah Spungen suggests her daughter’s boyfriend wasn’t to blame.