From the Archives: Who Killed Nancy? (2009)

5 Mar

The death of Nancy Spungen – the drug addict, part-time prostitute girlfriend of Sex Pistol’s bassist Sid Vicious – will always be a much debated footnote in the history of punk. The assumption (and indeed the conclusion of a much-maligned investigation by the N.Y.P.D.) was that she was murdered by a heroin-addled Sid, who predictably had no recollection of how Spungen ended up stabbed to death in their dilapidated hotel room bathroom. Sid’s untimely death a mere four months later meant a trial never happened and the police closed the case believing Spungen’s murderer to have met his own sort of justice. Predictably, speculation over what really happened in room 100 of the Hotel Chelsea on the night of Oct. 11, 1978 has been rife ever since: Did Sid really murder his girlfriend – was he even physically capable of such an act – or was it the result of a bungled robbery? It is this uncertainty that Sid Vicious biographer Alan G. Parker attempts to unravel with this frustrating examination of the events leading up to Spungen’s murder.

Parker’s approach is fairly conventional, peppering his tale with archive press cuttings and police reports, as well as numerous firsthand interviews from most of the major protagonists of the punk era, including former Sex Pistol bassist Glen Matlock and punk groupie Helen Killer. While there is little doubt that Parker has exhaustively researched his subject and attempts to adopt an authoritative tone, his film comes across as severely lacking any semblance of investigative nous. It is evident from the outset that Parker’s overriding aim is to vindicate his hero for the murder (at the apparent behest of Sid’s mother’s suicide note), which detracts from the (often spurious) evidence as every comment comes across as loaded.

Spungen is discredited as “bad news,” a junkie super fan who was widely disliked on the punk scene.  Parker goes out of his way to portray her as a troublemaker who effectively derailed Sid’s burgeoning career by introducing him to heroin which inevitably led to the break up of the Sex Pistols. In addition, Sid’s mother is criticized for being too “bohemian” and too lenient with Sid. And while Parker does touch upon some darker aspects of Sid’s character (a fight with Paul Weller and a disturbing tale of Sid torturing a cat are relayed), he also tries to legitimize this side of his character which essentially negates his role as an impartial and authoritative investigative documentarian.

That is not to say that “Who Killed Nancy?” is without merit. Parker raises some interesting issues regarding the night of Spungen’s death, particularly the insinuation that Sid was unconscious on Tuinal (a powerful barbiturate) at the time and thus wouldn’t have been capable of perpetrating the murder. In addition, numerous witnesses who visited room 100 that evening refer to the possibility that Spungen’s death may have been the result of a robbery by an opportunist drug dealer (police discovered six sets of fingerprints in room 100). One interviewee, punk guitarist Steve Dior, even goes so far as to implicate a shady character named Michael as the likely killer. Infuriatingly, Parker fails to follows up these leads, seemingly content to have absolved Sid of any blame. So transparent is  Parker’s sole motivation for his film that a more pertinent title may have been “Who Killed Nancy: Because It Wasn’t Sid Vicious?”

(originally featured at on 24/01/09)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: