© Bob Gruen

The incredulous John Lydon has really done something tons of people are too scared to try their whole lives– face their fears. He jumped onstage as a young man knowing he may fail. He wasn’t a trained musician, just a lower class thug with a penchant for enlisting shock and horror on the conservatives and shaking up the ABBA loving population.

-Amy Haben


John Lydon got his nickname, (Johnny Rotten) from his mouth full of yellow and black tombstones he called teeth by bandmate Steve Jones. As they were always looking for a laugh and he had the British sensibility of mocking oneself with ease, Lydon kept the nickname. Sid Vicious was also named after Lydon’s hamster which is slightly fitting as John Simon Richie was a fun loving, goofball before he became addicted to heroin.

John contracted meningitis at the tender age of seven, which kept him in the hospital for a year. Slipping in and out of a coma, young Lydon was defiled by a large syringe puncturing his back. Nurses were extracting fluid from his spine, leaving him with a hunch back, memory loss and permanent eye problems. Giving him a rough start and establishing his jaded outlook on life, but also strengthening his character.


Sex Pistols & Johnny Rotten & Steve Jones Photo: Bob Gruen
Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones with friends. Photo: Bob Gruen

John Joseph Lydon was the child of Irish immigrants who struggled to pay the bills. His mother died of cancer in 1977, two years before Sid Vicious died. While Sid’s death was more predictable as a struggling heroin addict on trial for his girlfriend’s death, his mother was harder for John to take. Even in recent interviews, tears well up in John’s eyes when talking about her. 


“These days young kids don’t have any place to form an epic adventure. It’s more often in front of the screen or laptop. That’s very hard on them. They’re being bought daily unsocial skills. Facebook is an unsocial skill. It’s so sad.”   -John Lydon

Some said Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones supposedly snatched King’s Road garb to get the Marc Bolan look, and it is said Paul Cook knew the secret entrance to the Hammersmith Odeon. As David Bowie was performing as Ziggy Stardust, Paul and the gang supposedly snuck backstage and stole microphones, guitars and other gear. Ironically, barely being able to play the instruments.



Lydon’s wife, the German born Nora Forster, met him in the 80’s and they fell desperately in love. They have been together for 35 years. Their friends say they were made for each other. His key to marital success is communication about everything and laughing after any disagreements. In 1988, they nearly lost their lives together as they were booked on Pan Am’s flight 103 which exploded over Scotland. R&B group, The Four Tops were also booked for the flight but overslept, saving them from the terrorist bombing. This was possibly the only time Lydon thanked his wife for being perpetually late.


Photo: Ari Up of The Slits with John Lydon

“When you lose your memory at age seven it’s pretty disappointing. It took many years for it to come back properly, but that’s where my unwillingness to take a lie from anybody comes from. I so desperately depended on what adults were telling me between then and age 12.”   – John Lydon (Rolling Stone)

After the demise of the Sex Pistols, John felt free go off in another direction musically. Public Image Limited or P.I.L. became his saving grace. The baby that let his soul soar. The Pistols allowed him to travel, and made him realize he could actually write songs, but it was the training wheels of his musical journey. His father always urged him to write a hit song, but John doesn’t work like that.  He has to be true to himself and if he’s gonna sell out — he’ll admit it, like when he did The Filthy Lucre Tour with The Sex Pistols in the late nineties. I was a ridiculously excited teen during that tour, never thinking I would actually get to see them. I danced through whole set at The Hollywood Palladium.

When asked by Piers Morgan recently how he would like to be remembered, John replied, “I don’t know if I want a grave or any of that or a tombstone. I think the best and most decent thing I could do would be to donate my body to….   well anyone who wants a spare part…   I wouldn’t recommend you buy the penis!”

“I don’t believe in anarchy, because it will ultimately amount to the power of the bully, with weapons. Gandhi is my life’s inspiration: passive resistance. I don’t want to live in the Thunderdome  with Mad Max.
-John Lydon

Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious on the Sex Pistols U.S. tour. Photo: Bob Gruen
Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious on the Sex Pistols U.S. tour. Photo: Bob Gruen


The Malibu, Californian resident, who says he cried when he received his American citizenship, feels more like a Californian than a Brit (which is funny to me since he seems to have such a New York personality).  A friend of mine walked up to Lydon at a bar and said, “Hey I hear you’re an asshole.” Lydon grabbed him around his shoulder with a grin and offered to buy him a drink!

“It’s unfortunate because this is how I genuinely am, open and friendly,” he says. “I see no reason to be any other way. Unless I’m insulted, and then it’s going to be both barrels of the word gun.”

John Lydon on fans expectations of his Rotten persona. (Chicago Tribune)