John Joseph Lydon, better known as Johnny Rotten, was the lead singer of the punk rock band the Sex Pistols from 1975 to 1978. He was the co-author of iconic punk singles such as Anarchy in the U.K. and God Save the Queen, and his group were one of the most influential in the history of pop music, scandalising the media and much of society. In recent years he has been called a “national treasure” – to his horror.
from Coma to shop sex
A nervous child, at age seven he contracted spinal meningitis, and spent seven months in a coma. He lost his memory for four years and did not recognise his parents. The meningitis gave him his famous, intimidating ‘Lydon stare’. The original members of the Sex Pistols — Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook and Glen Matlock (later replaced by Sid Vicious) — were customers in Vivienne Westwood’s fetish clothing shop SEX in London. Impresario Malcolm McLaren, Westwood’s boyfriend, formed them into the group and chose Rotten as the lead singer.
Electrifying the Public
The Sex Pistols released their first single, Anarchy in the U.K., in November 1976. Their second, the anti-royalist God Save the Queen, followed in May 1977. Five months later came their first and only LP, Never Mind the Bollocks. Here’s the Sex Pistols. The raw, unsophisticated playing and aggressive lyrics electrified the public and shocked the establishment. The Sex Pistols lasted less than three years, but they would prove to be one of the most culturally influential bands in popular music. In a society based on deference and formality, they sparked a revolution in music, helping to introduce punk to a mass public. Rotten became a cult figure for the young, and his hostile, sarcastic singing led one journalist to describe him as “the biggest threat to our youth since Hitler.”
End of the Sex Pistols
Facing incredible pressure from the media, and government bans limiting their concerts, the Sex Pistols split up in January 1978. Rotten then formed the post-punk group Public Image Ltd., which is still active. Now officially a celebrity, he appeared on the reality TV programme I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! in 2004 (calling the viewers “fucking cunts” during one episode) and in ads for butter in 2008. He has also made wildlife documentaries.
According to one critic, Johnny Rotten was “one of the most incendiary rock singers ever to walk the earth.” As the leader of the Sex Pistols, he became the representative for rebellious youth, while at the same time helping to shape the future landscape of pop music. In one of the strangest tributes ever paid to a musician, a journalist described Rotten as “an inspiration to the musically ungifted, a walking advertisement for three-chord success.”
There are two versions of how John Lydon got his stage name of Johnny Rotten. One version dates back to the early 1970s, when his lack of interest in oral hygiene led to his teeth turning green and people started calling him Rotten as a result. A second version is more specific but also relates to his terrible teeth. When the Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones first met Lydon, he took one look at his teeth and exclaimed, “You’re rotten, you are!”. Whatever the truth, in 2008 Lydon spent $22,000 on extensive dental work in Los Angeles.