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John Joseph Lydon (born 31 January 1956), also known as Johnny Rotten, is a British rock musician and lyricist, best known as the lead vocalist of the punk rock group Sex Pistols during the 1970s and 2000s, and also as the vocalist of  post punk group Public Image Ltd in the 1980s and 1990s.

Lydon became notorious in the media during the 1970s as a figurehead of the punk movement, and for his stance against the music establishment, class system and the British monarchy. He has since become a television personality, appearing on television shows in both the UK and elsewhere, and an interviewer remarked in 2005 that "somehow he's assumed the status of national treasure."


1956-1975: Early life

John Lydon was born in Londonmarker to Irish Catholic immigrants, his father from Tuammarker, County Galwaymarker, and his mother from Shanagarrymarker,County Corkmarker. He grew up on a council estate in Finsbury Parkmarker, North Londonmarker with three younger brothers. At the age of seven, he contracted spinal meningitis, putting him in and out of comas for half a year and erasing most of his memory. The disease left him with a permanent curve in his spine and also damaged his eyesight, resulting in his characteristic stare. He attended St. William of York School in Islingtonmarker, North Londonmarker, where his friends included David Crowe, Tony Purcell and John Gray. David Crowe went on to become involved with Public Image whilst John Gray became a school teacher and Tony Purcell went on to become a pioneer of the Internet industry in Scotland.

1975-1978: Sex Pistols and the Punk movement

In 1975, Lydon was among a group of youths who regularly hung around Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's fetish clothing shop SEX. McLaren had returned from a brief stint travelling with American proto-punk band the New York Dolls, and he was working on promoting a new band formed by Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook called Sex Pistols. McLaren was impressed with Lydon's ragged look and unique sense of style, particularly his orange hair and modified Pink Floyd T-shirt (with the band members' eyes scratched out and the words I Hate scrawled in felt-tip pen above the band's logo). After tunelessly singing Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" to the accompaniment of the shop's jukebox, Lydon was chosen as the band's frontman.

The origin of the stage name Johnny Rotten has had varying explanations. One, given in a Daily Telegraph feature interview with Lydon in 2007, was that "he was given the name in the mid '70s, when his neglect of oral hygiene saw his teeth turning green". Another story says the name was allegedly given to him by Steve Jones, after Jones saw his teeth and exclaimed "You're rotten, you are!"

In 1977, the band released "God Save the Queen" during the week of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. The song was a hit, but caused so much controversy that Lydon was attacked in the streets by an angry mob. They stabbed him in his left hand, his leg, and nearly gouged out his eye with a beer bottle. Since then, he has not been able to properly make a fist with his left hand.

Lydon was also interested in dub music. McLaren was said to have been upset when Lydon revealed during a radio interview that his influences included progressive experimentalists like Magma, Can, Captain Beefheart and Van der Graaf Generator.

Tensions between Lydon and bassist Glen Matlock arose. The reasons for this are disputed, but Lydon claimed in his autobiography that he believed Matlock to be too white-collar and middle-class and that Matlock was "always going on about nice things like the Beatles". Matlock stated in his own autobiography that most of the tension in the band, and between himself and Lydon, was orchestrated by McLaren. Matlock quit and as a replacement, Lydon recommended his school friend John Simon Ritchie. Although Ritchie was an incompetent musician, McLaren agreed that he had the look the band wanted: pale, emaciated, spike-haired, with ripped clothes and a perpetual sneer. Rotten dubbed him "Sid Vicious" as a joke, taking the name from his pet hamster, a finger-biting creature named Sid the Vicious. According to Kit and Morgan Benson's biography, Ritchie got his name after Sid the hamster bit him on his hand, and he exclaimed: "Sid is really vicious!"

Vicious' chaotic relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen, and his worsening heroin addiction, caused a great deal of friction among the band members, particularly with Lydon, whose sarcastic remarks often exacerbated the situation. Lydon closed the final Sid Vicious-era Sex Pistols concert in San Franciscomarker's Winterland in January 1978 with a rhetorical question to the audience: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" Shortly thereafter, McLaren, Jones, and Cook went to Brazilmarker to meet and record with former train robber Ronnie Biggs. Lydon declined to go, deriding the concept as a whole and feeling that they were attempting to make a hero out of a criminal who attacked a train driver and stole "working-class money". Lydon was abandoned in San Francisco virtually penniless.

The Sex Pistols' disintegration was documented in Julian Temple's satirical pseudo-biopic, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, in which Jones, Cook and Vicious each played a character. Matlock only appeared in previously-recorded live footage and as an animation and did not participate personally. Lydon refused to have anything to do with The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, feeling that McLaren had far too much control over the project. Although Lydon was highly critical of the film, many years later he agreed to let Temple direct the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury. That film included new interviews with band members hidden in shadow, as if they were in a witness protection program. It featured an uncharacteristically emotional Lydon choking up as he discussed Vicious' decline and death. Lydon denounced previous journalistic works regarding the Sex Pistols in the introduction to his autobiography, Rotten - No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, which he described as "as close to the truth as one can get".

1978-1993: Public Image Limited, Time Zone and Copkiller

In 1978, John Lydon formed the post-punk outfit Public Image Limited (PiL). PiL lasted for 14 years with Lydon as the only consistent member. The group enjoyed some early critical acclaim for its 1979 album, Metal Box (a.k.a. Second Edition), and influenced many bands of the later industrial movement. The band was lauded for its innovation and rejection of traditional musical forms. Musicians citing their influence have ranged from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Massive Attack.

The first lineup of the band included bassist Jah Wobble and former Clash guitarist Keith Levene. They released the albums Public Image (also known as First Edition), Metal Box and Paris in the Spring (live). Wobble then left and Lydon and Levene made The Flowers of Romance. Then came This Is What You Want...This Is What You Get featuring Martin Atkins on drums (he had also appeared on Metal Box and The Flowers of Romance); it featured their biggest hit, "This Is Not A Love Song", which hit #5 in 1983.

In 1983, Lydon co-starred with Harvey Keitel in the movie thriller Corrupt, a.k.a. Copkiller and The Order of Death. While the film was generally panned, Lydon won some praise for his role as a psychotic rich boy. Lydon would act again very occasionally after that, such as a very small role in the 2000 film, The Independent, and as the host of the skateboard film, Sorry, featuring the Flip Skate Team.

In 1984, Lydon worked with Time Zone on their best-known single, "World Destruction". A collaboration between Lydon, Afrika Bambaataa and producer/bassist Bill Laswell, the single was an early example of "rap rock", along with Run-DMC. The song appears on Afrika Bambaataa's 1997 compilation album, Zulu Groove. It was arranged by Laswell after Lydon and Bambaataa had acknowledged respect for each others' work, as described in an interview from 1984:
Afrika Bambaataa: "I was talking to Bill Laswell saying I need somebody who's really crazy, man, and he thought of John Lydon. I knew he was perfect because I'd seen this movie that he'd made (Corrupt, a.k.a. Copkiller and The Order of Death), I knew about all the Sex Pistols and Public Image stuff, so we got together and we did a smashing crazy version, and a version where he cussed the Queen something terrible, which was never released."
John Lydon: "We went in, put a drum beat down on the machine and did the whole thing in about four-and-a-half hours. It was very, very quick."

The single also featured Bernie Worrell, Nicky Skopelitis and Aïyb Dieng, all of whom would later play on PiL's Album; Laswell also played bass and produced.

Then in 1986 Public Image Limited released Album (also known as Compact Disc and Cassette). Most of the tracks on this album were written by Lydon and Bill Laswell. The musicians were session musicians including bassist Jonas Hellborg, guitarist Steve Vai and Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Like the previous album, this also featured a hit, the anti-apartheid anthem "Rise".

The band's performance on the dance/concert TV show American Bandstand saw Lydon giving up on lip synching not long into the performance and dancing with audience members instead.

In 1987 a new lineup was formed consisting of Lydon, former Magazine, Siouxsie & The Banshees and The Armoury Show guitarist John McGeoch, Alan Dias on bass guitar in addition to drummer Bruce Smith and Lu Edmunds. This lineup released Happy? and all except Lu Edmunds released the album 9 in 1989. In 1992 Lydon, Dias and McGeoch were joined by Curt Bisquera on drums and Gregg Arreguin on rhythm guitar for the album That What Is Not. This album also features the Tower of Power on two songs and Jimmie Wood on harmonica. Lydon, McGeoch and Dias also wrote the song "Criminal" for the movie Point Break. After this album, in 1993, Lydon put PiL on indefinite hiatus, in which state they remain today. Recently Lydon has agreed to revive PiL to do a UK tour in December which coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Metal Box album.

1993-2006: Solo Album, Autobiography and Celebrity Status

In 1995, Lydon published his autobiography, Rotten - No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, which dealt with his early life and career in the Sex Pistols. In December 2005, Lydon told Q that he is working on a second autobiography to cover the PiL years.

In the mid-1990s, Lydon hosted Rotten Day, a daily syndicated US radio feature written by George Gimarc. The format of the show was a look back at events in popular music and culture occurring on the particular broadcast calendar date about which Lydon would offer cynical commentary. The show was originally developed as a radio vehicle for Gimarc's book, Punk Diary 1970-79, but after bringing Lydon onboard it was expanded to cover notable events from most of the second half of the 20th century.

In 1997 Lydon released a solo album on Virgin Records called Psycho's Path. He wrote all the songs and played all the instruments. In one song, "Sun", he sang the vocals through a toilet roll. It did not sell particularly well and received mixed reviews from critics. The U.S. version included a Chemical Brothers remix of the song "Open Up" by Leftfield with vocals by Lydon. This song is heard during the title menu of the computer game All Star Baseball 2000 (Acclaim Entertainment). The song was also a club hit in the U.S. and a big hit in England. John Lydon has recorded a second solo-album but it has not been released. One song from the album was released on The Best of British £1 Notes.

In November 1997, Lydon appeared on Judge Judy fighting a suit filed by his former tour drummer Robert Williams for breach of contract, and assault and battery. Lydon won the case, although Judge Judy Sheindlin wasn't overly impressed with Lydon's antics and did advise Lydon to keep quiet several times.

In 2000, Lydon hosted Rotten TV, a short-lived show on VH1. The show offered his acerbic commentary on American politics and pop culture. In one segment he took Neil Young to task for not appearing on the show, making fun of Young's singing style and pointing out that Young had once proclaimed Johnny Rotten "the king" in the song "Hey Hey, My My ".

In 2003 Lydon appeared as a panelist on an episode of Richard Belzer's ill-fated conspiracy-themed panel show, The Belzer Connection. The episode in question posed the query, "Was there a conspiracy involved in the death of Princess Diana?" For his part, Lydon proved as witty and scurrilous as ever, responding to suggestions of Royal Family involvement by proclaiming "If the Royal Family was going to assassinate someone, they would have gotten rid of me a long time ago." The series ran for only two episodes.

In January 2004, Lydon appeared on the British reality television programme, I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, which took place in Australia. He proved he still had the capability to shock by calling the show's viewers "fucking cunts" during a live broadcast. The television regulator and ITV, the channel broadcasting the show, between them received 91 complaints about Lydon's use of bad language. In a February 2004 interview with the Scottish Sunday Mirror, Lydon said that he and his wife "should be dead", since on 21 December 1988, thanks to delays caused by his wife's packing, they missed the doomed Pan Am Flight 103. During this interview, Lydon said that the real reason for him leaving Get Me Out of Here! was his fear over the Pan Am incident and the "appalling" refusal of the programme makers to let him know whether his wife had arrived safely in Australia.In an interview previous to the show's first episode, he had described it as "moronic", and throughout the show's run he had displayed an indifferent attitude to staying and threatened to walk out on numerous occasions. 30 hours following ex-football star Neil Ruddock's departure, Lydon left the show for unclear reasons, although he had been very visibly angry both to and about fellow star Jordan. British newspapers claimed that Lydon had won a £100 bet with Ruddock over who would stay in the longest. Lydon, however, stated on air that he felt he would win outright and that it would be unfair to the other celebrities for him to win.

After I'm a Celebrity..., he presented a documentary about insects and spiders called John Lydon's Megabugs that was shown on the Discovery Channel. Radio Times described him as "more an enthusiast than an expert". He went to present two further programmes: John Lydon Goes Ape in which he searched for gorillas in Central Africa, and John Lydon's Shark Attack in which he swam with sharks off South Africa.

In 2005, he appeared in Reynebeau & Rotten, a five episode documentary on Canvas, the cultural channel of the Flemish public broadcaster VRTmarker, in which Lydon guided Belgian journalist Marc Reynebeau through Great Britain in a chauffeured Rolls Royce, having a go at things typically 'British'. When asked why he was chosen as a guide, he answered that he was the cheapest one available. After the show had been broadcast, Lydon claimed in an interview with the popular Belgian magazine HUMO that he was very unhappy with the way they handled post-production and was very angry with the way they depicted him in this particular show. He claimed that the creators mainly showed his humorous, sometimes clownish antics, instead of focusing on his personal opinions and arguably philosophical conversations he had with Marc Reynebeau. Lydon was also infuriated that the production company used songs from the Sex Pistols' catalogue, without consulting all the remaining members of the band, including him.

Lydon broadcast a short pod on Current TV in which he critiqued The Doors' keyboardist Ray Manzarek's previously broadcast pod. Manzarek's advice to young people had been to "fuck your brains out." He emphasized this especially for 25-year-old women, saying that "it won't last." Lydon had several choice words for Manzarek and told young people that the best thing they could do was get an education because knowledge is free. Lydon also suggested that at one point Manzarek had asked him to work on a project together and that he did not do it because it would negatively affect his career.

In late 2008 Lydon appeared in an advertising campaign for Country Life, a popular brand of butter, on British television. Lydon was widely mocked as a sell-out for this move. The advertising campaign proved to be highly successful, with sales of the brand raising 85% in the quarter following, which many in the media attributed to Lydon's presence in the advert.

2006-2009: Sex Pistols Revival

Although Lydon spent years furiously denying that the Sex Pistols would ever perform together again, the band re-united (with Matlock returning on bass) in the 1990s, and continues to perform occasionally. In 2004, Lydon publicly refused to allow the Rhino record label to include any Sex Pistols songs on its box set No Thanks!: The 70s Punk Rebellion. In 2006, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker inducted the Sex Pistols, but the band refused to attend the ceremony or acknowledge the induction, complaining that they had been asked for large sums of money to attend and stating that it went against everything the band stood for.

In June 2007, Lydon, Jones and Cook re-recorded "Pretty Vacant" in a Los Angelesmarker studio for the video game Skate and, in a radio interview in the same month, Lydon announced that the Sex Pistols may perform again over the Christmas period. They also re-recorded "Anarchy in the UK" for the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. In September 2007, Lydon announced that the Sex Pistols would play a concert for the 30th anniversary of Never Mind the Bollocks at the Brixton Academymarker on 8 November 2007. Due to popular demand, four additional concerts were added, as well as further shows in Manchestermarker and Glasgowmarker.

The Sex Pistols appeared at the Isle Of Wight Festival 2008 as the headlining act on Saturday night. They also appeared at the Peace and Love Festival in Swedenmarker, Electric Picnic in Ireland, the Live at Loch Lomond Festival in Scotland, Heineken Open'er Festivalmarker in Gdyniamarker (Polandmarker), Paredes de Coura Festival in Portugalmarker, Traffic Free Festival in Turinmarker (Italymarker) and EXIT festival in Serbiamarker the same summer.

2009 - PiL Reformation

In September 2009 it was announced that PiL would reform, including earlier members Bruce Smith and Lu Edmonds, for a number of Christmas shows in the UK.


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John Lydon (2008)

2008 Ritz Carlton Hotel incident

On 23 January 2008 Lydon was reportedly involved in a string of offences, including battery, sexual abuse, sexual assault and physical assault in Marina del Reymarker. Roxane Davis, who was Lydon's personal assistant on the television program Bodog Battle Of The Bands, claimed that she was punched in the face by Lydon after being called a "cunt" several times. It is believed that Lydon wished for a door between his hotel room and his male friend's room at the hotel Ritz Carlton, but was given a separate room without a dividing door. Lydon reportedly became infuriated with the hotel staff, before assaulting his own employee who was staying in the same hotel. Upon being questioned by journalists over the incident, Lydon was unavailable. Davis has taken legal action against Lydon.

2008 Summercase incident

Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke claims he was left with severe facial bruising and a split lip following what he alleges was a verbal and physical racist assault by three members of Lydon's entourage. The incident occurred on the evening of 19 July 2008 at the Summercase festival in Barcelonamarker while the bands were socialising backstage.

However in statement to NME, Lydon has denied the allegations of his involvement in this assault. Since the report, Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys has come forward in support of Okereke's claim, saying "the statements Kele has said are absolutely true, it did happen."

A British tabloid accused Lydon of racism due to the incident, something he strongly denied during an appearance on The One Show, claiming that they were "atrocious" and "hurtful". He went on to say that:

He went on to say, when asked if he was racist, that:

2008 Duffy incident

At the 2008 MoJo awards ceremony, Welsh singer Duffy attempted to say hello to Lydon when, according to her; "I was literally slammed against the wall, pinned by his arm at my throat. He called me a cunt." She spent the whole night crying over the incident and felt awful about it for the following week. Other reports indicate a slightly different scenario, that Lydon "was being interviewed and he had his back to door and she banged into him and then grabbed him. He then turned round in no uncertain terms to tell her to back off him". Lydon later claimed he hadn't realised who Duffy was, saying; "people are trying to pin something on me. I don't know who this Duffy person is, or why she'd want to get publicity from this. I was doing an interview and she came up behind me - I didn't see anything. I’ve been with my wife for 30 years and I've been brought up to be polite and have respect for people, especially women."

Adam Sherwin of the Times, who witnessed the attack on Duffy, wrote about the incident, giving an account which differs from that offered by Lydon, but placing the blame for the physical assault on John's minder rather than Lydon himself.

Personal life

Lydon is married to Nora Forster. They have no children together, but Lydon is stepfather of Forster's daughter, Ari Up, who herself had been the lead singer in the influential postpunk, dub reggae band, The Slits. He currently lives in Los Angeles.


All chart positions are UK.

Sex Pistols

Studio albums

Compilations and live albums
  • The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (Virgin, 1979)
  • Some Product: Carri On Sex Pistols (Virgin, 1979)
  • Kiss This (Virgin, 1992)
  • Never Mind the Bollocks / Spunk (aka This is Crap) (Virgin, 1996)
  • Filthy Lucre Live (Virgin, 1996)
  • The Filth and the Fury (Virgin, 2000)
  • Jubilee (Virgin, 2002)
  • Sex Pistols Box Set (Virgin, 2002)


Public Image Ltd.

Studio albums

Compilations and live albums

  • "Public Image" - 1978 #9
  • "Death Disco" - 1979 #20
  • "Memories" - 1979 #60
  • "Flowers of Romance" - 1981 #24
  • "This Is Not a Love Song" - 1983 #5
  • "Bad Life" - 1984 #71
  • "Rise" - 1986 #11
  • "Home" - 1986 #75
  • "Seattle" - 1987 #47
  • "The Body" - 1987 #100
  • "Disappointed" - 1989 #38
  • "Don't Ask Me" - 1990 #22
  • "Cruel" - 1992 #49

Time Zone



Studio albums




External links

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