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John Lydon

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John Lydon

John Lydon
John Lydon in 2010
Background information
Birth name John Joseph Lydon
Also known as Johnny Rotten
Born (1956-01-31) 31 January 1956
Holloway, London, England, UK
Genres Punk rock, post-punk, alternative rock, alternative dance
Occupation(s) Musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, keyboards, violin, saxophone, guitar
Years active 1975–present
Associated acts Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd, Leftfield

John Joseph Lydon (born 31 January 1956), also known by his former stage name Johnny Rotten, is an English singer-songwriter, television presenter and painter, best known as the lead singer of punk rock band the Sex Pistols from 1975 until 1978, and again for various revivals during the 1990s and 2000s. He is the lead singer of the post-punk band Public Image Ltd (PiL), which he founded and fronted from 1978 until 1993, and again since 2009. Throughout his career, Lydon has made controversial or dismissive comments about the British Royal Family and other subjects.

There has been a recent revival of a 1980s movement to have Lydon knighted for his achievements with the Sex Pistols – even though he has since turned down an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his services to music. In 2002 he was named among the 100 Greatest Britons following a UK-wide vote.[1] Q Magazine remarked that "somehow he's assumed the status of national treasure."[2]

Lydon's personally crafted image and fashion style led to him being asked to become the singer of the Sex Pistols by their manager, Malcolm McLaren. With the Pistols, he penned singles including "Anarchy in the U.K.", "God Save the Queen" and "Holidays in the Sun", the content of which precipitated the "last and greatest outbreak of pop-based moral pandemonium" in Britain.[3]

The band caused nationwide uproar in much of the media, who objected to the content of Lydon’s lyrics, and their antics, which included swearing on live television, in which Steve Jones called Bill Grundy a "fucking rotter". Due to the band's appearance in the media, Lydon was largely seen as the figurehead of the punk movement in the public image[4] although this idea was not widely supported amongst the punk movement itself. Despite the negative reaction that they provoked, they are now regarded as one of the most influential acts in the history of popular music.[5][6]

Lydon left the Pistols in 1978 to found his own band, Public Image Ltd, that was far more experimental in nature, and which has been described as "arguably the first post-rock group".[7] Although never as commercially successful as the Pistols, the band produced eight albums and a string of singles, including "Public Image", "Death Disco", and "Rise", before they went on hiatus in 1993, reforming in 2009. In subsequent years, Lydon hosted a number of television shows in the UK, US and Belgium, as well as writing two autobiographies: Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (1993), Anger is an Energy (2014), and producing some solo musical work, such as the album Psycho's Path (1997).


Early life: 1956–1974

Lydon was born in London on 31 January 1956.[8] His parents, John Christopher and Eileen (née Barry) Lydon, were working class immigrants from Ireland, and moved into a two-room Victorian flat with an outdoor toilet in Benwell Road, in the Holloway area of North London. At the time, the area was largely impoverished, with a high crime rate and a population comprised predominantly of working class Irish and Jamaican migrants. Lydon spent summer holidays in his mother's native County Cork, where he also allegedly suffered abuse and name-calling for having an English accent, a prejudice he claims he still receives today even though he travels under an Irish passport.[9]

John was the eldest of four brothers, and as the eldest, he had to look after his siblings due to his mother's regular illnesses.[10] As a child, he lived on the edge of an industrial estate, and would often play with friends in the factories when they were closed. He belonged to a local gang of neighbourhood kids, and would often end up in fights with other groups, something he would later look back on with fond memories: "Hilarious fiascoes, not at all like the knives and guns of today. The meanness wasn't there. It was more like yelling, shouting, throwing stones, and running away giggling. Maybe the reality was coloured by my youth."[11] Describing himself as a "very shy" and "very retiring" kid who was "nervous as hell", he hated going to school, where he would get caned as punishment and where he "had several embarrassing incidents… I would shit my pants and be too scared to ask the teacher to leave the class. I'd sit there in a pants load of poo all day long."[12]

When he was seven years old he contracted spinal meningitis and was hospitalised for a whole year in St. Anne's Hospital in Haringey, London. Throughout the entire experience he suffered from hallucinations, nausea and headaches, whilst the treatments administered by the nurses involved drawing fluid out of his spine with a surgical needle, something that left him with a permanent spinal curvature. The meningitis was also responsible for giving him what he would later describe as the "Lydon stare", and for him, this experience was "the first step that put me on the road to Rotten".[13]

With his father often away on work, employed variously on building sites or oil rigs, Lydon got his first job aged 10 as a minicab dispatcher, something he kept up for a year whilst the family was in financial difficulty.[14] He disliked his secondary school, the St William of York Catholic School in Islington, where initially he was bullied, but aged around 14 or 15 he "broke out of the mould" and began to fight back at what he saw as the oppressive nature of the school teachers, whom he felt instigated and encouraged the kids to all be the same and be "anti-anyone-who-doesn't-quite-fit-the-mould."[15] Following the completion of his O-levels at school, he got into a row with his father, who disliked Lydon's long hair, and so, agreeing to get it cut, the teenager not only had it cut, but in an act of rebellion dyed it bright green.[16] Growing up as a teenager, he listened mostly to rock bands like Hawkwind, Captain Beefheart, Alice Cooper and Iggy and the Stooges – bands his mother also used to like, a fact which somewhat embarrassed him – as well as more mainstream groups like T. Rex and Gary Glitter.[17]

"The other squatters hated us… because of the way we looked—short cropped hair and old suits. That's when Sid [Vicious] started to come around to my way of fashion. I gave him his first decent haircut, which was the punk style as it soon became. You'd literally cut chunks of hair out of your head. The idea was to not have any shape to your hairdo—just have it fucked up. This was the beginning of it all."

—John Lydon (1993)[18]

Aged 15, he was kicked out of the school after a run–in with a teacher, and subsequently went to Hackney College, where he befriended John Simon Ritchie, who in later years would become better known as Sid Vicious, and also attended Kingsway Princeton College. It was Lydon who gave him this nickname, after his parents' pet hamster.[19] Lydon and Vicious began squatting in a house in the wealthy Hampstead area with a group of ageing hippies and stopped bothering to go to college, which was often far away from where they were living.[20] Meanwhile, he began working on building sites during the summer, employment that his father was able to help him with. He also got a job at a children's play centre in Finsbury Park after friends had recommended him for the job. It was here that he taught woodwork to some of the older children, but he was eventually fired after parents complained that somebody "weird" with bright green hair was teaching their children.[21] Lydon and his friends, including Vicious, John Gray, Jah Wobble, Dave Crowe and Tony Purcell, began going to many of the London clubs, such as the Lacey Lady in Ilford, and also frequented both reggae and gay clubs, the latter of which he enjoyed because in them "you could be yourself, nobody bothered you".[22]

1975–1978: Sex Pistols and the punk movement

Lydon performing with the Sex Pistols in 1977

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 protopunk band the New York Dolls, and he was working on promoting a new band formed by Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook called the 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.[23] In 1977, the band released "God Save the Queen" during the week of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. At the time, August 1977, Lydon commented: "Turn the other cheek too often and you get a razor through it."[24]

Lydon was also interested in [26]

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 Francisco'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 Brazil 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".[27]

The Sex Pistols' disintegration was documented in Julian Temple's satirical pseudo-biographical film, 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 the band members' faces hidden in silhouette. 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".[28]

1978–1993: Public Image Ltd (PiL), Time Zone and Copkiller

In 1978, Lydon formed the post-punk outfit Public Image Limited (PiL). PiL lasted for 14 years with Lydon as the only consistent member.

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 Issue), 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 No. 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. Lydon would act again 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 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 other's 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."[29]

The single also featured Steve Vai and Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

In 1987 a new lineup was formed consisting of Lydon, former Magazine, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Armoury Show guitarist John McGeoch, Allan 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 horns 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.

1993–2006: solo album, autobiography and celebrity status

In 1993, Lydon's first autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, was published. Aided by Keith and Kent Zimmerman, and featuring contributions from figures including Paul Cook, Chrissie Hynde, Billy Idol and Don Letts, the work covered his life up until the collapse of the Sex Pistols. Describing the book, he stated that it "is as close to the truth as one can get, looking back on events from the inside. All the people in this book were actually there, and this book is as much their point of view as it is mine. This means contradictions and insults have not been edited, and neither have the compliments, if any. I have no time for lies or fantasy, and neither should you. Enjoy or die."[30] In December 2005, Lydon told Q that he is working on a second autobiography to cover the PiL years.[2]

In the mid-1990s, Lydon hosted Rotten Day, a daily syndicated US radio feature written by 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.[31] It did not sell particularly well and received mixed reviews from critics. The US 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 US and a big hit in the UK. 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, assault and battery.[32] Lydon won the case, although Judge Judy Sheindlin was not overly impressed with Lydon's antics and told him to keep quiet several times. Also in 1997, Lydon claimed that Keith Flint of the electronic group the Prodigy was copying him, saying "Yeah look, he's got my hair, he's got my accent, ha ha ha ha!" He later went on to call The Prodigy, who had at this stage begun to move into the punk scene (especially Flint), "a really good pop band", which is usually considered an insult to punks.[33]

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 attempted to take 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 (Into The Black)". 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 responded to suggestions of British 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 language.[34]

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.[35] 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. Thirty 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.[36] 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 VRT, 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 reportedly 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 emphasised 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. In late 2008 Lydon appeared in an advertising campaign for "Country Life", a popular brand of butter, on British television.

Lydon defended the move by stating that the main reason he accepted the offer was to raise money to reform Public Image Ltd from the ground-up without a record deal. 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.[37]

2006–2009: Sex Pistols revival

John Lydon in 2008

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 Fame 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.[38]

In June 2007, Lydon, Jones and Cook re-recorded "Pretty Vacant" in a Los Angeles 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 Academy in London on 8 November 2007. Due to popular demand, four additional concerts were added, as well as further shows in Manchester and Glasgow. The Sex Pistols appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival 2008 as the headlining act on Saturday night. They also appeared at the Peace & Love Festival (Sweden), Electric Picnic (Ireland), Lokerse Feesten festival in Lokeren (Belgium), the Live at Loch Lomond Festival (Scotland), Heineken Open'er Festival (Gdynia, Poland), Paredes de Coura Festival (Portugal), Traffic Free Festival (Turin, Italy), SZIGET Fesztival (Budapest, Hungary) and EXIT festival (Serbia), the same summer.

On 23 January 2008 Lydon was reportedly involved in a physical assault in Marina del Rey.[39] Roxane Davis, who was a talent producer for the television program Bodog Battle Of The Bands, claimed that she was punched in the face by Lydon after being shouted at and called a "cunt" several times.[39] On 28 January 2010 Davis's lawyers filed papers in Los Angeles Superior Court stating that the case was resolved, although no terms were divulged.[40]

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 Barcelona while the bands were socialising backstage.[41] In a statement to NME, Lydon denied the allegations of his involvement in this assault.[42] After the report, Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys came forward in support of Okereke's claim, saying "the statements Kele has said are absolutely true, it did happen."[43]

A British tabloid accused Lydon of racism following the incident with Okereke and Lydon strongly disputed the claim during an appearance on The One Show. Lydon stated that the accusations were "atrocious" and "hurtful", and further explained: "My grandchildren are Jamaican, right. This is an absolute offence to them and me when I read stories like that, that are allowed to go to print absolutely unfounded and have the liberty to take liberties with a man like me and call me a racist when my entire life has proved exactly the opposite." Upon being asked by the show's host if he was racist, Lydon responded by asserting: "Absolutely not. And any bugger that dares say so is going to have their day in court with me—you understand this?"[44]

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."[45] Other reports indicate a slightly different scenario, with one stating that Lydon "was being interviewed and he had his back to (the) 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".[46] Lydon later claimed he had not 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."[47]

Adam Sherwin of The Times witnessed the incident and has given an account which differs from that offered by Lydon, placing the blame for the physical assault on Lydon's personal assistant.[48]

2009 to present: PiL reformation

John Lydon onstage with PiL at Guilfest 2011

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.[49] Lydon financed the reunion using money he earned doing a UK TV commercial for Country Life butter. "The money that I earned from that has now gone completely—lock stock and barrel—into reforming PiL,"[50] said Lydon.

In August 2010, Lydon played with Public Image Ltd in Tel Aviv, Israel despite protests against the Israel show. Lydon was criticized [51][52][53] for a statement to newspaper the Independent: "I really resent the presumption that I'm going there to play to right-wing Nazi Jews. If Elvis-fucking-Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he's suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But I have absolutely one rule, right? Until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won't understand how anyone can have a problem with how they're treated.[54]

Per PIL's official website, Lydon gave two interviews on the subject with BBC Radio 6 Music, stating: "Of course, there are all sorts of terrible politics going on down there but there is just about all over the world. You cannot separate yourself from your audience because of the political powers-that-be. I mean, I'm anti-government—I have been all my life no matter where I go—and I shall be making that loud and clearly proud once I'm in Israel. We've received a lot of hate mail, as it happens, going to Israel is some kind of political faux pas. I say, 'Don't be so ignorant – it's John speaking here and I'm going there to cause trouble and I will do it musically.'"

And, two days later, in an interview with Radio 6's Shaun Keaveny, "I will play to the people. I don't play to the Government of anything... I'm playing to human beings, and to deny me that right and turn music into some kind of political joystick is quite repulsive to me, and really, really wrong. And hello, Arab countries, you ain't inviting me. I've got no prejudices playing both sides of those borders..." [55]

And in October 2013, Lydon clarified in an interview. "I support no government anywhere, ever, never. No institution, no religion – these are things that all of us as human beings do not need. When I go to a place like Israel, it's not to support anti-Arab sentiment or pro-Israeli government, it's to play to the people."[56]

During an April 2013 Australian tour, Lydon was involved in a television interview for the The Project that resulted in a publicised controversy, as he was labelled "a flat out, sexist, misogynist pig" by one of the panellists on the Australian programme. The altercation occurred with host Carrie Bickmore and the description was provided by panellist Dr Andrew Rochford after the interview was prematurely terminated by Bickmore's colleague Dave Hughes.[57] Lydon conducted the interview from Brisbane while on PiL's first tour of Australia in twenty years—first announced in December 2012—on which shows were also held in the capital cities of Sydney and Melbourne.[58]

Jesus Christ Superstar 2014

Lydon was selected to play the role of King Herod for the North American arena tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. He was to play the role starting 9 June through 17 August. He was to be joined by Ben Forster as Jesus, Brandon Boyd of rock band Incubus as Judas Iscariot, Destiny's Child singer Michelle Williams as Mary Magdalene, and former 'N Sync singer JC Chasez as Pontius Pilate.[59] On May 31, 2014, producers announced that the tour of the production was cancelled, with no reason given.

Origin of Johnny Rotten stage name

Lydon explained the origin of his stage name, Johnny Rotten, in a Daily Telegraph feature interview in 2007: he was given the name in the mid-1970s, when his lack of oral hygiene led to his teeth turning green.[60] One version says the name came from the Sex Pistols' guitarist Steve Jones, who saw Lydon's teeth and exclaimed, "You're rotten, you are!"[61]

In 2008, Lydon had extensive dental work performed in Los Angeles, at a reported cost of US $22,000. He explained that it was not done out of vanity: "It was necessity ... all those rotten teeth were seriously beginning to corrupt my system".[62]

Personal life

Lydon is married to Nora Forster, a publishing heiress from Germany.[63] He was the stepfather of Forster's daughter, Ari Up, who had been the lead singer in the post-punk band the Slits before her death in 2010. Lydon mainly resides in Los Angeles, California, but keeps a home in London.[60][64] Lydon's parents raised their sons in the Roman Catholic faith, but he "never had any godlike epiphanies or thought that God had anything to do with this dismal occurrence called life."[65] On the liner notes of Public Image Ltd's single, “Cruel,” Lydon included, "Where is God? I see no evidence of God. God is probably Barry Manilow."[66] Lydon has been a fan of Oscar Wilde since he studied his works at school, when he came to the conclusion that "his stuff was fucking brilliant. What an attitude to life!… He turned out to be the biggest poof on earth at a time when that was completely unacceptable. What a genius."[16]

In addition to his work as a singer-songwriter Lydon is also a visual artist. His drawings, paintings and other related works have featured prominently in the works of PiL and his solo career throughout the years, the most recent example being the cover to This is PiL.[67] He is also a major player of iPad games, including Game of Thrones Ascent.[68]

Political and social criticism

Ever since his rise to public attention, Lydon has remained a critic of much in British politics and society. Coming from a working-class background, he has remained heavily opposed to the class system, describing how private schools "tend to turn out little snobs. They're taught a sense of superiority, which is the kiss of death… They're absolutely screwed up for life."[69] He is critical of the upper classes, stating that they "parasite off the population as their friends help them along", but he equally criticises the working classes, claiming that "We're lazy, good-for-nothing bastards, absolute cop-outs [who] never accept responsibility for our own lives and that's why we'll always be downtrodden."[70] He opposes all forms of segregation in schools, not only through the private and state school division, but also with single-sex schools; "It doesn't make sense. It's a much better environment with girls in the class. You learn a lot more, as diversity makes things more interesting."[71]

He criticised the paramilitary organisations involved in the Northern Ireland conflict, remarking that both the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Defence Association were "like two mafia gangs punching each other out… They both run their extortion rackets and plague people to no end." He remarked that "The Northern Ireland problem is a terrible thing, and it's only the ignorance of the people living outside of it that keeps it going", but that ultimately the British government's exploitative attitude to the problem was in his opinion the main cause.[72]

Appearing on the BBC's Question Time on 5 July 2012, Lydon questioned the notion of a parliamentary inquiry into the banking industry, saying "How on earth is Parliament going to discuss this really when both sides, left and right, are connected to this? This doesn't just go back to Brown, this is part of the ongoing problem. Mr Diamond comes from Wall Street...hello. Both parties love this idea. They are fiddling with rates. They are affecting the world and everything we used to count on as being dependable and accurate is being discussed by these argumentative chaps. If I nick a motor I'm going to be up before the judge, the rozzers. Hello, same thing."[73]

In a 1978 BBC Radio 1 interview, Lydon alluded to the sordid conduct by Jimmy Savile, as well as the suppression of negative information about Savile by mainstream social forces many decades in advance of it becoming a public scandal. Lydon stated: "I'd like to kill Jimmy Savile; I think he's a hypocrite. I bet he's into all kinds of seediness that we all know about, but are not allowed to talk about. I know some rumours." He added: "I bet none of this will be allowed out."[74]



All chart positions are UK.

Sex Pistols

Studio album

Compilations and live albums


Public Image Ltd

Studio albums

Compilations and live albums


The Lydons and the O'Donnells

Studio albums

  • Family Album - 1986

Time Zone



Studio albums



  • "Open Up" (with Leftfield) – 1993 – No. 11 UK
  • "Sun" – 1997 – No. 42 UK


  1. ^ "BBC reveals 100 great British heroes"—BBC News article, dated Thursday, 22 August 2002
  2. ^ a b "'"The Q Interview: 'I want to take the Sex Pistols to Iraq!.  
  3. ^ O'Hagan, Sean (2 May 2004). "Fifty Years of Pop".  
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    • Civil Registration event: Birth
    • Name: LYDON, John J
    • Registration District: Islington
    • County: London
    • Year of Registration: 1956
    • Quarter of Registration: Jan–Feb–Mar
    • Mother's Maiden Name: Barry
    • Volume No: 5C
    • Page No: 1244
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  18. ^ Lydon, p. 67.
  19. ^ Lydon, p. 59.
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  55. ^ partially citing audio from(no longer available)
  56. ^ Q&A: John Lydon Feels 'Fantastic' About Icon Award
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  71. ^ Lydon, p. 61.
  72. ^ Lydon, p. 21.
  73. ^ Cockerell, Jennifer (6 July 2012). "Anarchy at the BBC as former Sex Pistol Johnny Lydon appears on Question Tim". Irish Independent via Press Association (Independent News & Media). Retrieved 6 July 2012. 
  74. ^ Interview With John Lydon (BBC Radio 1, Rock On, Oct. 28 1978). Public File: First Issue (2013 remaster). Light in the Attic Records. Disc 2, track 2.

External links

  • Official website
  • John Lydon discography on Discogs
  • Johnny Rotten on The Hour
  • John Lydon fronts UK butter campaign
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