Singer's Girlfriend Lived, Died in Pain

Article printed in the Philadelphia Daily News on October 15th, 1978 - a few days after Nancy's death - which was discussed in Deborah Spungen's 1983 book, "And I Don't Want to Live This Life".

When Nancy Spungen last visited her parents six weeks ago, she told them, "I'll never make it to 21. I'll go out in a blaze of glory."

She was partly right. She died Thursday at the age of 20. But there was no blaze of glory.

Nancy Spungen died in a New York hotel after she was stabbed in the abdomen.

Her boyfriend, Sid Vicious, an English punk rock star whose real name is John Simon Ritchie, has been charged with her murder.

Yesterday, the day before their daughter's funeral, her parents, Frank and Deborah Spungen, sat in a second-floor room in their house in Lower Moreland Township, Montgomery County, PA, along with their other two children, Susan, 19, and David, 17, and talked about the Nancy they knew.

"We want to tell her story," Mrs. Spungen said. "There are some things that have to be said and if it can help other people... The impression is that she was a spoiled, rich, suburban kid."

"She was born in pain and lived in pain all her life," her father said.

She was born cyanotic (blue baby) and had to have all her blood changed shortly after birth. Her mother explained that the central nervous system is involved in this kind of problem, and although sometimes there are resultant problems, such as palsy, she was not affected in any way that could be measured.

But she was different from the beginning. In her isolette, her father said, she looked like a windmill, with arms and legs moving wildly. They had to tie her down to change her blood. Her doctor commented then that it was very unusual, because babies in that state were generally lethargic.

Her parents first took her for therapy when she was three. She used to go into screaming rampages.

The therapist, after testing her, said she would grow out of it. She was diagnosed as having a motor visual deficiency, which meant she couldn't do a simple thing like knitting, because she couldn't coordinate her hands and eyes.

She had other problems. She stuttered from the time she was two years old. And she had something she could not handle at all - an exceptional IQ. When she was three, she tested at seventh-grade level. She was skipped, while in the Philadelphia school system, from second to fourth grade. Her IQ, according to tests, was between 150 to 160.

Her mother remembers that getting her to make a minor change, such as dressing and undressing, was a "great task. She had great troubles with changes." Her father recalled the time he took her to the circus, when they got a short distance from the house, and she started crying that it was "too far."

She made friends easily, but the friendships always disintegrated. She used to get hate notes, the family members recalled.

"There were only one or two people in her life she could relate to," the mother said. "Sid was one of them."

The family moved from Philadelphia to the suburbs when Nancy was 10 and the change was "more than she was able to take," her mother said. The difficulties intensified and the parents went from place to place, looking for help for their first-born.

"The schools threw up their hands," Mrs. Spungen said. "There is no place to help these children."

Nancy's problems, according to her parents, were complicated by her high IQ. They said that if she had been mentally retarded, there were schools that could handle her. But she wasn't.

The schools were expensive. Nancy's mother went to work to help her husband, a paper broker, to meet the expenses. They both still work. They have just finished paying off her school fees, although she was graduated at 16. But they still have not been able to furnish the living room in their home.

When Nancy was 11, she was under the care of a psychiatrist who put her on such heavy drugs that she started hallucinating. The family then went through the nightmare of meeting the doctor at the emergency ward about once a month because she was so ill.

One day she tore her hair out and tore her room apart, yelling all the while "help me, help me." She was taken to the Philadelphia Psychiatric Institute, to the adolescent unit, her parents thought. But when they went to see her the next day, they found she had been put in a locked ward with older women, some of whome were senile.

The hospital said they were concerned the patients in the adolescent unit might hurt her, Mrs. Spungen said. Nancy never forgot being locked up. She mentioned it in her last phone call to her mother, last Sunday before her death.

Her parents finally got her into the Devereux School, where she attended a unit in Connecticut. She enjoyed this, but was too bright, and was transferred to the school in Devon, where she attended their high school and "hated it," her mother said.

Her parents claim that it was there that she first got into drugs. She ran away several times and tried to commit suicide twice. With all that, she graduated at the age of 16 and entered the University of Colorado.

"That was the highest point in her life," her father said. "She had friends and found people who liked her."

Unfortunately, it wasn't enough. She started having problems, and left after one semester. It was the beginning of the end. The rest of Nancy's story has been chronicled in detail.

How she went to New York and became a dancer. How she went to London, and met Vicious, who was then a member of the Sex Pistols, a successful punk rock group. They lived together 15 months, the longest time she was ever in love with one person, her mother said.

Vicious left the group, and they came to America where they were setting up other singing engagements, Nancy acted as the guitarist's manager.

Throughout her travels, she remained in touch with her family.

"We always told her we might not accept what she's doing, but we love her," her mother said. Her father added, "There was never any animosity. She was always part of the family, as extreme as her lifestyle was."

"When we saw her six weeks ago," her father remembered, "she said 'I am what I am. I'm just different. Please accept me."

"After she went to New York, she looked different," her brother recalled. "She acted different. Before she used to take me under her wing, introduce me to everybody as her little brother."

The whole family smiled remembering.

"But when she went to New York, it was the end of the Nancy I knew," her brother said. "The sister I saw six weeks ago was not the Nancy I knew. But I still loved her."

Last Sunday, Nancy called her mother from New York. She had heard about a place for people with drug problems, White Deer Run, and asked her mother if she thought she and Sid could go there. It was the last time anyone in the family spoke to Nancy. Thursday they got a phone call from New York police, telling them of the tragedy, and asking them to identify her body.

She will never be forgotten. Her parents have seen to that. They have established a Nancy Spungen Memorial Fund at Eagleville Hospital, a place she had never been, but that they heard good things about.

"Nancy can't be helped anymore," her mother said. "But if anyone cares and wants to help someone else, maybe they can through this."

"She is at peace, I hope," her mother said quietly. "She was a very special child. Life is not for special people."

Michele Mahler