Malcolm McLaren, the former Sex Pistols manager who is credited with helping form the legendary U.K. punk band, has died at the age of 64 after a battle with cancer. “He had been suffering from cancer for some time, but recently had been full of health, which then rapidly deteriorated,” McLaren’s spokesman Les Molloy told The Independent. Molloy confirmed McLaren died in New York this morning; his body will be moved to London for burial in Highgate Cemetery. John Lydon said in a statement, “For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you.”
An icon of the punk movement that swept Great Britain in the mid-Seventies, McLaren got his start as a fashion designer who opened up a clothing shop with Vivienne Westwood called Let It Rock. While in New York City to start up a new boutique, he became the New York Dolls manager, a role he held until their breakup in 1976. After working with the Dolls and returning to London, McLaren wanted to start up his own band — the misfit group of punks would later be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as the Sex Pistols.
McLaren recruited three local kids who frequented his Kings Road boutique — now called “Sex” — Glenn Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook, and dubbed them the “Sex Pistols.” He first tried out Jones on vocals, but soon found a more suitable provocateur. As Charles M. Young wrote in his 1977 RS Sex Pistols cover story, “One of the regulars at Sex was a kid named John Lydon, who was distinguished on three counts: 1) his face had the pallor of death; 2) he went around spitting on poseurs he passed on the street; and 3) he was the first to understand the democratic implications of punk — rather than pay ten pounds for an ugly T-shirt with holes in it, he took a Pink Floyd T-shirt, scratched holes in the eyes and wrote I HATE over the logo. McLaren stood him in front of the jukebox, had him mouth Alice Cooper’s ‘I’m Eighteen’ and declared him their new lead singer. Jones noticed the mung on Lydon’s never-brushed teeth, and christened him Johnny Rotten.”
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McLaren amped up the new band’s notoriety with a stunt that featured the Pistols performing “God Save the Queen” on a barge during the same week of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. McLaren was arrested before the stunt was pulled off, but the single immediately topped the British charts. After releasing Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, the band embarked on a tour of the U.S. and ultimately split. For years, McLaren and Lydon fought over the Sex Pistols’ copyright and royalties in a rift that was never healed.
Later in his career, McLaren became a well-known musician in his own right. His 1983 hip-hop-flavored album Duck Rock produced the U.K. Top 10 singles “Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch.” A year later, McLaren also had a hit with “Madame Butterfly,” a song inspired the opera of the same name. McLaren’s “About Her,” a remix of the Zombies’ “She’s Not There,” was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill 2. A punk renaissance man in the truest sense, McLaren was also an author, film producer and reality TV star.
For much more on McLaren and his time managing the Sex Pistols, check out the Rolling Stone stories below: