Sex Pistols' Johnny Rotten Says Band's So-Called 'Glory Days' Were 'Mostly Hell on Earth'

Johnny Rotten, whose real name is John Lydon, also talked about caring full-time for his wife Nora following her Alzheimer's diagnosis

Johnny Rotten
Johnny Rotten. Photo: Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

The Sex Pistols may have recorded one of the most influential punk rock albums of all time, but for former frontman John Lydon — also known as Johnny Rotten — the spotlight wasn't all it's cracked up to be.

Lydon, 65, reflected on the band's so-called "glory days" in the late 1970s, as they rode the success of their only album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols.

"I don't know that there was much glory. It was mostly hell on earth," Lydon told Metro UK. "There was constant pressure but I got to write the songs I wanted to write, got those lyrics out to Joe Public and Joe Public was very nice and appreciated it."

Even so, Lydon explained, the band's controversial lyrics brought unwanted attention from avenues other than the public.

"But then I had a media and a police force who did not appreciate it. I was discussed in the Houses of Parliament under the treason act," he said. "And you go, 'Ooh, ha ha,' but that carried a death penalty! For words! A few soppy little pop songs like 'Anarchy in the U.K.' and you can be dead. Off with his head!"

The Sex Pistols
Sex Pistols in 1978. Richard McCaffrey/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty

The band split in 1978, but they've reunited over the years for various tours and performances, though a recent lawsuit involving the use of their songs in an upcoming Danny Boyle miniseries, Pistol, has sparked drama, with Lydon telling Metro that drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones "did the dirty on me" with a suit against him that they won in August.

Meanwhile, Lydon now dedicates much of his time to being the caregiver of his wife, Nora, whom he revealed in 2018 has Alzheimer's disease.

He told Metro that although he was Nora's lone caregiver for a while, he recently hired several women to help him out.

"I found I was being selfish by being the only caregiver. I was denying her female company," he said. "Silly little things that absolutely mattered to her that I was oblivious to, like nail varnish and ladies' banter and lipstick. I was being ridiculously overprotective."

To keep their bond strong, Lydon said he and Nora, who married in 1979, watch and listen to British comedies together.

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"Every night after a show, I'm straight home as quick as I can and we're on FaceTime. There's little acknowledgements then the last three minutes are gone from her life completely, but she'll remember things from 20 or 40 years ago absolutely vividly," he said. "It's an amazing thing to watch, a human brain deteriorate and yet escalate in clarity in certain things."

"But she won't go down without fighting and she won't go down without laughing. And she certainly, certainly will be loved every step of the way," he added.

Lydon, who recently published a book called I Could Be Wrong, I Could Be Right, said in 2020 that he took it upon himself to be Nora's full-time carer, as he did not want to "let anyone mess up with her head."

"For me, the real person is still there," Lydon told the Mirror of his wife. "That person I love is still there every minute of every day and that is my life. It's unfortunate that she forgets things, well, don't we all?"

"I suppose her condition is one of like a permanent hangover for her," he continued. "It gets worse and worse, bits of the brain store less and less memory and then suddenly some bits completely vanish."

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