Famed rock ‘n’ roll raconteur Malcom McLaren, best known as the manager of the Sex Pistols, died Thursday (Apr. 8) in New York City at the age of 64.
McLaren’s spokesman, Les Molloy, told the U.K.’s Independent that McLaren had been battling cancer “for some time, but recently had been in full health, which then rapidly deteriorated.” Molloy said McLaren’s body will be buried in London’s Highgate Cemetery.
McLaren was born into a working class family in London’s Stoke Newington section, and after attending art college he and designer Vivienne Westwood opened a Kings Road clothing store called Let It Rock in 1971, later renamed Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die. Having traveled to New York in 1972, McLaren began making stage clothes for the New York Dolls and subsequently managed the group — although veteran music and personality photographer Bob Gruen told Billboard.com that Dolls frontman David Johansen “called Malcolm their haberdasher. What he really wanted was for the Dolls to wear his clothes, but the Dolls were falling apart at that time and were unmanageable. They credited him with saving their lives because he put (some of them) into rehab…and revitalized them for a little while — long enough to wear his clothes.”
In 1975, McLaren renamed the London store yet again — as SEX, which sold S&M-styled gear and put him at the center of Britain’s rock underground. “Rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t necessarily mean a band,” McLaren once said. “It doesn’t mean a singer, and it doesn’t mean a lyric, really. It’s that question of trying to be immortal.”
The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde noted, “What Malcolm would do was put people in motion…His idea, and what he tried to put together, would never be the obvious, and it wouldn’t be what anyone else would try.”
It was at SEX that McLaren met a green-haired Johnny “Rotten” Lydon, sporting an “I hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt and recruited him to front a group he was managing called the Strand, which he rechristnned the Sex Pistols. The group helped launch Britain’s punk scene with its 1977 hit “God Save the Queen,” and McLaren proved himself an able pitchman with a number of publicity stunts, including staging a boat trip down the Thames for the Pistols to play the song outside the House of Parliament. The ship was raided and McLaren was arrested, turning the prank into national headlines.
“Malcolm didn’t have any say in the music” of the Sex Pistols, guitarist Steve Jones said in Lydon’s 1994 memoir, “Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs.” “Everyone and anyone can say they did everything, but it takes a team to make it happen.”
McLaren’s penchant for promotion was chronicled in films “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” and “The Filth and the Fury,” and the members of Sex Pistols sued McLaren to win back rights to their music as well as unpaid royalties during the ’80s. “Let’s just say that if Malcom breathes, it’s too much for me to stomach,” Lydon said at one point.
After the Pistols split in 1978, McLaren put together the group Bow Wow Wow and became an artist himself, exploring hip-hop, dance and electronic music on hits such as “Buffalo Gals,” “Double Dutch” and “Madame Butterfly.” He also worked with Yanni on an adaptation of “The Flower Duet” from Leo Delibes’ opera “Lakme” for the latter’s “Aria” and also for a popular British Airways ad campaign.
In recent years, McLaren co-produced the documentary “Fast Food Nation” and competed in the British reality TV series “The Baron” and “Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack.” In 2008, he created a sound painting series called “Shadow” that was premiered on MTV’s HD screen in Times Square.
Sex Pistols’ stylist Keanan Duffty tells Billboard.com that he interviewed McLaren in August of 2008 for the Plum Channel and also ran into him in February during Fashion Week in New York, when McLaren, “looking thin and a litle frail,” presented his short film “Paris, Capital of the XXist Century” at the Swiss Institute. “Malcolm was, above all, the Great Raconteur,” Duffty says. “And that’s how I will always remember this wonderful, inspiring man who I am luck to have met.”
Primal Scream and former Stone Roses bassist Mani (Gerald Mounfield), said Thursday that “what Malcom and the Sex Pistols started was a generation of musicians who had the balls to think for themselves and challenge the normal working practices of the recording industry. Myself and many others of my generation are indebted to him for showing us the way. RIP Malcolm McLaren, a true innovator, visionary, instigator and agent provocateur.”
Full funeral and memorial arrangements for McLaren are pending.