Malcolm McLaren, the impresario, promoter, and self-promoter who once claimed to have invented punk rock, and who assembled and managed the youthful, unruly members of the Sex Pistols, the breakthrough British punk band, has died. He was sixty-four. His companion of many years, Young Kim, confirmed that McLaren died on Thursday, and said that he died of mesothelioma at a hospital in Switzerland, the New York Times’s Dave Itzkoff reports.
In the 1970s, McLaren returned to his native London from New York, where he had briefly managed the New York Dolls in the waning days of that band’s career. With his business partner and girlfriend at the time, Vivienne Westwood, they renamed their clothing shop Sex, and McLaren set about putting together his own rock act of untested British youth, which became the Sex Pistols.
Fronted by John Lydon—whose repugnant appearance and Irish background earned him the stage name Johnny Rotten—with Steve Jones (guitar), Paul Cook (drums), and Sid Vicious (a bassist who replaced original member Glen Matlock), the Sex Pistols terrified traditional music sensibilities with songs like “Anarchy in the UK” and “God Save the Queen,” and fueled McLaren’s flair for over-the-top spectacle: He arranged for the band to sign its contract with A&M Records outside Buckingham Palace, and organized a private boat performance of their “God Save the Queen” on the Thames that was quickly shut down by the police, cementing the group’s rebellious reputation.
As a solo artist, McLaren released genre-defying albums like Duck Rock in 1983 and Waltz Darling in 1989, and remained a perennial presence in the worlds of art and fashion. Greil Marcus wrote on McLaren’s most recent video work, Paris: Capital of the XXIst Century, in the March issue of Artforum.