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Obituary: Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren

Obituary by Jack Foley

MALCOLM McLaren, the former manager of seminal punk group The Sex Pistols and an important musician in his own right, has died at the age of 64, his agent has said.

McLaren, who was believed to have been diagnosed with cancer some time ago, passed away on Thursday morning (April 8, 2010) in Switzerland.

His body is expected to be returned to the UK for burial at Highgate Cemetery in north London.

In what proved a colourful and often remarkable life and career, McLaren was also known for being the ex-partner of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and set up a clothes shop and label with Westwood on London’s King’s Road in the 1970s that was world famous at the time.

The couple also had a son, Joseph Corre, who went on to become the co-founder of lingerie shop Agent Provocateur.

Born in London in 1946, McLaren was raised in Stoke Newington. But he moved back to the capital to attend St Martin’s College Of Art and Goldsmiths College, which paved the way for him to set up the clothing shop Let It Rock on London King’s Road.

The store was later renamed “Sex” and courted infamy and popularity.

He first attracted attention on the music scene when he managed The New York Dolls, before then launching The Sex Pistols and continually attracting controversy.

The band’s debut single Anarchy was released in the UK in December 1976 and immediately planted them in the headlines when they swore on Bill Grundy’s TV show.

Thereafter, life and association with The Sex Pistols was never dull, with McLaren once forced to seek exile in Paris because of fraud allegations against him arising from the antics of The Pistols and arrested on another occasion – on the Queen’s Silver Jubilee – after sailing down the Thames on a boat with the band.

Their 1977 single God Save The Queen was then banned by the BBC.

But a year later, in 1978, the band split following a US tour amid accusations that McLaren had mismanaged them and withheld money. He would later lose a court case over royalties.

Stepping away from management, McLaren nevertheless continued to remain a significant creative force on the music scene and created his own musical projects in the ’80s.

His first album, Duck Rock, emerged in 1983 and he went on to enjoy hits with singles such as Buffalo Gals and Madame Butterfly.

He even dabbled in politics in the late ’90s, launching a campaign to become London mayor as an independent candidate with a manifesto including legalised brothels and selling alcohol in libraries.

Most recently, in 2007, McLaren dabbled with reality TV when he contemplated being a part of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here, before withdrawing at the last minute after changing his mind about the show.

His influence continued to inspire new generations, however, and between December last year and this January, an exhibition by McLaren of “musical paintings” on the issue of sex was staged at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead.


Among the first to pay tribute to McLaren was Westwood, who revealed that Joe and her other son, Ben, were with McLaren when he died.

“When we were young and I fell in love with Malcolm, I thought he was beautiful and I still do,” she added. “I thought he is a very charismatic, special and talented person. The thought of him dead is really something very sad.”

Music journalist Jon Savage, author of England’s Dreaming, told the BBC that “without Malcolm McLaren there would not have been any British punk”.

“He’s one of the rare individuals who had a huge impact on the cultural and social life of this nation,” he added.

And Alan Yentob, creative director of the BBC, who became friends with McLaren after meeting him in the ’80s, said: “Malcolm was a man of ideas really – he was fascinated by ideas. He was always thinking about the next one. He was always ready to say something provocative.”