Who is John Lydon, and what do we know about the new Sex Pistols TV series?

By Tom Blackburn

Outspoken rock star John Lydon is no stranger to controversy, and he’s again at the centre of yet more of it.

In a wide-ranging interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the Sex Pistols frontman took aim at his former bandmates and director Danny Boyle, accusing them of going behind his back when making a new TV series about the band.

The series, titled Pistol, was recently at the centre of a legal row between the two sides, with Lydon unsuccessfully attempting to stop the Sex Pistols’ music being used.

Lydon was appearing on GMB to promote his question-and-answer tour this autumn. His current band, Public Image Ltd, so far have a handful of live shows scheduled for next year.

But just who is John Lydon, and what do we know about the forthcoming TV series?

Who is John Lydon?

Born to Irish parents in Finsbury Park, north London, in 1956, John Lydon rose to fame as ‘Johnny Rotten’ - the sneering frontman of punk’s most infamous band, the Sex Pistols.

Lydon was famously recruited into the band in 1975 after he was spotted walking down the street wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt with the words ‘I Hate’ scrawled on it at the top. The young singer got his ‘Rotten’ nickname because of the state of his teeth.

Lydon, under the alias Johnny Rotten, joined the Sex Pistols in 1975 - they soon became punk's most infamous band (Mirrorpix Mirrorpix)

When the Pistols split in early 1978, Lydon went on to form the critically acclaimed post-punk group Public Image Ltd. The band merged the attitude of punk with spacey dub reggae rhythms and abrasive guitars, along with Lydon’s increasingly freeform vocals.

The initial Public Image Ltd line-up - consisting of Lydon, guitarist Keith Levene and bassist Jah Wobble - splintered in the early 1980s, but the band continued with a revolving line-up until 1992.

Lydon remained in the public eye through his frequent media appearances - appearing on I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! in 2004 - and outspoken political observations. He reformed Public Image Ltd with new bandmates in 2009.

Danny Boyle's new TV series about the Sex Pistols has been at the centre of a huge row among the former bandmates (FX Networks)

Who is John Lydon married to?

John Lydon married his wife, German publishing heiress Nora Forster, in 1979.

He was stepfather to Forster’s daughter, Ari Up, a punk rock musician who herself found critical acclaim fronting The Slits and who died of breast cancer in 2010. Lydon and his wife are legal guardians of Ari Up’s three children.

In 2018, Forster was diagnosed with mid-stage Alzheimer’s disease; Lydon is her full-time carer. In his appearance on Good Morning Britain, Lydon discussed the challenges of the couple’s situation.

“She can go back 20 years and remember in the greatest detail with complete accuracy. Now that's fascinating. For me it's a journey I have to travel and I'm not going to abandon her,” he said of his wife.

Lydon lost a recent court case attempting to stop the Sex Pistols' music being used in Danny Boyle's forthcoming TV series about the band (PA)

What do we know about the new Sex Pistols TV series?

Pistol, Danny Boyle and Craig Pearce’s biographical drama about the Sex Pistols, has been at the centre of a major row between Lydon on one side, and his bandmates on the other.

The series is based on guitarist Steve Jones’s memoir, Lonely Boy. Australian actor Toby Wallace will play Jones, with Anson Boon recruited to portray Lydon. Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams will also appear in a supporting role.

Lydon took the makers of the series to court in an attempt to halt its production, insisting that he was unaware of the extent of an agreement which allows a majority of the band to decide how its music and intellectual property are used.

Having initially been overruled by his bandmates, Lydon lost the court case. In a statement, Lydon said he feared the arrangement would “water down and distort the true history and legacy of the Sex Pistols”.

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