British punk rock impresario Malcolm McLaren, who managed the Sex Pistols and recorded in his own right, died Thursday in Switzerland. He was 64.
The cause of death was mesothelioma, according to press reports.
Born Jan. 22, 1946, to Scottish-Jewish parents, McLaren pursued a career as a graphic artist and designer and attended various English art colleges. Energized by the student revolts of 1968, McLaren took his ideological cues from the work of such provocateurs of the Situationist movement as Guy Debord.
Attracted to fashion, he opened a Kings Road shop, Let It Rock, which catered to the “Teddy boys” who drove London’s throwback rock culture. The store — which McLaren ran with his then-girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood — provided the vintage clothing for “That’ll Be the Day,” director Ray Connolly’s 1972 film about U.K. rockers.
During an exploratory trip to America in 1975, McLaren briefly managed the glam-rock New York Dolls, famously outfitting them in red patent leather costumes and bedecking their stages with Communist iconography. He also witnessed the early spasms of the New York punk scene at shows by Patti Smith and Television at CBGBs.
He subsequently returned to London, where he assembled a ramshackle group from the patrons at his Kings Road boutique, now rechristened Sex and dealing in bondage gear and other outrageous fashion.
The group, the Sex Pistols, attained unprecedented notoriety during their brief three-year existence, and sparked the spread of punk in the U.K. and, later, the U.S. (Other habitués of McLaren’s shop who gained punk fame included Siouxsie Sious of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Adam Ant of Adam and the Ants.) McLaren famously engineered quickly jettisoned deals for the Pistols with EMI and A&M before the band landed at Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin Records.
McLaren managed the band through its dissolution in 1978; during the group’s last gasp, he enlisted notorious English train robber Ronnie Biggs to replace the dissident John Lydon
(aka Johnny Rotten
) as its lead singer.
He told his version of the Pistols’ story in director Julian Temple’s 1980 feature “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” The Pistols successfully sued McLaren for rights to their catalog, which they now control; the band openly mocked their onetime manager in their own Temple-directed feature, “The Filth and the Fury” (2000).
During the ’80s, McLaren recorded the albums “Duck Rock,” “Fans” and “Waltz Darling,” which drew on a diversity of musical influences – hip-hop, punk and classical music. His singles “Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch” were both significant U.K. hits. During the same period, he had a hand in the development of the punk-pop act Bow Wow Wow.
Active over the years on British TV, McLaren also produced the 2006 feature “Fast Food Nation.”
McLaren is survived by his longtime companion Young Kim and a son.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.