British punk rock impresario Malcolm McLaren, who managed the Sex Pistols and recorded in his own right, died Thursday in Switzerland of mesothelioma. He was 64.
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 Let It Rock, a shop in London’s trendy Kings Road, which catered to the “Teddy boys” who drove the capital’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 glam-rockers the New York Dolls, 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 three-year existence, and sparked the spread of punk in the U.K. and the U.S. (Other habitues of McLaren’s shop who gained punk fame included Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Adam Ant of Adam and the Ants.)
McLaren engineered and 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 Julien Temple’s 1980 feature “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” The Pistols sued McLaren for rights to their catalog, which they now control.
During the ’80s, McLaren recorded the albums “Duck Rock,” “Fans” and “Waltz Darling,” which drew on diverse influences — hip-hop, punk and classical music. His singles “Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch” were both U.K. hits.
During the same period, he helped develop punk-pop act Bow Wow Wow. Active over the years on U.K. 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.)
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