The Missing Years Erased From John Lydon’s Memory

Sometimes, one might want to erase their childhood from their memory due to tragic experiences or severe trauma. Fans often forget that even though they have become world-renowned rock stars, musicians are still humans, and some of them have grown up in an environment tainted with danger, poverty, toxic parents, emotional abandonment, and abuse.

For instance, Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx has experienced abandonment issues due to being left behind by his father and mother, and Sting didn’t even attend his parents’ funeral. John Lydon spent his childhood in the Holloway area of north London, known for its high crime rates.

When John was staying in his mother’s native County Cork for holidays, his peers ridiculed his English accent. Furthermore, the musician was the eldest of his siblings, so he had to look after them when his mother fell ill. Although he is now known for his rebellious persona, John was actually a shy and anxious young boy who hated going to school.

Even though these experiences were challenging, Johnny Rotten wanted to remember his childhood with fond memories. Sadly, there is not much he can remember from his childhood. Due to spinal meningitis, an infection of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord, he went into a coma and stayed an entire year in the hospital. In the end, Lydon’s childhood memories were gone.

John Lydon contracted spinal meningitis when he was only a 7-year-old. He fell into a coma during the first half of his one-year stay at St. Ann’s Hospital in Haringey, London. It was a year full of traumatic experiences for Lydon as he suffered from nausea, headaches, and hallucinations and slipped in and out of a coma. Eventually, the musician lost his memory.

“I was in a hospital for nearly a year,” recalled John Lydon in a 2015 interview with NPR. “I was in a coma for the first few months of that. And when I came out of the coma, nothing. Everything was gone. Everything. I couldn’t really communicate or talk, even though I felt I was. I didn’t know who I was, why I was there, or where there was. The process of finding out who I was took a long, long time.”

Considering that he was seven at that time, not knowing who he or his parents were was a heavy burden on John Lydon’s shoulders. This suffering lasted for four years. The musician received treatments administered by the nurses, and it wasn’t easy for the young Lydon to see them drawing fluid out of his spine with a long surgical needle. In the end, treatments left them with permanent spinal curvature, and meningitis gifted him his signature ‘Lydon stare.’

Johnny Rotten continued, “It’s all paid off, you know, for me in the long run because doctors had informed my mom and dad to be hard on me, to get me angry, to keep the rage up. By keeping me in that state of mind, things might suddenly jump back into place. This is where I got the form of anger as an energy. Without that energy, I might just have wallowed into, well, self-pity or something far worse. I never probably fully recouped.”

So, John Lydon’s parents helped him create his musical persona, Johnny Rotten, without knowing it. The musician turned this anger into his music with Sex Pistols, and his intense, blank stare became one of his signature traits. Lydon’s meningitis also resulted in poor eyesight in the following years, and he feared he would go blind. But now, the Sex Pistols singer is still alive and kicking as a 66-year-old who didn’t lose his passion for music.