Remembering John Lydon and Nora Forster, punk’s greatest love story: ‘Once I make the commitment, it’s forever’

On Thursday, John Lydon of the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. announced in a heartbreaking Facebook post that his wife of 44 years, Nora Forster, had died at age 80, following a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Lydon, who had become Forster’s primary caregiver in recent years, first revealed her illness in 2020, telling Britain’s The Mirror: “I am her full-time carer and I won’t let anyone mess up with her head. For me, the real person is still there. That person I love is still there every minute of every day, and that is my life.”

While the brief and doomed relationship between the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and punk scenester Nancy Spungen became the subject of the acclaimed biopic Sid and Nancy in 1986, it was always the romance between Lydon and Forster that was truly fascinating and the stuff of legend. Lydon met Forster, a German publishing heiress 15 years his senior, when he was in his early twenties; Forster was the mother of Ari Up, the teenage frontwoman of another pioneering British punk band, the Slits. The couple married in 1979, and in 2000 became the legal guardians of Up’s twin sons. They also became the guardians of Ari’s third child in 2010, after the Slits singer died of breast cancer.

In 2015, during a sit-down interview with Yahoo Entertainment, seen in the video above, Lydon spoke about the many doubters who’d once assumed that his relationship Forster would never last. “Well, good luck to people that are flippant about their relationships and their responsibility towards their fellow human beings, but people like me and Nora, we spend the time and take the effort to understand each other,” he said. “And that then it becomes a life’s work in progress. And for my way of living, that’s how it want it to be. I don’t take commitments lightly. I don’t treat fellow human beings as tools of my trade. So, there you go — I’m a loyalist at heart.”

Lydon further explained to Yahoo that when the Sex Pistols first exploded onto the scene, shortly before he met Forster, he had no interest in the casual groupie sex that became easily available with his newfound fame. “I started in the wonderful world of rock ‘n’ roll, and quite frankly, sex was thrown at you left, right, and center. No, it wasn’t for me… I don’t like that flippancy. I grew up having childhood illnesses, and somehow it left me feeling that there was something wrong with me,” Lydon said, referring to his battle with spinal meningitis at age 7 that caused him to spend a year in the hospital and to suffer from hallucinations, nausea, headaches, intermittent comatose states, and severe memory loss for four years.

John Lydon and Nora Forster 2011. (Photo: WireImage)

John Lydon and Nora Forster 2011. (Photo: WireImage)

John Lydon and Nora Forster in the late '70s. (Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns)

John Lydon and Nora Forster in the late ’70s. (Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns)

“I had to come to grips with that very quickly once I was thrown onto a stage and into the public limelight — I was aware of people that were attracted to me, but not because they knew anything at all about me. It was the fame and fortune. And those kind of people, I don’t want around me,” Lydon continued. “That’s not me being moralistic. … It’s a sense of values. I have to feel that person respects me for who and what I really am. And I hope it’s vice versa. I’m like this with friends. I’m like this with my own family members. And once I make the commitment, it’s forever.”

As Forster’s Alzheimer’s worsened after 2020, Lydon paid tribute to her in ways that probably surprised some of the cantankerous punk legend’s fans. In 2021, he competed as the Jester on The Masked Singer to lift his wife’s spirits, telling Yahoo Entertainment at that time, “I did it for my lovely Nora who’s currently suffering from Alzheimer’s, a disease that she’s never going to recover from and it’s slowly going to get worse. So, this should bring some great joy to her. … We have comedy in common, my lovely Nora and me. And so I hope when she sees this, she just bursts out laughing and goes, ‘Ha, I’ve seen you do that!’ I did it with all the sense of fun and pathos I could bring into it, with at the same time having that constantly in my mind.” Earlier this year, Lydon also honored his wife with a bid to represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest, entering an uncharacteristically sweet and sentimental Public Image Ltd. ballad dedicated to Forster called “Hawaii.”

As the time of his Masked Singer run, Lydon explained to Yahoo that as an “old man born on young baby’s shoulders” who’d survived multiple serious health scares as a child, he considered himself “ahead of the course” when it came to caring for his ailing wife. “All those major illnesses have done nothing really but help me — particularly the meningitis, when I lost my memories for like four years, I didn’t know who I was! But that helps me now deal with Nora’s Alzheimer’s,” he said. “It’s such a magnificent gift that I’ve been given. Now, it’s taken a long time to get to this stage, but I know what it feels like to not know who you are or who you are with. So, it’s a wonderful, wonderful gift, and I’m ever so grateful for that. Thank you nature or the God or whatever it is. And I want to share that.”

When asked about the secret to their successful marriage of almost five decades, Lydon also told Yahoo Entertainment in 2021: “It’s not a secret. It’s just that we know and trust each other so well. I can’t speak for other people’s relationships, and let me tell you, not everybody can find the perfect partners. It’s difficult, and it’s a matter of luck. … But Nora and me were very, very lucky.”

Lydon rarely missed an opportunity to gush to the press about his devotion to his wife. In 2014, long before Forster’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he told the The Guardian: “I have never been unfaithful, though I had plenty of opportunity in the Sex Pistols. … It’s love, you know. I’ve always loved that woman. And she knows it. When we met we didn’t expect to get on. We’d both been told the other was a bad ‘un. But blimey. Sparks flew. It was instant attraction. And that’s never gone. … I can’t think of a better woman on God’s earth than Nora. If we ceased to function as a couple tomorrow there would be no one else. Not ever. I mean it. … The idea of losing Nora is unbearable. If one of us goes before the other it will be murder for the survivor. She is older than me but women live longer, so we should die at exactly the same time. That would be perfect.”

John Lydon and Nora Forster (Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns)

John Lydon and Nora Forster (Photo: Fin Costello/Redferns)

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