Malcolm McLaren, the legendary manager of the groundbreaking punk band The Sex Pistols, died last week from malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. He was diagnosed with the disease last October and sought treatment in a London clinic. He will be buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London. McLaren was sixty-four years old when he died in a Swiss hospital last Thursday.
During the early 1970s, McLaren owned a clothing store in London called “Sex”, which featured fetish wear, leather jackets and other outrageous fashions. He helped to assemble the seminal punk band, made up of lead guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, bassist Glenn Matlock, and lead singer John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon, who would go on to form post-punk industrial band Public Image Limited.
A year later, McLaren forced out Matlock and brought in John Simon Ritchie, better known as “Sid Vicious”, to play bass. Observers of the music scene at the time believed that McLaren chose Vicious based on his looks rather than his musical talent. McLaren would go on to manage other pioneering punk rock bands, including the New York Dolls and Adam and the Ants, during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
When McLaren oversaw the remodeling of “Sex”, he said that he wanted the store to look like “a bomb had gone off”. The store’s new look necessitated the removal of several ceiling tile panels. McLaren requested that the remnants should be broken and scattered like debris across the floor. Both McLaren and the remodeling crews were unaware of the presence of asbestos in the fractured ceiling tiles. McLaren’s doctors now believe that his exposure to the asbestos in the ceiling tiles was how he contracted mesothelioma.
According to Young Kim, McLaren’s Korean-American girlfriend, the shop had “board asbestos” in the ceilings, a common practice for construction in the mid-twentieth century. She said that “there was a lot of construction” in the shop and that it was one of the few places McLaren “spent any serious length of time”. She also said that Vivienne Westwood, a London fashion designer and former girlfriend and business partner of McLaren’s, noted the broken asbestos ceiling tiles.
Kim also mentioned problems with McLaren’s diagnoses. In 2008, McLaren visited his doctor to complain about breathing problems. X-rays revealed several spots on his lungs, which McLaren believed were signs of lung cancer from his years as a heavy smoker. However, his doctor initially diagnosed the spots as benign polyps. He did not receive a mesothelioma diagnosis until October 2009 and lost his battle with the disease less than six months later.
When McLaren ordered the ceiling panels demolished, most doctors were unaware of the connection between asbestos exposure and the incidence of mesothelioma. Now, doctors, oncologists and scientists understand that a patient can contract the disease several years after the initial exposure period. In many cases, such as McLaren’s, the patient may not exhibit symptoms for up to forty years after they inhaled the dangerous fibers.
Sources: Daily Telegraph, AdelaideNow.com.au