Musical bomb-thrower, cultural rabble-rouser, fashion icon, ultimate hype man. A day after the death of former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren from cancer at the age of 64, tributes poured in for the irrepressible self-promoter who many consider the godfather of punk rock.
McLaren died on Thursday in a Swiss hospital after a long battle with a rare form of cancer called mesothelioma, and even though they had a fraught professional relationship, former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon (a.k.a. “Johnny Rotten”) had uncharacteristically kind words for his former boss. “For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that,” Lydon said in a statement attributed to his stage name. “Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you.”
Also paying tribute was David Johansen, frontman of the New York Dolls, the gender-bending stateside punk progenitors that McLaren briefly managed before turning his attention to creating England’s Pistols.
“Malcolm McLaren was such a marvelous amalgam of exuberation, sensuality, culture, and literacy salted with the essential recognition of his own rascality,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “He was the perfect preservation against stuffiness and a lack of humanity. We are going to miss him.”
Annabella Lwin, who was discovered by McLaren at age 14 while working at a dry cleaner, said the flame-haired impresario changed her life by plucking her from obscurity, changing her name (from Myant Myant Aye) and hiring her as the frontwoman of the new-wave act Bow Wow Wow in 1980. On the day he rescued her from minimum-wage drudgery, Lwin said she thought McLaren was “a strange creature from another planet. He had a chat with my mother, and asked her — well, he didn’t ask. He said, ‘We need her for this band.’ And the rest of it was pretty much an everyday thing.
“We got to work together on songs, and I was told to sing certain things, and he was the one that really gave me encouragement in that situation, as opposed to the band. He was the one that said, ‘Use your imagination,’ which is something that will never leave me,” she told EW.
“Malcolm McLaren recognized something within me I didn’t even know I was capable of. I don’t think I would have been the singer that I am today if it hadn’t been for him, even long after I had an association with him on a professional level. I’m so grateful to have known somebody like him. … “Down the road, I discovered the other stuff he’d done, and I realized that he was like a big schoolboy, and he was having a bit of fun with these building blocks. And if it didn’t go his way, he’d knock ‘em all down and start all over again with some other situation. It’s great to know that he did so much in his life. I mean, what an accomplishment! He started the punk rock movement, and there are a lot of groups out there that have him to thank for them being so big today in the industry.
“A lot of people will definitely be feeling the loss of this genius. Because he was a genius. He saw such great potential in people. He just went all these different directions. You can’t really say any less than that: The guy was a genius.”
McLaren’s former partner fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood described him as a “very charismatic, special and talented person.” The couple’s son, Joseph Corre, the founder of the Agent Provocateur line of lingerie, called his dad the “original punk rocker,” who “revolutionized the world,” according to BBC News.
“He’s somebody I’m incredibly proud of. He’s a real beacon of a man for people to look up to,” Corre said.