The 21-year-old was found in bed by his mother in a Greenwich Village, New York, apartment. He had taken a heroin overdose.
Only the previous day, Vicious - born John Simon Ritchie - had been released on $50,000 bail pending trial for the murder of his former girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.
He had been celebrating his release with current girlfriend Michelle Robinson and other friends.
It later emerged that it was his mother who helped him procure the heroin which would kill him.
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At the time, she insisted: "He knew the smack was pure and strong and took a lot less than usual."
A spokesman for Virgin boss Richard Branson later said: "In retrospect he was obviously far safer in jail, where the temptations that ultimately killed him were not present."
Although the Sex Pistols courted controversy wherever their records were released, it was Sid who attracted the biggest personal headlines.
A college friend of singer Johnny Rotten - and named after his hamster - Vicious was brought into the band when original bassist Glen Matlock was sacked.
His musical talent was rudimentary, and although receiving songwriting credits on material penned after Matlock’s departure, most of the bass parts were added by guitarist Steve Jones in the studio.
Live, he would often spend as much time arguing with audience members as playing his instrument.
Band manager Malcolm McLaren once claimed: "If Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude.”
Vicious’s notoriety was fuelled by tales of violence against journalist Nick Kent, Damned singer Dave Vanian, and Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris.
However, he did teach himself to play bass competently enough to perform live on the band’s final, ill-fated tour of the USA.
Ironically, following the Pistols' split it was Vicious who would ‘front’ the band, in terms of releases.
Versions of Eddie Cochran's C’mon Everybody and Something Else hit the UK top 10, as did his snarling cover of the Frank Sinatra standard My Way.
Since his death, Vicious has become even more iconic as one of punk's biggest pin-ups, with his image gracing thousands of posters and T-shirts.