Sex Pistols Lead Singer John Lydon Tried To Stop Pistol From Getting Made

The punk rocker, aka Johnny Rotten, battled his former bandmates in court.

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 10:  Photo of SEX PISTOLS and Johnny ROTTEN and Sid VICIOUS and Steve JONES ...
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Based on Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir, FX’s Pistol caused controversy worthy of the punk rockers themselves even before it was made. The difference now, however, is that lead singer John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, was the one leading the charge against the six-episode limited series directed by Danny Boyle. As Lydon claimed on Good Morning Britain in July 2021, the network, as well as his former bandmates, “kept the whole operation a secret” from him until they required his music use approval late in production.

That’s when he said Jones and drummer Paul Cook “forced” him into a court case when he objected to Boyle using the Pistols music in the series. “They sued me for not giving them permission, but I didn’t actually deny permission,” Lydon said, also calling Jones and Hall “filthy liars” for insisting that he was “informed of the Pistols TV series” and offered involvement before filming began.

The former bandmates’ July 2021 legal dispute in London’s High Court revolved around a 1988 contract that allegedly stated majority rules in any Sex Pistols music licensing disagreements, per Variety. The judge ultimately ruled in Jones and Cook’s favor, allowing Pistol to move forward. In a statement at the time, the prevailing two members said that the court’s ruling upheld and brought clarity to their agreement on collective decision making. “It has not been a pleasant experience, but we believe it was necessary to allow us to move forward and hopefully work together in the future with better relations,” they said.

That’s hardly been the case, however, as Lydon — who claimed the lawsuit caused him “financial ruin” — continued to publicly blast his “evil” bandmates, having already referred to Pistol as the “most disrespectful sh*t I’ve ever had to endure” in Britain’s The Sunday Times. In response to the criticism, Boyle told Entertainment Weekly that “it’s a small price to pay, to be unpopular with John,” adding, “I think the portrayal of them, although he’ll never admit it, it’s done by a bunch of people who think he’s a genius, honestly.”

The Oscar winner counts himself among those who hold him in that regard, telling The Guardian that Lydon is “the genius,” despite Pistol centering on Jones. “I mean, obviously, you can’t make a series about him because he’s unmanageable. Everyone knows that,” Boyle explained. “So to get this book from Steve is like a side door in. It allows you to look at the whole group. But you have to acknowledge there’s a genius in there and it’s Rotten. He’s the person that changed everything, a key cultural figure in our landscape. I love Lydon for what he does and I don’t want him to like it — I want him to attack it. I think that’s his absolute right. Why would you change the habit of a lifetime?” (Lydon responded by calling Boyle an “a*shole” during a live UK This Morning interview afterward.)

Jones, for his part, addressed the controversy in a recent NME piece. “It was very stressful, that court case,” he said. “Didn’t want it to happen; it was the last thing that I wanted.” Regardless, he also speculated that Lydon, who’d also taken issue with his portrayal in Jones’ 2017 book, Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, was unhappy that he wasn’t Pistol’s protagonist.

Meanwhile, despite approving of their music’s licensing, Cook also told NME in a separate interview for the piece that he also wasn’t too happy about Pistol’s portrayal of the band, particularly the way it made it seem as if manager Malcolm McLaren had supposedly “manipulated the band” into being his puppets. “That’s totally not the truth; that would never have happened,” Cook said. “It does perpetuate that a bit in the series, which is one of the points of it that I didn’t like, I must admit. But that’s the story — a lot of people believe it; a lot of people know it’s not true.”