Nora Forster obituary: German music promoter, and wife of John Lydon for more than four decades

On her first encounter with her eventual husband, she recalled: ‘John passed by my table and said: Drop dead’

Nora Forster and John Lydon. Photograph: Fin Costello/Redferns

Born November 6th, 1942

Died April 6th, 2023

Nora Forster, a German-born publishing heiress and music promoter who gained fame as the wife of John Lydon – otherwise known as Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols – and the mother of Arianna Forster, or Ari Up, the lead singer of the influential all-female punk band the Slits, died on Thursday. She was 80.

Her death was announced by Lydon on Twitter. “Nora had been living with Alzheimer’s for several years,” the announcement said. “In which time John had become her full-time carer.” He did not say where she died.


For more than four decades, music fans knew Forster as the emotional rock for the ever-volatile Lydon, who in the late 1970s became Public Enemy No 1 in the eyes of British polite society for spitting invective in every direction, including the queen’s, as the frontman of incendiary punk progenitors the Sex Pistols.

When the band imploded after its brief, explosive career, he scarcely mellowed; he continued on as the creative force of the fiery post-punk band Public Image Ltd, or PiL.

I can see her personality in her eyes. She lets me know that it’s the communication skills that are letting her down

—  Lydon on Forster

Because of her husband’s enduring notoriety, particularly in England, Forster’s struggle with Alzheimer’s unfolded as a public drama after he went public about her diagnosis in 2018.

“It’s vile to watch someone you love disappear,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Times in February. “All the things I thought were the ultimate agony seem preposterous now.”

Her illness, he said, had “shaped me into what I am”.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it,” he added. “I don’t see how I can live without her. I wouldn’t want to. There’s no point.”

The previous month, he had teared up when taking a more wistful turn in an interview on the television show Good Morning Britain about Hawaii, a haunting PiL ballad that he had written as a tribute to her and that was the Irish entry in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. (Lydon was born in England to Irish parents.) “Remember me,” Lydon sang, “I remember you.”

“I can see her personality in her eyes,” he said. “She lets me know that it’s the communication skills that are letting her down.”

Nora Maier was born in 1942 in Munich. After the war her father, Franz Karl Maier, was a prosecutor who helped bring wartime Nazis to justice. He was later the editor and publisher of the newspaper Tagesspiegel.

Forster went on to work as a model and to marry singer Frank Forster, who was “kind of a swing pop star, always appearing on TV back in the ’60s,” Arianna Forster said in an interview with the music site Pitchfork in 2009, a year before she died.

As the 1960s unfolded, Forster promoted West German tours for acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Yes, which gave her prominence on the German rock scene. “People were walking around in the livingroom back then, like the Bee Gees and all these big groups,” her daughter recalled in the Pitchfork interview.

The bohemian lifestyle of her rock friends eventually ran afoul of local authorities. “In Munich, the police were knocking at the door every night because of the loud acid parties,” her daughter once said. “She was fed up with it. You have to go to London to live that lifestyle.”

There was no physical attraction at first. I didn’t even think to be nice to him. I was at another gig and John passed by my table and said, ‘Drop dead’

—  Forster on meeting Lydon

Nora Forster did just that in about 1970, and by the middle of the decade she had become enmeshed in the punk-rock scene that was starting to roil Britain and the music industry as a whole. She became what rock journalist Vivien Goldman called “a den mother to all the young punks,” including Arianna, who in 1976, aged 14, renamed herself Ari Up and joined with a drummer called Palmolive to found the Slits, soon to be a leading female punk band of the era.

In 1975, Nora Forster met Lydon, who was nearly 14 years her junior, at Sex, the boundary-pushing clothing boutique on King’s Road in London run by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

It was anything but love at first sight.

“There was no physical attraction at first,” Forster said in a 2004 interview with The Sunday Mail of Britain. “I didn’t even think to be nice to him. I was at another gig and John passed by my table and said, ‘Drop dead.’”

Despite the mutual hostility, Lydon was intrigued. “Her nose went 10 feet in the air in her ’40s film star outfit,” he said in the same Sunday Mail interview. “Long blond hair, padded shoulders – that entire femme fatale look, which I was a complete ham for.”

John Lydon with Nora Forster in 2008. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Eventually, she softened. “I fell in love with John because he surprised me,” she said. “He had a sweet attitude. He was more innocent and not like the rest of the group.”

The couple married in 1979, to the horror of Forster’s father. And, to the likely amazement of those who considered Lydon a human mushroom cloud, the marriage endured.

Even so, it might never have happened if Forster had listened to her friends’ advice in those early days. “One day he came up and asked why I had never invited him to my house,” she later said of Lydon. “I replied, ‘People told me you would destroy everything.’”

Nora Forster’s survivors include her husband and three grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times

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