Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren was born on 22 January 1946 in North London. His father left when he was two and he and his brother Stuart were raised by his maternal grandmother. Leaving home in his teens, he attended several art colleges, including Goldsmiths, Central Saint Martins and Harrow School of Art.
In 1969, he became romantically involved with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and in October 1971, McLaren took over part of a shop at 430 Kings Road in Chelsea, west London, and began selling old rock & roll records, refurbished 1950s radiograms and dead stock clothing.
He subsequently converted the entire ground floor into ‘Let It Rock’ with Westwood repairing original clothing and making facsimiles, selling most of their stock to the new wave of Teddy Boys.
In August 1973, McLaren and Westwood visited New York to participate in the National Boutique Fair, where they met The New York Dolls and began to supply the group with stage wear.
In October 1974, the Kings Road shop was renamed ‘SEX’ to reflect a growing preoccupation with fetishwear.
In January 1975, McLaren and Westwood designed red patent leather costumes for the New York Dolls and used a Soviet-style hammer and sickle motif for their stage show as a provocative means of promoting them. This ploy was not successful and the Dolls soon broke up, with McLaren returning to Britain.
His subsequent spell as Sex Pistols manager made him an A-list celebrity in Britain by the early 80s, and it whetted his appetite for being a pop star himself, even though he could not sing.
Accordingly, he blagged himself a recording contract with Charisma with a vague idea of investigating “folk dances of the world”.
Recruiting ultra-fashionable New Pop producer Trevor Horn, McLaren embarked on a costly and farcical journey around America and Africa.
“It became apparent that he didn’t really have a clue what he was doing,” said Horn later, “which meant that I had a lot of creative input”.
The project started in New York where McLaren was fascinated by the emergent hip-hop phenomena. From there he went on to record Nuyorican salsa bands, jug bands in East Tennessee, and township jive troupes from South Africa.
In the Bronx, McLaren found two pirate radio DJs – the Supreme Team – who were given acetates of these global recordings to “scratch”. These were cobbled into a coherent musical voyage by Horn and narrated by McLaren – who was so musically illiterate that he needed the rhythms physically slapped into him by Horn in the vocal booth.
And, in celebrating the paganistic elements of folk culture, the album Duck Rock (1983) certainly facilitated the birth of world music as we came to know it.
Through the 90s he relocated from London to LA, dated model Lauren Hutton, and became an ‘ideas man’ for Steven Spielberg. He also ran for mayor of London and served as cultural attaché for the Polish government.
McLaren was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in October 2009 and died of the disease on 8 April 2010 in a hospital in Switzerland.