Asbestos from his punk shop 'killed McLaren'

Partner Young Kim tells The IoS that Sex Pistols manager wanted to make Sex, his Kings Road design store, look as if a bomb had hit it – and family believes that caused mesothelioma 30 years on

The former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren may have been exposed to the asbestos which killed him while smashing up Sex, his infamous King's Road punk design shop, his partner, Young Kim, has told The Independent on Sunday.

McLaren, who died last week, aged 64, of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma, is believed to have been exposed to the deadly material when he shattered the ceiling of Sex, the shop he shared with his then partner, designer Vivienne Westwood.

"When Malcolm created Sex he broke open the ceiling to make it look like a bomb had hit it", said Kim. "I always suspected that shop because it was the only place Malcolm ever really spent any serious length of time in, and there was a lot of construction and changing things. Then Ben Westwood said his mother had mentioned that she'd seen asbestos there. It was board asbestos and it was in the early Seventies so there was a lot of it left, and I don't think anyone really did anything about it."

Speaking from Switzerland, where McLaren was treated in the final weeks of his life, Kim, 38, also confided how angry McLaren was that British doctors had ignored the signs of asbestos-inflicted lung damage for almost two years. After a routine chest scan in 2008 a doctor noticed "benign" spots on McLaren's lungs which looked like pleural plaques from asbestos exposure. By January last year, the music impresario was convinced he had lung cancer, but doctors continued to insist nothing was wrong.

"Malcolm was freaked out. He called me up from the doctor's office and said, 'Young, I have lung cancer, I have lung cancer', but the doctor said, 'Oh no, he's perfectly fine, he just has these spots, they're completely benign, you don't have to worry about it'. Then, just a few months later, his left lung had filled with fluid and he was diagnosed with mesothelioma.

"Malcolm was very angry about it. He was angry at me for having not pushed the doctor further. He really blamed me for not believing him. Whether that would have changed things or not I don't know, but he had a point. I confronted the doctor privately and he just made a face and said 'there's nothing you can do about this disease anyway'. I thought, 'how could you say that?' He didn't even give us a chance; he just assumed there was nothing to be done. I never told Malcolm this story because I didn't want to upset him."

Now Kim says she is considering making a formal complaint against the doctor. "It was a private Harley Street clinic and his attitude was really inexcusable. I think if you're doing a routine scan for other reasons and you notice it, you should pick up on it instead of ignore it and be very nihilistic about it. It's not your life to be nihilistic with."

After his diagnosis last autumn, McLaren continued his energetic lifestyle. "Six weeks ago you would not have known he was ill," said Kim, who was McLaren's partner for more than a decade. "He was in New York working because he'd done artwork that was being shown in museums. Then, in early March, he was in London and made a very special piece of music for the Belgian designer Dries Van Noten for his prêt-à-porter show in Paris.

"He was very busy and very happy. Even in the past two weeks he'd been planning his work and this radio programme he was going to make for the BBC – a whole series on pop culture from his personal perspective. So he was working all the way. It just happened so fast that even the doctors in Switzerland were shocked. They thought he would live a few months, and they were being conservative. But it was only a few weeks."

Even in his last days McLaren showed dogged optimism, telling family last Monday "it's not over yet".

"I didn't believe it was over either," said Kim. "They drained his lung on Tuesday and he was much, much better. He just sprang back to life, it was wonderful, and he was able to speak, he was able to eat."

McLaren's renewed energy was short-lived, however, as the aggressive cancer took hold. "By Wednesday things just got worse," his partner said, her voice cracking. "I saw him that evening before he passed away and he was so sweet, he asked if he was going to be discharged the next day from the hospital. I said 'that'd be great Malcolm, but I don't think so'. And sadly he died the next day. The carbon dioxide was building up because his respiration wasn't strong enough. Then he just fell asleep and never woke up."

McLaren's son, Joe Corre, who had previously feuded with his father, arrived at the Swiss clinic on Tuesday. "His son came just in time," said Kim. "He was able to spend time with him and speak to him after the lung was drained. Malcolm was really very much himself, so it was good they had that time together before he passed away."

In McLaren's final hours, Corre, Kim, and Corre's half-brother Ben Westwood were at his bedside until his death. McLaren's body is expected to be returned to London this week before burial in Highgate Cemetery in north London. "He wanted to be buried there," said Kim. "It's in that movie he made, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, and it was a place very dear to his heart."

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Assistant / Human Resources Assistant

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: An HR Assistant / Human Resources Ass...

Talent Community Coordinator

£Neg + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Talent Community Coordinator is nee...

Business Support - Banking - Halifax - £250 pd

£150 - £250 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - HR - Halifax - £150 - £250...

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game