‘Lockdown was soul-destroying for Nora’: How John Lydon’s wife fought tragic battle with Alzheimer’s during pandemic and ‘couldn’t understand why nobody was visiting’ before her death at age 80 – after nearly five decades of marriage to Sex Pistol
- Death of Nora Forster, a German heiress, was announced on Thursday evening
- Lydon lifted the lid last year on his wife’s struggles with Covid restrictions
Nora Forster’s tragic battle with Alzheimer’s meant enduring lockdown was ‘soul destroying’, as she struggled to understand why nobody was visiting her.
Punk legend John Lydon revealed the extent of his wife’s health issues last year by lifting the lid on what life was like for the couple at the height of the Covid pandemic.
After Forster was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – a life-limiting neurodegenerative condition – in 2018, Lydon took on the role as her full-time carer.
He stressed the difficulty in making sure he ‘never let her feel lonely’ while millions of people around the globe were prevented from seeing loved ones to halt the spread of the virus.
Following news of her death at the age of 80 yesterday, Lydon’s heartbreaking comments about life in 2020 and 2021 have reemerged.
Nora Forster’s tragic battle with Alzheimer’s meant enduring lockdown was ‘soul destroying’, as she struggled to understand why nobody was visiting her, husband John Lydon revealed
John Lydon and Nora Forster attend ‘The Public Image is Rotten’ Premiere during the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival in New York
John Lydon and Nora Forster at Le Dome Restaurant in Hollywood, California in 1984
‘Lockdown was soul-destroying for Nora,’ the Sex Pistols star told the Guardian last June.
‘She’s always been very gregarious so she couldn’t understand why nobody was coming around, and the few that did had to have face masks on. It was very bad.’
It was perhaps the nadir of her struggles with Alzheimer’s, which in the UK is the most common cause of dementia – the name for a group of symptoms associated with an ongoing decline of brain function, according to the NHS website.
The condition can affect memory, thinking skills and other mental abilities.
Lydon himself has also previously spoken of his personal struggles with meningitis, which resulted in memory loss of his own, as well as damaged eyesight and curvature of the spine.
The star spent a year in hospital following the disease, but said the experience helped him to understand his wife’s own illness and needs.
‘I know that fear of isolation. I know what it’s like to feel completely frightened and not know where you are,’ he said.
Such emotional revelations are perhaps surprising to hear from the former snarling punk known as Johnny Rotten, who stormed on to the international stage with his blend of coarse lyrics and rebellious attitude.
While many may have considered her to be living in the shadow of one of the most recognisable music icons on the planet, the late Forster was not without her own rock-and-roll youth.
Born Nora Maier, she was the heiress of wealthy German publisher Franz Karl Maier who worked for news outlets including Der Spiegel and Der Tagesspiegel.
Initially working as a music promoter in Munich, her home there became a meeting place for ‘rock royalty’, working with stars like Jimi Hendrix, Wishbone Ash and Yes.
Lydon, pictured with Nora Forster after walking out of I’m A Celebrity in 2004, said lockdown was ‘soul-destroying’ for his wife
The couple, pictured together at an awards ceremony in New York in 2000, were married since 1979
John Lydon and wife Nora Forster at the British Comedy Awards in London in 2005
Lydon, 67, married Forster in 1979 and recently admitted that life without the former model would be ‘unbearable’
John Lydon and Nora Forster pose backstage at the Shockwaves NME Awards 2011 at Brixton Academy
Finding Germany society too restricting, she moved to London in the 1960s with her daughter, Arian, from her previous marriage to German singer, Frank Forster.
Better known as Ari Up, her daughter became the frontwoman of The Slits as a teenager and a punk icon in her own right before her death in 2010.
Once in the English capital, Forster settled down in a ‘cold, damp and dark’ basement near Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge football stadium, before eventually upgrading to a small house off Gowrie Road in Clapham.
It was then she became known as ‘Punk Mummy Warrior’, guiding her daughter’s burgeoning music career and hosting a number of industry stars at her home.
When she moved to Shepherd’s Bush later in the decade, her home became a crash pad, salon and meeting place for the great and the good of showbusiness, including Hendrix once again and Joe Strummer of The Clash.
She began promoting music gatherings in London before, in 1975, she met the man who would be her husband for more than four decades.
Forster and Lydon caught eyes at an event at Vivienne Westwood’s clothing store, Sex, on King’s Road. Four years later they wed in Dusseldorf, before moving to California.
The pair were at first warned off each other by friends, but despite this, Lydon said they had an immediate and explosive connection – one which would last a lifetime.
‘It’s love, you know. I’ve always loved that woman. And she knows it. When we met we didn’t expect to get on. We’d both been told the other was a bad’un. But blimey. Sparks flew. It was instant attraction,’ he told The Guardian last year.
‘And that’s never gone. I never expected to feel like that. I never thought I was in any way attractive. Or anyone’s idea of a good date.’
The former Sex Pistol remained fiercely loyal to his wife despite the rock and roll lifestyle he led, telling Yahoo that as a star of one of the world’s biggest bands ‘sex was thrown at you, left right and centre’.
Lydon makes his wife Nora laugh at a record launch in London in November 1986
Born Nora Maier, Forster was a German publishing heiress who later became a music promoter
In her final years, Lydon revealed how Alzheimer’s experts had been astounded with the extent to which Nora continued to remember him
The couple at the Hilton Hotel, undated. The years since Nora’s 2018 diagnosis were made more bearable, Lydon said, by the two continuing to dance and watching TV together
Reflecting on their early years of marriage, he said: ‘First time we met, we were at each other’s throats, looking for the faults … and we found a great common ground in that because we burst out laughing. The more ferocious the insult, the more fun you get, so we just take it to absurd levels.’
The years since Forster’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis were made more bearable, Lydon said, by the two continuing to dance together, watching television and reflecting on memories of holidays.
He also added shortly before her death that his beloved wife had ‘not gone away’, despite her worsening illness and memory loss.
‘For me, the real person is still there. That person I love is still there every minute of every day, and that is my life,’ he said.
In her final years, Lydon added that Alzheimer’s experts had been astounded with the extent to which Forster continued to remember him, saying ‘a bit of love goes a long way.’
Referring to his appearance on the US version of The Masked Singer, he added: ‘I wanted to see if she guessed and she did. She said, ‘Johnny, it’s you!’
‘It was one of the best experiences of my life: how rewarding to hear her talk that way and keep her from switching off.’
He and his wife’s devotion to one another was clear – and after decades together he said there would be ‘no one else’ for either of them if the other died.
Speaking about his role as his wife’s full-time carer before her passing, the Public Image Ltd (PiL) singer told The Times in February: ‘All the things I thought were the ultimate agony seem preposterous now… It’s shaped me into what I am.
‘I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I don’t see how I can live without her. I wouldn’t want to. There’s no point.
‘And, I’m sorry, but it’s worth every moment. No joy comes without pain and, boy, do I know that now.’
Lydon and Forster’s devotion to one another was clear – and after decades together he said there would be ‘no one else’ for either of them if the other died
Forster, pictured with Lydon in 1989 at a comedy and music gala to raise money for AIDS charities
The couple, pictured in 2008, shared an instant connection when they met, Lydon said, which would last a lifetime
‘It’s not a job at all,’ he said of tending to Forster. ‘You make your commitment to a person and nothing changes. These are the cards life dealt, and my mum and dad were right: never show self-pity. Ever.’
London-born Lydon, perhaps best known for his band’s trailblazing punk rock tracks like God Save the Queen, has worked tirelessly over recent years to raise awareness around Alzheimer’s.
He recently auditioned to represent Ireland – the country of his parents’ birth – at Eurovision, with his band PiL performing the self-written track Hawaii.
He struggled to hold back tears in January, as he revealed the song was dedicated to Forster and inspired by her condition.
Explaining the song’s lyrics, John shared: ‘It is dedicated to everyone going through tough times on the journey of life, with the person they care for the most.
‘It’s also a message of hope that ultimately love conquers all.’
He added about the tune during an appearance on Good Morning Britain: ‘This is the beginning of a new journey. Oddly enough, as bad as Alzheimer’s is, there are great moments of tenderness between us.
‘I try to capture that in the song. It’s not all waiting for the Grim Reaper. I can see the personality in her eyes that lets me know.
‘Her communication skills are letting her down. I’m just blessed that I can be there and catch on to that and pass something useful on to other people.’
Lydon explained that his time as a carer meant he understood the devastating impact an Alzheimer’s diagnosis can have on couples.
‘I care now for all of its victims. Particularly spouses that have to endure this. What you’ve got to do is fight.’
In the song, which he described as a ‘love letter’ to his wife, Lydon reflected on his over forty years with Nora, and in particular, one of their happiest moments in Hawaii.
Speaking to The Sun, John discussed the song’s lyrics, ‘remember me, I remember you,’ and how he became overwhelmed at the sadness of the illness.
‘We spent a magnificent holiday in Hawaii after a tour once and it was just the greatest week of our lives.
‘Now her memories are fading, I wanted to bring something like that back to her. I get broke up even thinking about it.’
Lydon recently auditioned to represent Ireland – the country of his parents’ birth – at Eurovision with self-written track Hawaii, a song inspired by his wife’s condition
Lydon and wife Nora Forster wins the BMI Icon Award at the BMI Awards at the Dorchester in Central London in 2017
Seeing his emotion, GMB host Susanna Reid said: ‘Tell us about Nora because whatever happens, whether you secure the nomination to perform, you have already won.
‘This song is beautiful and I know that it makes you very emotional, the process of writing it, tell us about your wife.
‘You are her carer, she has suffered from dementia with Alzheimer’s for years, you have a very special bond though don’t you.’
While his Dublin audition for this year’s Eurovision was unsuccessful, the singer drew attention to the illness before returning to his wife in Los Angeles and resuming his primary role as her carer.
The former Sex Pistol also appeared on Loose Women in 2021, and said of caring for his wife: ‘It’s both physically and mentally demanding… but at least she’s happy and that’s it.’
Responding to Lydon’s announcement last night, Dr Hilda Hayo, Chief Admiral Nurse and Chief Executive at Dementia UK, said: ‘We’re sorry to hear that John’s wife Nora has died having lived with Alzheimer’s for several years and send our condolences to him and his family.
‘John has raised a huge amount of awareness around the impact that a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can have through his work in recent months. Through sharing his personal experience, he will no doubt have helped others seek the support they need.
‘The death of someone close is one of the most difficult experiences many of us will ever face, and we hope he receives the support he needs while he is grieving.’
The charity urged families affected by dementia to reach out to their specialist Helpline at 0800 888 6678 or to email [email protected].
What is Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain, in which build-up of abnormal proteins causes nerve cells to die.
This disrupts the transmitters that carry messages, and causes the brain to shrink.
More than 5 million people suffer from the disease in the US, where it is the 6th leading cause of death, and more than 1 million Britons have it.
As brain cells die, the functions they provide are lost.
That includes memory, orientation and the ability to think and reason.
The progress of the disease is slow and gradual.
On average, patients live five to seven years after diagnosis, but some may live for ten to 15 years.
- Loss of short-term memory
- Behavioral changes
- Mood swings
- Difficulties dealing with money or making a phone call
- Severe memory loss, forgetting close family members, familiar objects or places
- Becoming anxious and frustrated over inability to make sense of the world, leading to aggressive behavior
- Eventually lose ability to walk
- May have problems eating
- The majority will eventually need 24-hour care
Source: Alzheimer’s Association
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