Nancy Laura Spungen had a difficult life from the beginning.
Born in the early hours of February 27, 1958, at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, with her cord wrapped around her neck, she was starved of oxygen, jaundiced and had a serious blood problem. A blood transfusion was necessary, or else she was likely to get brain damage.
After eight days, Frank and Deborah Spungen were told they could finally bring their daughter home: she was now a normal and healthy baby.
But within days, Deborah began to fear her daughter was anything but normal. Nancy wouldn't stop screaming: "Babies scream, but Nancy did NOTHING but scream," Deborah said years later. Worried about Nancy's unexplained pain, she sought advice from the family paediatrician, but none of it would make Nancy stop crying. Nancy was never at peace.
At three months, Nancy was prescribed a heavy sedative, but was still overly active and restless. She had trouble sleeping, was still screaming hysterically for no obvious reason, stiffened whenever her mother tried to hug her, and was also developing a lazy eye and seemed unable to keep her tongue in her mouth.
The doctor, instead of trying to find out the cause of the problem, simply increased her dose of Phenobarbital.
By the time Nancy was two, she had begun to violently assault both the family and strangers, verbally and physically, she had several violent tantrums every day, and had also started to stutter.
The doctor laughed it off as "the terrible twos", and once again increased the dosage of Phenobarbital.
IQ tests at the age of four showed Nancy was highly intelligent, in fact, she had the intelligence of a seven year old, and after a few years at school she was allowed to skip third grade.
When Nancy was nine, she discovered music. Frank and Deborah had been to see a new musical called "Hair", bought the LP, and Nancy would sit on the living room floor and listen to it everyday, turning it over and over until the family had to buy a new copy. Soon, she was a fan of the Doors, the Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Led Zeppelin, and every Saturday, she'd spend her allowance on records.
At 10, she was reading Rolling Stone magazine and the New York Times on Sundays, and books by Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald. She became politically interested and supported the Vietnam anti-war movement.
Her behaviour was still disturbing, with verbal and violent outbursts, and attacks against the family. She was unable to make friends: no one seemed to like her. (Deborah, in the book about her daughters life, remembered a note stuck on the front door, where a neighbourhood girl asked Nancy to stay away from her and called her a "witch" )
Nancy was also hallucinating, suffered fits when she'd pull out her hair, and had developed a far-away, glazed look, that her family would name "That Look".
Once, Nancy chased a baby-sitter out of the house with a pair of scissors, screaming and swearing she was going to kill her. Her therapist's simple comment was: "She's acting out".
The therapist couldn't explain exactly what Nancy was acting out, but soon after, Nancy attacked the therapist as well.
When Nancy was 11, after a night of nightmares and hallucinations, she walked out of class, never to return to the public school system again.
Left to right: Frank Spungen with his newborn daughter, February 1958; 1958; Nancy at 14 months, 1959; Halloween, ca 1963;
aged six, with David and Susan; at ten; age 11: Soon after this picture was taken, Nancy left public school, never to return.
Shortly after, she had a psychiatric evaluation, and in September 1969, a report was written, explaining Nancy was
possibly schizophrenic, and should undergo a neurological examination.
However, after the clinic had made the evaluation, they decided not to reveal the results to the parents. They simply told them Nancy was being terminated from the clinic as they couldn't help her. (Deborah obtained the papers after Nancy's death.)
At age 11, Nancy was bloated, had a high pulse rate and diluted pupils, and after a drugs test showed she was clean, she was put on Thorazine and admitted to Philadelphia's Psychiatric Center, while Deborah tried to find a residential treatment center for her daughter.
In early 1970, Nancy moved into Glenholme School in Connecticut, run by the Devereux Foundation, that had schools for disturbed children all over the country. (In Deborah Spungen's book, Devereux is called the Darlington Institute, Glenholme school is called Barton, and Devereux High is called Lakeside Campus)
There were only 20 students at Glenholme, a large school set in the countryside with its own stables, and all students had their own room.
The head staff (a couple called the Ohmens- Deborah Spungen called them the Bebees) was warm and welcoming, and Nancy received weekly therapy. Apart from classes, there was hiking, sports, field trips and housework, and Nancy's behaviour began to improve. Her lazy eye was going, she lost weight, and made friends.
But when she returned to Glenholme after the summer break, the head staff had been reassigned, and replaced by a stricter headmaster -in Nancy's words "a dumb fucking bastard". There were twice as many students, no more single rooms, and the warm family atmosphere and one-on-one care was also gone. Therapy sessions were fewer than monthly. She didn't get on with the other girls, fought with everyone, and the paranoia and hostility returned.
In the fall of 1971, she was transferred to Devereux Manor High School in Berwyn, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. It had 80 pupils, both boys and girls from 14-18. Nancy was thirteen.
She called home the first night, saying the kids were sickies (drug users) and weirdos. She then managed to escape, and hitchhiked all the way to Huntingdon Valley.
When Deborah called the supervisor to tell them Nancy was safe, no one had even noticed she was missing.
Even though the school was not living up to its promises of care, and not worth the $1000 a month it charged, and even though Deborah's first impression of the school had been negative, as she thought many of the girls were on drugs, she and Frank still decided to send Nancy back.
One of the school's promises was therapy, but Nancy didn't receive any for several months, and only then after her mother pushed for it.
When Nancy came home for Thanksgiving, she told her sister she was taking drugs, and she was stealing too, her mother noticed, when her diamond wedding band was missing after Nancy's visit.
Left to right: Glenholme school, Connecticut; Devereux Manor High, Berwyn, Pennsylvania; Susan, Deborah, Nancy and David Spungen, ca 1973; 14 years old, at Devereux; picture from Nancy's high school yearbook; graduation day, 1974.
Early 1972, Nancy cut open her forearm with a pair of scissors, after her mother had failed to answer the telephone.
Soon after she was neurologically tested. The results were inconclusive, but the neurologist believed Nancy's behaviour and her symptoms were the result of brain injury sustained at birth. The report meant the State of Pennsylvania paid part of her Devereux fees: they only helped children if they were brain damaged.
At the age of 14, Nancy got her first boyfriend, a fellow student who played guitar in a band. His name was Jeff Gibson, and they both went to one of Devereux' summer camps in Maine, where she tried to perform an abortion on herself with a coat hanger.
At Thanksgiving that year, she brought home a new boy, from the South. After having behaved like the model daughter, offering to help with the dinner and complimenting everyone in a new Southern drawl, in general shocking the rest of the family, she took her 13-year old sister for a walk and introduced her to marijuana.
In January 1973, Nancy ran away to New York, and was missing for three days. She was found at the Port Authority bus terminal in midtown New York and sent back to Devereux High.
Not long after her fifteenth birthday, she slashed her arm with a razor blade. Two weeks later, she slashed the other arm, and was five minutes from bleeding to death, but was rushed to the hospital in time.
Despite her troubled and unimproved behaviour, Devereux decided she was ready for a real school, and let her graduate in the spring of 1974.
She applied and got into the University of Colorado in Boulder, but had not even finished her first term when she was arrested for handling stolen property: she had also bought drugs from an undercover federal agent.
She was expelled, and ordered by police to leave Boulder immediately.
Nancy had already crashed her mothers car after failing her driving test, by now she had got her license, and crashed the car again. She was arrested and taken to the juvenile detention center, and was then admitted to a mental hospital
While Nancy was away, Deborah unpacked her bags from Boulder, and among books, make up and clothes, she found syringes and spoons, proof Nancy was by now a serious drug user.
But the mental hospital wouldn't keep her, they told her stunned parents they had waited too long to get her help and she was too disturbed for them, and sent her home.
After being refused to borrow her mothers car, Nancy rammed her hands through the bathroom window, nearly severing a finger.
The therapist she had been seeing turned out to be her last. After realizing how disturbed she was, he refused to see her again, saying he couldn't help her.
Nancy was never again to receive any psychiatric help.
Above: Age 16, after being expelled from University of Colorado.
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