Johnny Rotten was born John Joseph Lydon on January 31, 1956 in London, England. His parents were both Irish and he grew up in the Finsbury Park neighborhood with his three younger brothers. When he was seven years old he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis, which caused him to experience comas for half of a year and made him lose most of his memory.

In 1975, he entered a clothes shop owned by Malcolm McLaren when a band was present looking for a new lead singer. He was offered the chance to audition and did so by singing the song "I'm Eighteen" by Alice Cooper. The band members, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, and Paul Cook, were pleased with his audition and accepted him into the group.

The band called themselves "Sex Pistols" and became a hit on the underground music scene in London. They were a smash hit and soon came to represent British punk music. When the group's bass player, Glen Matlock, chose to leave, Rotten recommended a friend from school named John Ritchie as a replacement. John was dubbed "Sid Vicious" and joined the group despite his having rather poor bass playing skills.

Unfortunately, Sid Vicious developed a heroin problem that finally drove Johnny Rotten to quit the group in early 1978. The Sex Pistols dissolved shortly after Rotten's departure and he left for a trip to Jamaica with Virgin Records CEO Richard Branson. The goal of their trip was to find reggae artists to sign to the label, but it also helped Rotten wind down after a stressful tour.

After returning to London, Rotten met up with an old friend named Jah Wobble with hopes of starting a new group. He also recruited former Clash guitarist Keith Levene and newcomer Jim Walker. The group formed as "Public Image Ltd." (PiL) in late 1978. After starting the new group, he denounced the Sex Pistols and watched without surprise as Sid Vicious' downward spiral led to an eventual overdose and death.

In PiL, Johnny was the most stable member and stuck with the group for fourteen years. Their first album was called "First Issue" in 1978 and sold pretty well in Europe. In 1979, they produced "Metal Box", which did considerably better and little resembled music by other British rock bands at the time. In the 1980s, they released several more albums, none of which were very remarkable.

In 1988, Rotten and his wife were scheduled to take Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York, but were delayed and missed the flight. Later, they found out that a bomb had exploded on board and the plane was destroyed, along with everyone on board. He and his wife were greatly impacted by the news and were frightened to fly for some time after.

In 1996, Rotten reunited with the surviving members of the Sex Pistols to tour for six months. They called in the "Filthy Lucre World Tour" and focused mainly on Europe and North America. Rotten described the process as a lot of work and very stressful.

In 2004, Rotten was a featured guest on the British television show "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!". The show proved to be quite shocking with viewers, largely due to Rotten's obscene remarks. The studio making the show received 91 complaints about Rotten's behavior over the time that the show ran.