Richey Edwards: Guitarist and lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers who disappeared in 1995

When Manic Street Preachers' lyricist Richey Edwards disappeared from his room at the Embassy Hotel in London's Bayswater district on the night of 1 February 1995, he set in motion one of rock 'n' roll's most enduring mysteries. He had been due to fly with the band's guitarist and singer James Dean Bradfield to America the following day for promotional duties, and like the Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis, who took his own life on the eve of an American tour, he may have felt that the prospect of transatlantic success in some way compromised his artistic principles. But although his passport was found back at his apartment in Cardiff, and his car found abandoned a fortnight later at the Aust motorway services overlooking the River Severn, Edwards himself has never been seen since.

In his absence, a host of myths and rumours has sprung up around the troubled pop star, with supposed sightings of him in places as far afield as the Indian state of Goa and Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. As with Elvis, fans' imaginations have proven stubbornly unresponsive to the most obvious explanation, which is that Edwards probably jumped from the Severn Bridge to his death.

Sadly, his parents have been denied even the solace of knowing for sure what happened to Edwards, all human remains subsequently found in the area having been scientifically proven not to be his. Although in 2002 his parents declined the opportunity to have him declared dead on the seventh anniversary of his disappearance, last week they finally conceded he was unlikely to be alive.

Born into a mining family in the South Wales town of Blackwood, Richey Edwards was an intelligent outsider in the classic rock-hero tradition. His adolescent literary tastes stretched to the usual proponents of existential angst, from Rimbaud, Kafka and Dostoyevsky to Salinger, Golding and Ballard, and he was particularly drawn to the poetry of Sylvia Plath. He earned three "A" grades at A-level, and went on to secure a degree in Political History at the University of Wales in Swansea, where he became close friends with bassist Nicky Wire (real name Jones), who would form the Manic Street Preachers with Bradfield and the drummer Sean Moore. Initially taken on as the band's driver and roadie, Edwards was co-opted as rhythm guitarist after collaborating with Wire on artwork and lyrics for their first single, "Suicide Alley".

His musical prowess was minimal, however, with his amplifier often being turned down on stage; but he brought to the group a decisive charisma and intellect that helped establish its direction and reputation. Unusually, songwriting duties were split within the band, Wire and Edwards collaborating on the lyrics, which were then set to music by Bradfield and Moore.

Wire and Edwards were keenly aware of the value of propaganda in promoting the band's music, particularly the impact of outrage. With spray-painted slogans on their clothes and crudely-applied mascara on their faces, the Manics' visual mode combined influences of The Clash and The New York Dolls; and in an indie music scene noted for mealy-mouthed sanctimony, their eagerness to court controversy by bad-mouthing their peers and heroes soon ensured their appearance in the music press. Their third single "Motown Junk" featured the line "I laughed when Lennon got shot", and on a later occasion, Wire declared on stage that he hoped the REM singer Michael Stipe died of Aids.

But the band's emphasis on style and sensation over music was received with some suspicion by the British music press, and when, backstage after a May 1991 show in Norwich, the NME journalist Steve Lamacq cast doubt on their commitment, suggesting they weren't "for real", Edwards produced a razor blade and carved the phrase "4 REAL" into his forearm during an interview, requiring 17 stitches at the local hospital. Taken in the immediate aftermath of the self-mutilation, the resulting photograph by Ed Sirrs of the bloody legend became one of rock's most recognisable iconic shots, its cachet further multiplied following Edwards' disappearance.

It was not the first time he had cut himself: since childhood he had taken psychological refuge in self-harming, usually through lit cigarettes, and he had also exhibited symptoms of anorexia nervosa.

In the immediate wake of the incident, however, the music industry became more interested in the band, and a deal was quickly signed with Sony Records, who released the first Manics LP, the double album Generation Terrorists, in 1992. Its songs each came with an illustrative quote from poets and philosophers as diverse as Plath, Larkin, cummings, Confucius, Nietszche and Ten Bears, a Native American thinker, but while the band's own lyrics, such as "Rock 'n' roll is our epiphany/Culture, alienation, boredom and despair" promised much, their music drew criticisms of being mere Heritage Theme Park Punk. The album reached No 13, but while the follow-up, Gold Against The Soul, reached the Top Ten, it has proved less enduringly popular. Having proclaimed, during their formative years, their intention to make one great album and then break up, this reneging on a core principle may have disappointed more purist followers. To paraphrase Johnny Rotten: they didn't mean it, maaan.

Their third album The Holy Bible (1994) came clad in a triptych by the painter Jenny Saville which reflected both the antagonistic tone of Edwards' lyrics and the album's fixation with the human body, the fat woman in the portrait contrasting starkly with his anorexia anthem "4st 7lb", which contained the sentiment, "Four stone seven, an epilogue of youth/Such beautiful dignity in self-abuse". Elsewhere, he wrote about death camps, political correctness and the erotic appeal of demagoguery, but the overwhelming impression was of misanthropy, awash with disgust expressed with an almost puritan fervour.

It is still regarded by many fans as the band's masterpiece, and charted even higher than before. But it would be Edwards' final recorded work with the group. That same year he checked into a Cardiff psychiatric hospital, and then into The Priory, for treatment. He played his final show with the Manics at London Astoria on 21 December 1994, after which the band were set to gather their resources for an assault on America, for which Edwards and Bradfield should have laid the groundwork with their promotional visit. When, following Bradfield's failure to get any response, Edwards' hotel room was unlocked by the Embassy Hotel management on the morning of 2 February 2 1995, it was found to contain little beyond the guitarist's clothes and a sheaf of lyrics.

Ironically, following his disappearance the Manic Street Preachers' career kicked into a much higher gear, with the follow-up album Everything Must Go and its lead-off single "A Design For Life" both reaching far higher chart positions, and selling incalculably more, than any of their previous work. This was largely the result of the group adopting a more listener-friendly stadium-rock sound, the vaunting choruses accompanied by string arrangements which gave the music an epic feel akin to classic U2, just as U2 were diversifying into other areas. This helped secure the group a much broader fanbase than before, and has led to the further irony of headline slots at the same outdoor festivals they had once bitterly ridiculed. Their subsequent albums have featured lyrics written solely by Nicky Wire, but the group are believed to be working upon material featuring the unused lyrics found after Edwards' disappearance.

Andy Gill

Richard James Edwards, guitarist and lyricist: born Blackwood, Gwent 22 December 1967; declared legally dead 23 November 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
musicOfficial chart could be moved to accommodate Friday international release day
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
News
i100
Sport
Italy celebrate scoring their second try
six nations
Sport
Glenn Murray celebrates scoring against West Ham
footballWest Ham 1 Crystal Palace 3
Arts and Entertainment
Drake continues to tease ahead of the release of his new album
music
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 General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower