On the morning of February 1, 1995, James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers entered the lobby of the Embassy Hotel in London expecting to meet his band mate Richey Edwards (sometimes known by his stage name Richey James). The two were set to embark on a U.S. promotional tour for their latest album, the Holy Bible. Bradfield learned that Edwards had checked out of the hotel early in the morning then took off to Wales never to be seen again. February 1, 2013 marks the 18th anniversary of Richey Edwards' disappearance.
The Manic Street Preachers got their start in 1986 in Blackwood, South Wales. They rose to success in 1992 with the release of their debut album Generation Terrorists. The band's sound was a combination of glam rock, metal and punk with highly intelligent lyrics referencing social issues like consumerism and the AIDS crisis.
Edwards was officially the Manics' rhythm guitarist, but his contributions laid far heavier in the band's lyrics. He held a degree in political history from the University of Wales, Swansea. Still, he looked like the perfect glam rock star -- shaggy hair, great bone structure and copious amounts of eyeliner. Sadly, Richey's newfound fame came at a price.
In 1991, Edwards famously carved the word "4REAL" into his arm with a razor blade when NME journalist Steve Lamacq questioned the Manics' sincerity. He struggled with anorexia, self-harm, substance abuse and depression. Though a very smart man, he was tortured by his inner anxieties, which is clearly evident in the sometimes disturbing lyrics that he penned for the band. Richey split lyric writing duties equally with Manics' bassist Nicky Wire on their first two albums, but Richey was largely responsible for 1994's the Holy Bible. Knowing what we know now, the bleak lyrics are eerily telling. "4st. 7lb" chronicles Richey's struggles with anorexia. Other songs showcase Edwards' feelings on subjects ranging from serial killers to the Holocaust to British imperialism.
In the few years that we watched Richey in the spotlight with the Manic Street Preachers, we saw both he and the band evolve. Their look in 1992 was glam punk. By 1995 it was full-on military garb with Bradfield sporting a balaclava. Their music had gone from glam to something much darker and harder. Those closest to Richey knew he was slipping. The band's final tour as a four piece took place in Europe with Suede and Therapy?. In the Suede biography Love and Poison, guitarist Richard Oakes remembers a gig in Oslo that ended with Edwards sitting outside in the bitter cold in nothing but his underwear.
Richey's final appearance with the Manic Street Preachers took place on December 21, 1994 at the Astoria in London. He turned 27 the next day and by the following February, he managed to join the infamous "27 Club" with other troubled rock stars like Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.
In the years since his death, Richey has almost become the indie-rock Elvis. To this day, sightings are reported of him in far away destinations like hippie communes in India. Personally, I don't know what to believe about Richey's whereabouts. He was certainly clever enough to disappear completely and never be found. Others aren't so optimistic. Edwards' car was found abandoned near the Severn Bridge in southwest Wales, a popular place for suicides. The efforts to locate Edwards in the immediate aftermath of his disappearance have been criticized. Simon Price, the author of the Manics biography Everything, stated that the investigation was "far from satisfactory."
Richey could have been legally declared dead in 2002, but his family chose to keep his case open. Prior to November 23, 2008, Edwards was still listed as a missing person. He is now officially presumed dead. In 2009, the remaining Manic Street Preachers (who went on to have a very successful career as a three piece) released Journal for Plague Lovers, an album using lyrics entirely pulled from the notebooks that Richey left behind. The music itself strays from the anthemic rock that defined the Manics in the late '90s and returns to that dark, harsh sound found on the Holy Bible. It is a very fitting tribute to Richey's memory.
Wherever he is alive or dead, we can only hope that Richey Edwards is finally at peace. His story still provides morbid fascination to music fans and he has earned his title as a rock 'n' roll legend. His work with the Manic Street Preachers will always be admired. New generations of alienated teens will always find a home in the words he penned.