Fans Keep Hopes Alive For Missing Manic

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by Richard Jinman

Ten years on, remaining band members still pay royalties into an account for guitarist who vanished on eve of US tour

There were several sightings of the Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards yesterday, and there will probably be more as fans mark the 10th anniversary of rock's most baffling disappearing act.

"People genuinely believe they've seen Richard on a bus or outside a tube station," said a spokesperson for the National Missing Persons Helpline. "We had a couple of calls today and I'm sure we'll carry on getting sightings because of the anniversary."

The Welsh-born Edwards was 27 when he walked out of his London hotel on the morning of February 1 1995. He and the band were due to fly to America the following day for a promotional tour.

The musician drove his silver VauxhallkCavalier to his Cardiff flat, where he left his passport, credit card and Prozac. On February 17, the car was found at a motorway service station near the Severn Bridge. Its battery was flat and there was no trace of Edwards.

Many people assumed he had jumped to his death from the bridge. After all, the pale, waif-thin musician had battled anorexia, alcoholism and depression and was renowned for his self-destructive urges. In 1991, he used a razor blade to carve the slogan "4 Real" into his arm in front of a horrified journalist, and he gashed his chest with a knife before a 1994 gig in Thailand.

But Edwards's body has never been found and the mystery surrounding his disappearance has deepened with the passing years.

He has become the indie rock generation's Elvis - "sighted" in locations including Scotland, Germany, India and the Canary Islands, where a man answering his description sprinted from a bar after being accosted by a British woman who thought she recognised "Richey".

Edwards's family have refused to declare him legally dead. Avon and Somerset police consider the case "unsolved, but still open" and say they will consider any information that comes to light.

It is an optimism shared by the Manic Street Preachers, who continued as a trio and have become one of Britain's most successful bands. They continue to pay royalties into a bank account for the missing guitarist and his presence has informed songs such as Cardiff Afterlife.

The band's bass player, Nicky Wire, has ruled out any public commemoration of Edwards's disappearance, describing the 10th anniversary as a "personal thing between the three of us and his mum, dad and sister".

"We'll [the band members] talk to each other on the day and we'll remember some thing funny or stupid or sad," Wire told the NME.

Simon Price, the author of the 1999 book Everything (A Book about Manic Street Preachers), does not believe Edwards jumped to his death. He says there is evidence suggesting the guitarist wanted to "get away", not kill himself. It includes the substantial withdrawal Edwards made from an automatic cash machine, food wrappers that suggest he lived in his car for a while, and the individual presents he left for his bandmates at their hotel.

"I feel the facts do support the theory that he just wanted to get away," said Price. "It wasn't about suicide, but escape."

Price believes it is Edwards's poetic but frighteningly honest lyrics - used to greatest effect on the band's third album, The Holy Bible - that justify the fans' enduring adulation. "He was a truly remarkable lyricist," said Price. "He was also the aesthetic driving force behind the band. He couldn't play instruments, but in terms of the vision of the band he was increasingly taking charge."

Is it possible that Edwards is still alive?

"The longer someone is away, the chances diminish that they will turn up," said the spokesperson for the National Missing Persons Hotline. "But a man who went missing in 1987 at the age of 22 has just turned up recently and he's slowly rebuilding a relationship with his family. That reminded all of us here that there is always hope."


Rock's lost boys:

Syd Barrett

Pink Floyd's tousle-haired madcad wrote many of their best early songs, but his enthusiasm for mind-altering chemicals took a toll on his mental health. He left the band in 1968 and now lives a quiet, Floyd-free life in Cambridge.

Nick Drake

Drake only produced a handful of albums of gentle, jazz-inflected folk in his lifetime, but his reputation has grown enormously since his death in 1974 from an overdose of antidepressants.

Brian Jones

Jones could play any instrument he turned his hand to, but he was squeezed out of the Rolling Stones and died in the swimming pool at his Cotchford Farm home in 1969. Whispers of foul play continue to this day.

Gram Parsons

The poster boy for country/rock hung out with the Rolling Stones, but died alone in a motel room in 1973. Spicing up the legend is the fact his manager stole his body and cremated it in the desert.

Jeff Buckley

His father Tim died prematurely and Jeff was fated to go the same way. In 1997, a fully-clothed Buckley went for a spontaneous swim in the Mississippi river and drowned. He was 30.

[Originally published: The Guardian, 1 February 2005]

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