by Hardeep Phull
On the morning of Feb. 1, 1995, guitarist Richey Edwards, of the British rock band the Manic Street Preachers, was scheduled to fly to the US for a promotional tour.
His band was already big at home, they had just released their third album, "The Holy Bible," and they were now feeling optimistic about their chances of riding the American alternative-rock explosion of the time.
"We could have been a really big cult band," bassist Nicky Wire tells The Post.
But instead, Edwards (occasionally referred to as Richey James or Richey Manic) checked out of the London hotel where he was staying and reportedly drove toward his apartment in Wales. For the next two weeks, he made no contact with his bandmates, friends or family, and only a handful of unsubstantiated sightings were reported.
On Feb. 17, Edwards' car was found abandoned at a rest stop 25 miles from the band's hometown of Blackwood. No body was ever found, but Edwards was declared dead in 2008.
"Closure is not something that we've looked for or need," says Wire, who, along with singer-guitarist James Dean Bradfield and drummer Sean Moore, will finally play "The Holy Bible" on American soil Thursday with a show at Webster Hall.
"It's a psychological cliché that's never been part of our vocabulary. We know it may never, ever be resolved. We still keep a space onstage for him."
This mystery has been elevated into mythology, due in part to Edwards' magnetic persona and key role in the Manic Street Preachers' success.
From the very start, his intelligence, intensity and good looks made him a focal point of the group, especially after an infamous encounter with a journalist from British music weekly NME in 1991, which resulted in Edwards using a razor blade to carve the phrase "4 REAL" into his forearm.
Edwards' tendency toward self-harm, and alcoholism, increased following the death of the band's manager in late 1993. A trip to Thailand in the spring of 1994 ended with Edwards cutting himself onstage, and by the summer, an attempted suicide led to a spell in rehab.
"We told Richey he could do whatever he wanted; just write, or just come to the studio, just tour, whatever he needed to feel better. But he still wanted to be in the band 100 percent," explains Wire.
The turmoil was reflected, horrifically at times, on "The Holy Bible." Prior to the album, Edwards and Wire had split lyric-writing duty 50/50, but "The Holy Bible" was mostly Edwards' work. "He was writing so brilliantly at the time, I didn't feel I had much to add," says Wire.
Songs such as "4st 7lb" detail his struggle with eating disorders ("I want to be so skinny that I rot from view"), while "Mausoleum" and "The Intense Humming of Evil" were inspired by the Holocaust and visits to concentration camps.
Sonically, it captures the band at its visceral best. "The Holy Bible" turned out to be the band's biggest hit, crashing into the Top 10 of the UK's Album Chart after being released in August 1994.
With America beckoning in 1995, Edwards' disappearance almost dealt a fatal blow to the band; the four had been close friends since childhood.
"The time after Richey's disappearance was the epitome of nothingness," recalls Wire. "People forget that we were about 24, 25. It wasn't really on our agenda to deal with something like that."
Eventually, the remaining members decided to continue, and ended up having No. 1 hits in the UK and playing to stadiums. They've released a total of 12 albums to date - the last one being the trio's excellent "Futurology" (2014).
But Edwards' memory, work and image are never far away. Books (both fiction and nonfiction) have been written about him, while several documentaries have covered his life and disappearance.
Even Kanye West found himself unwittingly adding to the folklore surrounding Edwards, when he was spotted in December wearing a Raf Simons camouflage jacket with the guitarist's image on the breast.
Says Wire, "Kanye's a maverick in his own right, so seeing that made me smile."
The work of Richey Edwards is still an unknown quantity to most Americans, but download these five Manic Street Preachers songs for an introduction to his lyrical brilliance.
A relentless rumination on prostitution, and how anything is for sale in the Western world.
A torrent of lyrics bring together images of mental strength and physical decay within the same breath, all of which are barked out by James Dean Bradfield to create one of the band's best singles.
'This Is Yesterday'
A misty collection of Edwards' childhood memories provides one of the few shafts of light on "The Holy Bible."
'Small Black Flowers That Grow in the Sky'
Just days before Edwards disappeared, the band demoed this delicate track, which hinted heavily at the guitarist's sense of being caged.
After Edwards was legally declared dead, the group revisited a collection of writings and poems left behind by their guitarist for their 2009 album "Journal for Plague Lovers," which opened with this sinister rocker.
[Originally published: New York Post, 20 April 2015]