Richey Edwards vanished a decade ago, but his fans still hold out hope. Clare Rudebeck finds out why.
In 1995, the Manic Street Preachers were a relatively obscure Welsh rock band. But when their lyricist, guitarist and pin-up, Richey James Edwards, slipped out of the Embassy Hotel in west London in the early morning of 1 February, all that changed. Edwards was never seen again and thereby claimed his place in the pantheon of lost boys of rock'n'roll, next to Kurt Cobain, who had killed himself the previous year.
Beautiful, bright and troubled, Edwards wrote songs such as "Die in the Summertime", "Mausoleum" and "4st 7lb" (which explored his descent into anorexia). In doing so, he inspired the affection of boys who were lost and girls who wanted to save him. Ten years after his disappearance, there are numerous websites dedicated to his memory.
In the past decade, he has been reportedly sighted in Whitby, New York, Goa and the Canary Islands, but there is no concrete evidence about what happened to him. His car, a silver Vauxhall Cavalier, was found two weeks after he disappeared in a car park overlooking the Severn Bridge, a well-known spot for suicides. But no body has ever been found and his case is open, but inactive, at the National Missing Persons Bureau.
The band's three remaining members, Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore, continue to pay royalties into a bank account for Edwards. His family has decided not to apply for a death certificate, as they were legally entitled to do seven years after his disappearance. And his fans continue to swap theories about what might have become of the 28-year-old who drove from the Embassy Hotel to his Cardiff flat, dropped off his keys and credit cards, and disappeared without trace.
Customer services agent, 30
I was very upset when Richey disappeared, but I never lay awake at night worrying about him. I think he's probably living a very peaceful life, far away from the pressures of the band. There have been various reported sightings of him over the years in Goa and the Canary Islands.
I got into the Manics in the late 1980s and Richey was my favourite band member. I had a picture of him after he had cut his own arm. I didn't find it distressing, but I do think he cut himself as a cry for help. I think he was probably extremely depressed. You could hear that in his lyrics. I don't think he committed suicide, though. He was such an intelligent person that I can't believe he would do it. Even 10 years after he disappeared, I haven't given up hope.
Primary school teacher, 39, who founded the Manic Street Preachers fanzine, R*E*P*E*A*T, in 1994
I found out that Richey had disappeared when the deputy head of my school came up to me and said: "You haven't got him hiding in your stock cupboard, have you?" She was almost gloating because a lot of the kids that I taught were really into the Manics because of me. At the time I thought it was probably a stunt or that he'd just gone off to recover - to get his head sorted out.
Even when his car was discovered near the Severn Bridge, I didn't think that he'd killed himself. He had said categorically that he thought that suicide was a very selfish thing to do.
The longer he was missing for, the more upset I became. I'm not as obsessive as other fans but I thought about it a lot. A lot of other people I know took it a lot harder. One friend almost killed herself because his disappearance illustrated how she was feeling about life at the time.
I think people identified with Richey because he articulated the feelings they kept hidden. He wrote about suicide, male anorexia and depression. He could put into beautiful words what many people feel.
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of Richey's disappearance, I'm holding a gig to raise money for a missing persons helpline. Local bands will come along and play songs that he wrote the lyrics for. As for where Richey is, I have no idea. I just hope he's happy.
Singer and guitarist, 25, in the band Miss Black America, which is inspired by the Preachers
Richey Edwards wasn't a guitarist; he was a very glamorous lyric writer. His musical contribution was negligible, but he made people realise how important the words were. That was what made me want to start a band.
I'd love to think he's still alive. With the money he withdrew, he could have bought a fake passport. He could be anywhere. Perhaps he is in a monastery. Perhaps he found God.There's no way of knowing. I just hope he's happy.
He has inspired many people to write, and that's great. However, some see his lyrics as glamorising mental illness and suicide - and that really offends me. We're all drawn to that glamour of early decline, but I don't think that's how Richey intended his lyrics to be taken. He was more knowing. He wrote lines like: "I am stronger than Mensa, Miller and Mailer / I spat out Plath and Pinter."
I've had problems with mental illness myself. It nearly killed me. I've got scars from cutting myself, and it saddens me to hear Manics fans talking about how fucked up they are. I've spent a lot of my life - and I think Richey spent a lot of his - trying not to be so miserable. I don't think Richey would have wanted people to use his lyrics as an excuse to give up hope.
To mark the anniversary, I'm doing a tribute gig. It's a good excuse to play old Manics songs. It's important not to get too po-faced about this. Rock'n'roll is supposed to be fun.
Radio journalist, 25
I got into the Manics at school, just after Richey disappeared. It was the lyrics, largely written by Richey, that people were obsessed with. They appealed to shy, poetic teenagers - sensitive types.
Richey was a beautiful and talented man, but part of his appeal was that he was on self-destruct. Fans were waiting for his next move. They were in their bedrooms poring over his lyrics, enjoying the glamour and intelligence of them. In effect, they were spectators of his spiral towards suicide.
I now believe that Richey is dead. But, when he disappeared, I think he was just planning to escape; he wasn't suicidal. He was quite a home-loving boy, and I think he got cold feet about his upcoming tour to America. Before he disappeared, he was apparently reading a book called The Perfect Disappearance. And he was withdrawing money for a fortnight beforehand. He also left a box in his hotel room, covered in poetry - it must have taken more than an evening to put together. On the box, there was a picture of a house that looks German so, for a while, people thought he might have gone there.
I think he probably lived in his car for a few days. He didn't have his passport, so he couldn't have left the country. I think he probably committed suicide about a month after his disappearance. I don't think he could have evaded detection for 10 years.
[Originally published: The Independent, 26 January 2005]