20 Years On: The Strange Disappearance Of Richey Edwards Of Manic Street Preachers

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The sister of missing Manic Street Preachers lyricist Richey Edwards has spoken of how difficult it was for her father to die without knowing what happened to his son.

This Sunday marks 20 years since the guitarist checked out of a London hotel never to be seen again.

Two weeks later his car was found abandoned at a motorway service station. Despite numerous and high-profile appeals in the media, no trace of Edwards has been found - either dead or alive.

Although rock's prolific poet was declared legally dead in 2008, Edwards' sister Rachel Elias hopes he will be remembered for his talents rather than his troubles - which culminated in him being admitted to a mental health unit.

But while Mrs Elias is aiming to secure a more positive legacy for her brother, coming to terms with the events of February 1 1995 is still a long way off for her family - especially in light of the death of her dad Graham two years ago.

She said: "It was difficult losing dad....he had terminal cancer.

"He knew towards the end that his life was limited. It wasn't a sudden death. It was difficult because he had to face up to that realisation - that we all may have to - we may not find out what happened to Richard. It was obviously difficult for my father.

"Going through his bereavement, I recognised the difference between that and someone who is missing.

"It is very different. When someone dies you have that acute loss. It sounds like a cliche, that bereavement is a process - but it really is.

"You can go to a crematorium, graveyard or place where you have scattered their ashes and remember.....but when someone goes missing you are left with this ongoing uncertainty.

"Not knowing makes it worse."

Much has been made about Edwards' sudden disappearance - which came against a backdrop of personal turmoil.

In 1994, Manic Street Preachers released their third album and dark masterpiece The Holy Bible.

With 70% of the words written by Edwards, a man who once famously carved the words 4 REAL into his arm in response to a journalist who questioned his band's integrity, many sought to draw parallels between his state of mind and songs on subjects such as prostitution, anorexia and the horrors of the Holocaust.

In the run up to the LP's release, Edwards was admitted to Whitchurch Psychiatric Hospital in Cardiff before being checked into the Priory Clinic as his alcoholism and self-harming spiralled out-of-control.

Less than two months on from smashing his guitar to smithereens at a sold out London show in Christmas, a now shaven haired Edwards appeared to be on the mend.

As well as writing lyrics for new Manic Street Preachers songs, the ever-professional and punctual university graduate prepared to for an upcoming promotional tour of the US.

He and his band's singer James Dean Bradfield checked into London's Embassy Hotel ahead of a flight across the Atlantic the next day. But the following morning when Bradfield went to rouse his bandmate, no answer came from room 516.

When hotel staff opened up the room, they found the room empty - save for a handful of personal items.

His sister said that immediately sent alarm bells ringing.

"Despite what people may think, his disappearance really was out of character for him. He was always constantly there, if not physically, in conversation with you," she added.

"Even when he was touring, we always knew where he was.

"The idea he was acting out and walked off as to say 'I'm not getting on this flight' was not him.

"He was always passionate and professional about the band. He had never done anything like this before."

The days that followed were pure agony for the Edwards family as well as his bandmates - who were all childhood friends.

Eventually his silver Vauxhall Cavalier was found at the now defunct Aust Service Station - next to the old Severn Bridge.

The car, which had been lived in for some time and had a flat battery, was later put on a tow rope and transported back to Edwards' parents house in Blackwood.

But the fact a steering lock was on gave the Edwards' parents a sign of hope.

Mrs Elias added: "Why would you worry about someone stealing your car if you were chaotically thinking of ending your life?"

However, the days and months passed with no real progress on his whereabouts. Already emotionally exhausted by what had happened, his family said they were left further drained by the ordeal to come.

Mrs Elias said: "He was reported missing in Paddington Green Police Station because the hotel was nearby, yet his car was found near the Severn Bridge which involved Avon & Somerset Police and at some point he had returned to his flat in Cardiff which involved South Wales Police.

"At one point my mother and father had a visit to the house from the police at about 3am.

"They had been sent here to search the premises on instruction of the Metropolitan Police.

"I don't know why they did it. Possibly because they thought it was a publicity stunt or they possibly thought it was foul play."

Then there were the false gossip and rumours to deal with.

Mrs Elias said: "People said all sorts of things in the initial stages - that he was hiding out at a fan's house or that we knew where he was. It was just totally fabricated.

"That hampered the police's involvement, they had to explore statements like that rather than just be focused on the investigation.

"Also he was noted as a vulnerable adult on his missing person's file - because he had a recent hospital admission and prescribed anti-depressants.

"We assumed the police would risk assess the situation. But in retrospect, there wasn't that much active searching done. They would follow up leads if people contacted them, but they didn't actively try to find him. One officer even said he had a right to go missing.

"It was incredibly hurtful."

However, Edwards' sister refused to give in - tirelessly campaigning and working so other families going through same hell as her would be met with fewer barriers.

"Things have definitely improved. People have family liaison officers now and improvements have also been made in the way the police communicate with families of missing people," Mrs Elias added.

As well as promoting the charity Missing People, which helped her family so much, she has also campaigned for changes in the law to those seeking to have their relative declared presumed dead when a body has not been found.

She added: "Even though we had Richard declared legally dead that hasn't assisted us in anyway dealing with the loss of him.

"That process was just a financial matter.

"I think unless somebody returned or you recover their body or you at least know where they are - even if they don't want to return - that would resolve the matter.

"The only thing that has helped me is meeting other family members. Even though every missing person disappears for a different reason, the experiences are the same for those left behind.

"What you end up being left with is your imagination and you can construct everything in that....some people get a fair set of beliefs as to what happened.

"But I try not to go down that route because that's just speculation.....it is very difficult not to do that though.

"One of things that can go through your mind is 'was it something I said? Was it something I didn't say but should have done?'

"Every person I've met who has had someone go missing has felt that. You question whether you are part of the reason why they don't want to be here any more. That makes feel sad because it could possibly be the case.....you can't help but not think that."

Mental health support worker Mrs Elias added that one thing which has helped her has been her renewed faith in God.

She added: "Over the last few years I have been going back to church - the church I used to go to years ago. And I've really found that having a faith has really made sense of the situation to me.

"I feel now that even if I don't know where Richard is or ever find out where he is, eventually at some point I will know. I feel that strongly now about it. That's just me. I can't talk for other people."

In the meantime, Edwards' sister wants people to remember him as a brilliant writer than a mere tragic figure of "cult of Richey" caricature.

"It's sort of snowballed into this identity that he's only known for.

"The fact that he was really intelligent and sensitive and that he was the force behind the band their lyrics just seems to get forgotten.

"We've always been tremendously proud of Richard.

"He always excelled at whatever he did at whether that was at school, college and university or with the band.

"I suppose his legacy lives on in a way through the songs he wrote for the band - but his work is often set against the backdrop of his disappearance and his problems.

"I haven't decided what shape that will take, but there are number of plans I'm working through at the moment."

Mrs Elias also plans to keep up her charity work too.

She is a member of The Missing People Rock Choir who have released a fundraising single called I Miss You.

The track can be downloaded for a donation of £1 via the website www.missingpeople.org.uk/imissyou

Timeline

1994

December 21: Richey plays his last-ever live show with the band at the London Astoria. The now legendary show culminates in the band smashing all their equipment to pieces. Bassist Nicky Wire later says in hindsight: "That felt final".

1995

January 14: Richey and his sister Rachel bury the dog they had for 17 years. By now Richey has shaved off all his hair.

January 23: Richey speaks with a Japanese journalist from the magazine Music Life. It is his last interview. In it he says: "People try saying they're strong. But that's not true. Everyone is weak." The day is also the last time Richard's parents Graham and Sherry will see their son.

January 31: Richey and Manics frontman James Dean Bradfield check into the London Embassy Hotel ahead of their flight to the USA for a promotional tour.

February 1: Richey checks out of his hotel at 7am. He gets in his Vauxhall Cavalier and drives back to Wales. Bradfield wakes and knocks on Richey's door in the morning to find no answer. Hotel staff open up Room 516 and find it empty - save for a few items. Among the things left behind include a carefully wrapped box with small quotes stuck to the side and three word note saying "I Love You".

February 2: The band's manager Martin Hall files a missing person report on Richey with the Metropolitan Police.

February 15: It is believed Richey's Vauxhall Cavalier arrives at the now defunct Aust Severn service station on the M4.

February 15: Police in south Wales issue a public statement about Richey's disappearance as do Manic Street Preachers urging the 27-year-old to make contact.

Febuary 17: Richey's abandoned car is found at the service station near the Severn Bridge. The car appears to have been "lived in". The vehicle's battery is flat and the scattered items inside include recent photos of his family.

December 29: The Manics play their first show following Richey's disappearance.

1996

April 15: Manic Street Preachers release the single A Design For Life. It gets to number 2 in the charts. The album Everything Must Go follows a month later. Five of the songs feature lyrics Richey had written before his disappearance.

September 30: Release of the Richey penned song Kevin Carter. The song about the Pulitzer prize winning South African photojournalist Carter, who committed suicide, reaches number 9 in the UK singles charts.

1998

September 14: Manic Street Preachers' fifth album This Is My Truth, Now Tell Me Yours tops the UK album charts. Among the tracks is bass player Nicky Wire's tribute to Richey called Nobody Loved You - which features the line "nobody loved you like me".

1999

December 31: Manic Street Preachers play their biggest show to date - a New Year's Eve concert in front of 60,000 people at The Millennium Stadium, Cardiff. In dedicated one track to Richey, singer Bradfield describes his missing friend as his "icon of the 20th Century".

2000

February: Sherry Edwards, Richey's mother, writes an open letter to her son in the Sunday Mirror urging him to come home. A television appeal also follows.

2002

January: As the seventh anniversary of his disappearance nears, Richey's parents decline to have their son legally declared dead. People can be declared deceased seven years after going missing.

2003

July 14: Richey penned lyrics Judge Y'rself appears on a Manic Street Preachers rarities album Lipstick Traces. It is one of the last songs the rock-icon had written before disappearing. The song was originally going to feature on the soundtrack for the 1995 film Judge Dredd.

2005

April 30: More lost Richey lyrics emerge - this time via the online-only God Save The Manics EP.

2008

November 23: Richey's legal status is legally changed to "presumed dead" although his family say they will never give up hope of finding him. As a result, his missing person's file is closed and his parents are granted control of his estate.

2009

May 18: Manic Street Preachers release Journal For Plague Lovers - an album of material with all lyrics written by Richey. Songs on the album deal with mental illness, confusion and religion. The album's final track William's Last Words is described by some as a "sort of" goodbye from Richey.

2014

December 8: Manic Street Preachers issue 20 anniversary re-release of The Holy Bible. The group's third album is hailed by many critics as Richey's masterpiece.

[Originally published: Herald Scotland, 31 January 2015]

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