Richey Edwards: 'Genius' Manic Street Preachers Songwriter Who Vanished 20 Years Ago And Was Never Found

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by Andy Rudd

Photo: Rachel Elias with photo of her brother, Richey

Two decades after the Welsh guitarist disappeared, we look back on the mystery and how his family still can't come to terms with his fate

It was the rock'n'roll mystery of the 90s which prompted grief from fans around the world.

This weekend it is 20 years since Manic Street Preachers lyricist Richey Edwards vanished on the eve of a US tour, leaving little trace but his Vauxhall Cavalier near the Severn Bridge.

The road linking Bristol to his native South Wales is a notorious suicide spot. Most people assume Richey, who'd battled depression, took his own life.

His family finally declared him "presumed dead" in 2008 but there are still questions that were never answered. The flat battery hinted his car had been lived in and his body was never found.

Here we look back on Richey's life, his legacy and the disappearance which stunned the music world.

Who was Richey Edwards?

Born just before Christmas 1967, Richard James Edwards grew up in the Welsh mining town of Blackwood near Caerphilly.

He was clever from the start - he got three As in his A-levels and was reading Camus and Nietzsche while other pupils were playing football or messing around with girls.

He went to Swansea to study a political history degree and met Nicky Wire, who'd go on to be the Manics' bassist.

Just a roadie at first, it wasn't long before he was helping write the band's lyrics and playing rhythm guitar.

His words were a scream against the outdated establishments Britain held dear - think "throw some acid on the Mona Lisa's face". Fans said he was a modern poet.

Richey didn't always see it that way though. He told his final interviewer he had thrown notebooks full of lyrics in a river because they "just weren't very good".

How did he vanish?

Richey was last seen leaving his room at the Embassy Hotel in west London's Bayswater at 7am on February 1, 1995. He was 27.

He was due to fly to the US the same day for a promotional tour with Manics singer James Dean Bradfield, and the alarm was raised when he failed to show up.

If Richey died, it didn't happen straight away. He had withdrawn £200 a day in cash in the weeks leading up to his disappearance.

While newspaper adverts by his family were begging him to make contact, he reportedly drove to his Cardiff flat, was seen in a Newport passport office and asked a taxi driver to take him on a tour of the Welsh countryside where he grew up.

On Valentine's Day his Vauxhall Cavalier was given a parking ticket at Aust services on the M48 - right next to the Severn Bridge on the English side.

Three days later it was declared abandoned. The battery was flat, hinting that Richey had been living inside. It was littered with burger wrappers and pictures of his family.

How was it explained?

The songwriter was always open about his depression. He battled alcoholism, anorexia and self-harm, so most people believe he took his own life.

When NME journalist Steve Lamacq asked him in 1991 about how serious he was about his art, he carved the words 4REAL into his arm with a razor blade. He needed more than a dozen stitches.

Months before his death Richey checked into The Priory psychiatric hospital in Cardiff. He emerged with a fresh shaved-head look and played his last show with the Manics just before Christmas 1994.

He said in his last interview: "Regrets are meaningless. You can't change yesterday or tomorrow. You can change only this present moment.

"Before, all I was doing was destroying myself. But to me, the worst thing I did was keep trying to be normal, which is how I ended up in hospital."

Have there been sightings?

Yes. After the first two weeks, fans claim they've seen him around the world - from a hippy haunt on the Indian island of Goa to the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.

Despite hints that he might have killed himself, Richey's body was never found so police assumed he was alive for years.

Because the Severn Bridge has been the site of deaths before, there were many false alarms when bodies were pulled from the vast estuary. None of them turned out to be Richey's.

Police made fresh appeals but it was not always enough for the guitarist's family.

His sister Rachel Elias has repeatedly hit out at police for not doing enough to investigate the the case.

In a 1997 interview she said officers had taken two years to check CCTV from the Severn Bridge - and this week she said she still believes he "wasn't actively searched for".

When was he declared dead?

Missing people can be declared "presumed dead" seven years after the last confirmed sighting, but only if their families agree.

Richey's didn't. His mum Sherry and dad Graham declined an offer to close the case in 2002, and didn't change their minds for nearly six years.

They reluctantly made the declaration in 2008 so they could sort out his affairs.

He left more than £450,000, an impressive sum for a 27-year-old poet, which went to his parents because he didn't write a will.

Manics publicist Terri Hall said at the time: "We all dream Richey will come back one day. You hope he is still around somewhere.

"But it is no longer a realistic hope and if this offers some kind of closure then the band will be content with that."

What's his legacy?

Fans called him a musical genius, and the lyricist was held up alongside singers like Kurt Cobain as one of many so-called tortured artists.

But campaigners wanted to emphasise to his fans - especially ones facing similar depression - that they were not alone and could get help.

Richey left many lyrics which the band never used. So in 2008, the band reworked many of them into the album Journal for Plague Lovers.

One poignant track was called William's Last Words and read like a record of Richey's own goodbye.

The lyrics were: "Isn't it lovely, when the dawn brings the dew? I'll be watching over you. / Goodnight my sweetheart. Until we leave tonight, hold me in your arms. Wish me some luck as you wave goodbye to me.

"You're the best friends I ever had. Goodnight, sleep tight. Goodnight, God bless. Goodnight, nos da (goodnight in Welsh). I'll try my best."

Anyone struggling to cope can talk in confidence to Samaritans at any time. Call 08457 90 90 90, email jo@samaritans.org or find your local branch at www.samaritans.org.

[Originally published: Mirror, 31 January 2015]

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