Welsh alt-rockers Manic Street Preachers are renowned for being one of the most principled bands around. While many groups may end up falling out over unpaid royalties, the Manics have always ensured that each member is paid fairly and squarely. And this even extends to the member who went missing in 1995.
Indeed, shortly before he was scheduled to head to America to take care of some promotional duties, guitarist Richey Edwards went AWOL. And despite the best efforts of his fans, friends and family, the troubled star hasn’t been seen since. As a result, even without the discovery of a body, in 2008 he was legally declared dead.
And yet for over a decade after his disappearance, Edwards was still earning money. Indeed, in a 2019 documentary the rest of the Manics revealed that they continued to pay their former guitarist in the hope that he would one day return. So, here’s a look at Edwards’ harrowing story – and his bandmates’ heartwarming gesture.
Born in the Welsh town of Blackwood in 1967, Richey Edwards studied political history at college before joining James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore in the Manic Street Preachers. Tasked at first with driving the band around and carrying their equipment, Edwards was quickly upgraded to an official member. This was despite the fact that his grasp of his instrument, the guitar, was rudimentary.
In fact, initially Edwards often relied on a backing track when it came to live performances. But he soon became a valued member thanks to his ability to mold the band’s image and his distinctive way with words. Indeed, Edwards reportedly wrote the majority of the lyrics for The Holy Bible, the band’s acclaimed third LP.
Sadly, however, Edwards soon became just as renowned for his disturbing off-stage antics as for his lyrical abilities. For example, during an infamous interview with the NME in 1991, he began quarreling with writer Steve Lamacq about the band’s integrity. To prove that he meant business, Edwards used a razorblade to carve two words into his forearm: “4 Real.”
Edwards’ wounds needed almost 20 stitches following the stunt, which made the band notorious. But that wasn’t the only time that the guitarist self-harmed. In fact, he was unusually candid about the fact that he used to deliberately cut himself and stub cigarettes out on various parts of his anatomy.
“When I cut myself, I feel so much better,” Edwards told the NME in 1994. “All the little things that might have been annoying me suddenly seem so trivial, because I’m concentrating on the pain. I’m not a person who can scream and shout, so this is my only outlet. It’s all done very logically.”
Encouragingly, though, Edwards did seek help for his various mental health problems. Indeed, in the wake of The Holy Bible’s success, he spent time at psychiatric facility The Priory. But he soon rejoined the group for a series of shows across Europe with Irish metal outfit Therapy? and British glam-rockers Suede.
Sadly, this would be the final tour that Edwards would partake in. His last performance on stage took place just before the Christmas of 1994 at the Astoria in London, England. And it’s fair to say that it was a destructive show. Indeed, Edwards smashed his guitar into pieces during the closing song, prompting the rest of the band to do the same with their own equipment.
On February 1, 1995, Edwards and bandmate James Dean Bradfield were scheduled to travel to the U.S. for various promo duties. The troubled guitarist never showed up for the flight, however. In fact, in a tragic turn of events, from that day onwards he was never officially seen ever again.
On the morning of day he disappeared, the Welshman had left the London hotel he’d been staying at. In his room there were a packed suitcase, various toiletries and a few items of medication. Edwards subsequently headed in his car to his home in Cardiff, Wales – but what happened next remains a mystery to this day.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, various individuals claimed to have seen Edwards during the fortnight after his disappearance. He apparently had a conversation with a fan at a bus station, visited a passport office and took a taxi to his hometown. But none of these sightings were ever officially corroborated.
Edwards’ vehicle was then discovered near the Severn Bridge more than two weeks after he went missing. Police officials believe that the Vauxhall Cavalier had been used as a makeshift home. And due to its close proximity to the bridge, which is a notorious suicide spot, it began to look as though Edwards had tragically killed himself.
Several of Edwards’ nearest and dearest refused to believe that he’d taken his own life, however. What’s more, in a 1994 interview with the NME, Edwards had stated, “In terms of the ‘S’ word, that does not enter my mind. And it never has done, in terms of an attempt. Because I am stronger than that. I might be a weak person, but I can take pain.”
Just what exactly happened to Edwards has remained a constant source of speculation ever since. There have been reported sightings in locations as far-flung as the Spanish islands of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura, for example, as well as at a market in the southwest of India. But definitive proof that he’s still very much alive remains elusive.
Moreover, the British police have since been lambasted for the way in which they handled Edwards’ disappearance from the offset. Simon Price, who wrote a book about the band in 1999, claims that officials may have failed to adequately consider the troubled star’s history of mental illness at the time. In addition, Edwards’ sibling Rachel has expressed her disappointment that it took two years to assess CCTV film that apparently featured her brother.
Edwards’ family could have legally declared him dead from the year 2002, but it was a step they couldn’t bear to take at the time. The guitarist’s parents, Sherry and Graham, told the Evening Standard, “We want our son back and not the money. We will never declare him dead. As far as we are concerned he is still alive. We are still hoping and praying that he will return.”
Six years later, however, Edwards’ parents appeared to accept that their son was never coming back. Indeed, despite the absence of a body, the musician was officially declared to be dead in 2008. Publicist Terri Hall later told the The Mail on Sunday, “This is the parents’ choice, and the band is happy to go with what the parents decide is best.”
“We all dream Richey will come back one day,” Hall continued. “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.” Thankfully, though, Edwards’ legacy lives on in the music of the Manic Street Preachers. Indeed, despite the heartbreak of losing a member in such mysterious circumstances, Bradfield, Wire and Moore chose to continue as a trio.
Unexpectedly, the Manics enjoyed more success as a three-piece than they ever had done as a quartet. In fact, the Welsh outfit had achieved just one Top 10 single in the U.K. before 1995. And although the likes of Generation Terrorists and The Holy Bible achieved rave reviews, they were still very much seen as a cult concern.
However, their status changed dramatically when they released Everything Must Go in 1996. Their fourth studio effort became one of the year’s biggest-selling albums in the U.K. It also spawned a successful single in the shape of the emotionally stirring “A Design for Life” and picked up Best British Album at the BRIT Awards.
Edwards might not have been around to witness Everything Must Go’s success, but he still played a significant part in its conception. Five of its tracks included lyrics he’d written before his disappearance, for example. And “No Surface All Feeling” featured him on guitar duties – for only the second time in the band’s discography.
The Manics consolidated their status as one of Britain’s biggest bands with 1998’s This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. It was an even bigger hit than its predecessor, peaking at number one in the U.K. The album also produced the first of the band’s two chart-topping singles, “If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next.”
Frustratingly, though, the band failed to make any major inroads in the United States. And then their 2001 LP Know Your Enemy struggled to repeat the critical and commercial success of the group’s two previous efforts. After Lifeblood came out in 2004, Wire and Bradfield each recorded solo efforts, although the band subsequently returned to form with 2007’s Send Away the Tigers.
Interestingly, all four founding members would play a part in the band’s 2009 album. Indeed, as they’d previously done on Everything Must Go, the surviving Manic Street Preachers used Richey Edwards’ lyrics for Journal for Plague Lovers. This time around, in fact, every single track included his words. As the trio wrote on their official website at the time, “The brilliance and intelligence of the lyrics dictated that we had to finally use them.”
The group continued their highly prolific streak well into the next decade. This period saw the 2010 LP Postcards from a Young Man being followed by 2011 career retrospective National Treasures: The Complete Singles, 2013’s acoustic-driven Rewind the Film and then the leftfield Futurology a year later. Their 13th studio effort, Resistance Is Futile, arrived in stores in 2018.
The year previously, the Manic Street Preachers had been the subject of a documentary screened on British channel Sky Arts. Escape from History reflected on the band’s turbulent past, from the making of The Holy Bible through to the mainstream breakthrough of Everything Must Go. Inevitably, it also addressed Edwards’ tragic disappearance.
This wasn’t the first documentary to chart the group’s career, however. In 2015 No Manifesto: A Film About Manic Street Preachers premiered in London’s Crouch End. Made by U.S. director Elizabeth Marcus, the movie featured archival clips, live performances and footage of the group as they recorded Send Away the Tigers.
In February 2015 lifelong Manics fan Marcus told the Enfield Independent that the group still found it difficult to discuss Edwards. “They didn’t want to dwell on the fact of his absence,” she said. “It was almost like he went out to buy a packet of cigarettes and he’ll be back any minute.”
One of the most revealing moments in the doc is when the group refer to Edwards as the only member to stray from the Manics’ moral code. “I cannot agree or disagree with the Manics’ perception of the role that Richey played in the band,” Marcus told Cinema Chords. “I, of course, had no opportunity to meet Richey or directly observe Richey’s interactions with the band. And thus I have no foundation upon which to evaluate that relationship.”
The documentary also shows how the Manics fretted over what to do with Edwards’ previously unpublished words. “I think it was inevitable that they would use the lyrics sooner or later,” Marcus stated. “They loved Richey, and he is still very much present in their hearts. I think that using his lyrics was a way for them to connect with him again and to help deal with his continuing absence.”
Moreover, in one of the film’s most touching moments, the group discuss how they still paid Edwards royalties for several years after his disappearance. The band hoped that one day their former chief lyricist would be able to pick them up in person. In fact, the trio continued to keep Edwards’ 25 percent share separate until 2005.
Marcus told the Enfield Independent she wasn’t surprised that the trio would make such a gesture. “That’s what drives the band – their working-class bond, their friendship,” the director explained. “A lot of fans mention that in the interviews. Their love for each other, that’s seen them through all the ups and downs.”
Following the official declaration of Edwards’ death in 2008, a court decreed that the guitarist’s estate should pass to his mother Sherry and father Graham. Reports at the time stated that it was worth approximately $600,000. Taking the required death duties into account, though, the final figure sat somewhere around $500,000.
The mystery surrounding Edwards’ disappearance was brought back into the spotlight in 2019 thanks to the publication of a new book. Penned by Leon Noakes and Sara Hawys Roberts, Withdrawn Traces: Searching for the Truth About Richey Manic was given a seal of approval by the musician’s sister Rachel. And it made the startling claim that Edwards had planned his own disappearance.
Speaking to WalesOnline in January 2019, Roberts said that there’s a widely held theory in the Welsh capital, Cardiff, about Edwards’ whereabouts. The writer mentioned one particular incident when her co-author got into a conversation about the guitarist while having his hair cut there. Noakes’ hairdresser reportedly told him of Edwards, “He’s actually living in a kibbutz in Israel. Everybody knows.”
Understandably, though, Roberts initially dismissed the hairdresser’s comments as little more than gossip. However, she soon changed her mind when she discussed the matter with Edwards’ sister. That’s because Rachel Edwards told Roberts that her brother had been talking about visiting Israel just prior to this disappearance.
The book also offers several other potential explanations as to what happened that fateful day in February 1995. One argument is that Edwards staged the disappearance as a means of coping with his Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition he hadn’t been officially diagnosed with. And then there’s the enigmatic woman named Vivian.
Indeed, Roberts told WalesOnline that she was desperate to meet the lady in question, declaring, “She was in the hotel room with Richey the night before he vanished. But we haven’t been able to track her down. Apparently, the night before, Richey was trying to give Vivian his passport saying ‘I won’t be needing this anymore.’”