Too young to die, too tortured to live. But has Manic Street Preacher Richey James followed his idol Kurt Cobain to the grave?
"Richey looks well," said a young women beside me in The Tivoli as the Manic Street Preachers rattled into the second song in their set late last year. Her words didn't mask fan lust. Rather, they carried a sense of relief similar to that heard after visits to a sickly elderly grandparent.
This fan was glad the the guitarist was surviving. Poorly, perhaps. but at least still hanging in there.
I agreed. While not exactly the picture of rosey rude health, the Welsh band's guitarist didn't look as gaunt as might have been expected of someone who'd just stepped back from the brink of some dark personal abyss.
At times one could detect a hint of a thousand-yard stare, but alienation has long been the stock in trade of rock‘n'rollers anxious to impress.
Richey James was different. His pain was real. It ran deeper. "The boy went bonkers," was how James Dean Bradfield reacted to my enquiry on Richey's hospitalisation last summer.
Bradfield, the band's frontman, found his friend's decline hard to comprehend. But he had an album, The Holy Bible, to promote while Richey languished in hospital, the term "nervous exhaustion" covering a dangerous mix of anorexia, alcoholism, depression and an urge for self-mutilation.
But while we were pleased to see Richey back on stage, we couldn't help feeling that all was still not quite hunky-dory. Our concerns were borne out in February of this year when, the the Manics' fame was growing worldwide. Richey walked out of a London hotel and never came back.
Today, he's officially a missing person. It seems the troubled 28-year-old, who'd read political history at Cardiff University and had become an insightful lyricist, had ﬁnally been seduced by the dark side of his emotional canvas.
His car was found near the Severn bridge and friends fear suicide. However, although he dumped his notebooks and lyrics sheets a week earlier and left his possessions behind him, some people point to the fact that he had taken his passport as a hopeful sign.
But, almost seven months on, no one has heard from the traumatised musician. His family are devastated. His friends bewildered.
The police don't offer much hope. "I have to move towards the theory that Richey is no longer with us," says Detective Sergeant Stephen Morey, who's on charge of the case. "It is not as though he was just an ordinary unknown who has disappeared. Every fan is unwittingly looking for him. He has drawn no money since he left the hotel six months ago."
Ironically, the Manic Street Preachers had their biggest hit with a remake of the Theme From M*A*S*H, Suicide Is Painless. But the songs on the band's last album, The Holy Bible, offer an unsettling glimpse of the state of Richey James' mind.
On 4st 7lb, an exploration of anorexia, he wrote, "self-worth scatters, self-esteem's a bore, I long since moved to a higher plateau. Discipline so rare so please applaud...such beautiful dignity in self-abuse."
Out of hospital and preparing for the tour which brought him back to Dublin, Richey Manic told one London-based writer that the line "self disgust is self-obsession" was "the truest line" on the album.
As critics and fans watched a nightmare untold, he denied that the song Die In The Summertime was a prophecy.
Undertaking a 12-step recovery program last year, Richey claimed he came unstuck at step three which required him to envisage a god. Some say that afterwards he sank further into a morass of incomprehension.
Bradfield points to a line in one song as perhaps a key to his confusion. "Hurt myself to let pain out."
When they first played here, in Charlie's bar in Aungier Street, Manic Street Preachers were a bunch of self-styled Generation Terrorists. There was as much fun as anger in their music.
They played with the iconography of alienation and camped up an outsider status which borrowed heavily from much of the Situationism of Punk. Richey was the band's androgynous aesthete. Their resident poet of excess.
This week the band have announced they'll attempt to carry on as a three-piece.
"We’ve sat down and discussed whether to record or not at great length, amongst ourselves and with Richey's family and basically decided we would have a go" says bass player Nicky Wire. "The last six months have been very difficult for us but we feel ready to start recording."
The band haven't performed since last Christmas. And according to their manager, despite rumours and gossip, "there have been no 100pc positive sightings of him (Richey)"
Richey James' departure remains a tantalising mystery. Shortly before his disappearance he had shaved his head as another act of private protest. But where did his torturous journey to the heart or darkness ultimately lead?
He's known to have been fascinated by Kurt Cobain's death. "I find the idea or him taking his own life frighteningly powerful," he stated last year. "I've always been a sucker for that."
Almost seven months his disappearance, hopes that he may have avoided a similar fate are fading fast.