Co-lyricist with the Manic Street Preachers who among his fans assumed the status of a British Kurt Cobain
Richey Edwards, who was declared legally dead on Sunday, was the former co-lyricist and rhythm guitarist of the rock band Manic Street Preachers; he disappeared from a London hotel room in February 1995, when he was 27, and there have been no confirmed sightings since.
Musically, Edwards contributed nothing to the band (he didn't sing, and in the early days of the Manics' live performances his guitar was often unplugged while he mimed his part). He was none the less a vital component of the group as its polemicist and co-lyricist (with Nicky Wire), and to the band's fans he was to assume the status of a British Kurt Cobain - an impulse towards self-destruction, evident since his teenage years, was part of his make-up.
Richard James Edwards was born on December 22 1967 at Blackwood, South Wales. His intellectual abilities were evident at Oakdale comprehensive school, Blackwood, where he earned three "A" grades at A-Level. At the University of Wales at Swansea he read Political History and briefly toyed with the notion of becoming a teacher.
Blackwood, from which all four members of the Manic Street Preachers hailed, is a small town in the former mining valleys of South Wales. Richey's father, a former miner, had to retrain as a hairdresser, and the band was born in the wake of the miners' strike and out of the depressed economic conditions of the time.
Richey Edwards and the bass-player Nicky Wire (real name Jones) were close friends from university, and were joined by James Dean Bradfield as singer/guitarist and his cousin, Sean Moore, on drums. Bradfield and Moore took on the role of composing the music; Edwards and Wire wrote the lyrics, as well as designing the records and the promotional material and taking care of the band's public image.
Initially they attempted to imitate The Clash, and produced little of worth musically. To get noticed, they attempted to be provocative (their third single featured a chorus with the line "I laughed when Lennon got shot"); and in an attempt to generate glamour in an era of drabness they applied eyeliner and spray-paint.
Gradually they began to make an impact on the charts. Their single Motown Junk made it to 92; You Love Us got to number 64; and Stay Beautiful reached number 40. After signing to Sony (to the irritation of indie fans), in 1992 they produced a commercial rock double-album, Generation Terrorists, which charted at number 13.
A second album, Gold Against The Soul, followed in 1993, featuring songs written by Edwards about insomnia, the impossibility of love, and the problems of becoming an adult. By this time, however, he was becoming increasingly disturbed. In May 1991, after a gig at Norwich, he had used a razor to inscribe "4 REAL" on his forearm, an act which necessitated a visit to hospital and 17 stitches. He had been a habitual self-harmer since his schooldays, and in an early interview with a teen magazine had once urged his fans to kill themselves before they reached the age of 13. He once said of his self-destructive impulse: "When I was young I just wanted to be noticed." Later on, he said, cutting himself helped him to concentrate.
He was also becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol and was showing signs of anorexia. By the time of the band's third album, The Holy Bible (1994), for which he wrote many of the lyrics, Edwards's mental state had deteriorated badly. In July that year he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Cardiff and, later, to the Priory in London.
Edwards appeared to respond to treatment, and he rejoined the band for their autumn tour. He was on stage for a performance at the London Astoria on December 21 1994, at the close of which they smashed their equipment. It was to be his last appearance.
On February 2 1995, when the Manics were about to embark on a promotional trip to the United States, James Dean Bradfield went to collect Edwards from his room at a hotel in Bayswater, London. Getting no response, he and others broke down the door to find 30 sheets of lyrics but no sign of Edwards. His father found his son's passport and credit cards at Richey's flat in Cardiff; and on February 17 the police found his car at a service station near the Severn Bridge. It was widely assumed that he had committed suicide, although his body has never been found.
For the past 13 years Edwards has been the lost figure of rock, the industry's equivalent of Lord Lucan; there have been reputed sightings of him all over the world, from Goa to the Canary Islands. His songwriting royalties continued to be paid into a bank account which has remained untouched.
Many assumed that the band would disintegrate after Edwards's disappearance, but although they considered breaking up they rallied, and have achieved even greater success in the years since. A year after Edwards's disappearance, the Manic Street Preachers reached No 2 in the singles chart with A Design for Life, and a month later their album Everything Must Go also went to No 2.
The band never exploited their colleague's disappearance, and are only now recording an album which will feature many of the lyrics he left behind. They did not replace him and continued as a trio.
Richey Edwards could have been declared dead in 2002, after the seventh anniversary of his disappearance, but his family chose not to do so.