When Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards, who has been declared dead after being missing since 1995, carved "4 REAL" into his arm during an impromptu NME interview with Steve Lamacq, it was a stunt that would give him iconic status as a posterboy for a new generation of doomed, poetically-inclined youngsters.
It was also a major signifier of the fragile state of mind he was in, and would mark the way for a catalogue of self-harm, anorexia nervosa, alcoholism, a short stay at a psychiatric hospital and The Priory and, aged 27, what is believed to have been a suicide jump from the Severn Bridge.
At the time of the "4 REAL" incident, which took place after a sparsely-attended gig in Norwich, The Manic Street Preachers were struggling to get attention beyond a confrontational stance and a penchant for mascara, faux fur and leopard-skin.
Once a close-up of Edwards's bleeding arm had adorned the cover of NME, however, everything changed.
At the time of Edwards' disappearance, the band's third album, The Holy Bible, which featured a larger-thanlife front cover painting by Jenny Saville and a set of lyrics penned by a heavily Sylvia Plath-influenced Edwards, had transformed the band into a major rock act that was a long way from their protosituationist beginnings as a set of bookish auto-didacts from South Wales.
Edwards himself understood the power of rock, even if he could barely play the guitar he wielded onstage, with the volume largely turned down low. That didn't matter. With his elegantly wasted frame, he played the part all too perfectly.
Richard James Edwards was born in Blackwood, south Wales, and attended Oakdale comprehensive school. It was a town decimated by the aftermath of the miners strike in the 1980s, and Edwards's father was forced to retrain as a hairdresser. In 1986, Edwards studied political history in Swansea and by the time he graduated had become friends with Nicky Wire, becoming roadie and driver for an early incarnation of the band Edwards would eventually join.
It was he and Wire who provided lyrics, ideas and image for the Manic Street Preachers, who, fleshed out with James Dean Bradfield on vocals and Sean Moore on drums, issued their first independent single, Suicide Alley, in 1989.
Despite initial attention for the New Art Riot EP and Motown Junk single in 1991, the Preachers' cartoon punk look appeared out of step with the times, and it was only after the NME cover in 1992 that the band were signed to Sony Records. A debut album, Generation Terrorists, sold 250,000 copies. A cover of Theme From MASH (Suicide Is Painless) charted at number 17, by which time Edwards was adored with a similar devotion to that received by Pete Doherty. By this time, Edwards's mental state was looking increasingly ragile, yet, while 1993 album, Gold, was patchy, The Holy Bible was a breakthrough on every level.
Edwards and Bradfield were booked to leave for a promotional tour of America on February 1, 1995. Edwards's room in a Bayswater hotel, however, was empty apart from 30 sheets of lyrics left lying on the bed. Edwards hasn't been seen since.
On February 14, Edwards's abandoned Vauxhall Cavalier was given a parking ticket at a service station close to the Severn and its bridge, a notorious suicide black-spot.
There are obvious parallels with Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, who hung himself on the eve of an American tour, and Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, who shot himself at the height of the band's fame.
Edwards's family, however, and the band he defined spiritually if not musically, never gave up on him.
His parents had the option of declaring their son dead seven years after his disappearance, but kept on hoping. Only now have they opted for closure. A space has been left onstage for Edwards whenever the Manic Street Preachers play live, and a share of all royalty payments continue to be paid into a bank account for him.
A new Manic Street Preachers album, tentatively titled Journal For Plague Lovers and featuring the lyrics by Edwards found on the bed, which the band have held on to since his disappearance, is scheduled for release in spring 2009. Edwards is survived by his parents, Graham and Sherry, and his sister, Rachel.