Obituary: Richey Edwards

Troubled guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, he disappeared in 1995

The disappearance in 1995 of the Welsh rock musician Richey Edwards, then aged 27, became a major British media event and, in the years that followed, supposed sightings of (or messages from) Edwards, akin to those of Elvis Presley in the US, lent a bizarre aspect to his supposed death. Edwards, whose parents have been granted a court order declaring him to be presumed dead, was himself a student of rock music history and popular culture, and would surely have been amused to find himself the object of so much speculation and intrigue.

Amused but not surprised: as a member of the Welsh rock group the Manic Street Preachers, Edwards had often courted controversy and commanded a loyal following. Edwards' talent was not that of a musician - he could barely play the guitar - but as a lightning rod of sorts for adolescent angst. A handsome, gaunt man, Edwards embodied similar qualities to the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton or, more recently, the rock singer Pete Doherty. The irony of his disappearance is that it led to the Manic Street Preachers becoming one of Europe's most popular bands in the mid-1990s, his absence allowing the three remaining musicians to create more mainstream rock-pop.

Richard James Edwards grew up in Blackwood, south Wales, where he attended Oakdale comprehensive. Between 1986 and 1989, he attended the University of Wales, Swansea, graduating with a degree in political history. While there he befriended Nicky Wire. Wire was playing guitar in a punk band, initially called Betty Blue before changing to the Manic Street Preachers, and Edwards became the band's roadie and driver. When the band's bassist quit, Wire shifted to bass and Edwards, who had begun collaborating with Wire on song lyrics and design, joined as rhythm guitarist. That he possessed no musical ability was not a problem - pale and thin, Edwards looked like a rock music archetype. While in the band he preferred to be referred to as Richey James.

In August 1989 the band independently issued their debut single Suicide Alley. The following year they issued the EP New Art Riot on the Damaged Goods label. This attracted interest from the UK music press due to their attacks on fellow rock musicians. A management deal followed and the band released the January 1991 single Motown Junk via Heavenly Records. This attracted press attention with such combative lyrics as, "I laughed when Lennon got shot."

The Manic Street Preachers' confrontational attitude looked back to British punk rock, and their concerts also aped the chaos of that era. This proved a perfect mix for the music press, which began championing the band. When the NME journalist Steve Lamacq questioned the band's commitment, Edwards grabbed a razor-blade and carved "4 REAL" into his own forearm. The wound received 17 stitches and the glossy photographs taken of the gory graffiti helped confirm to teenagers that here was a band who "meant it". In the wake of the ensuing publicity Sony Records signed the band and, in 1992, they issued Generation Terrorists, an ambitious double-album on which each of the 18 songs was accompanied by a literary quotation. While reviews were mixed - the band's limited musical ability and reliance on aggressive posturing alienated many - Generation Terrorists sold over 250,000 copies and established the Manic Street Preachers as Britain's new indie rock hope.

In September 1992 the band's recording of Theme from MASH (Suicide is Painless) reached No 7 in the UK singles chart and suggested they might have wide appeal. Edwards, by now the focus of intense fan devotion, enjoyed fame but began showing signs of emotional instability. Self-mutilation (often burning himself with cigarettes), anorexia nervosa (for which he wrote the song 4st 7lb) and alcoholism combined to make him increasingly unreliable. In 1994 he was admitted to the Priory hospital for treatment. The band played on as a three-piece - Edwards' guitar amplifier had often been turned down low, so his absence did not affect their sound.

While the band's 1993 album Gold Against the Soul had not been strongly received, their third album, The Holy Bible (1994) - with a Jenny Saville painting on the cover - re-established their critical worth. Most of The Holy Bible's lyrics were written by Edwards and, under the influence of Sylvia Plath, expressed the depths of depression.

Edwards was booked to travel to the US on February 1 1995 with the band's singer James Dean Bradfield for promotional duties, but never took the flight. Little is known about his movements in the following days, although it appears he left London for Wales. On February 14 that year his abandoned Vauxhall Cavalier received a parking ticket at the Severn service station, and it is widely believed that he jumped to his death from the Severn Bridge.

Edwards is survived by his parents, Graham and Sherry, and sister Rachel.

• Richard (Richey) James Edwards, rock musician, born December 22 1967; declared dead November 23 2008


Garth Cartwright

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Kevin Cummins remembers Richey Edwards

Obituaries 2008: The Manic Street Preachers' guitarist, who was legally 'presumed dead' on 24 November, is recalled by Kevin Cummins, the photographer who shot his first cover for NME

Kevin Cummins

14, Dec, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
New information uncovered in Richey Edwards case
‘We are hoping this will establish a new line of enquiry’, says sister of the former Manic Street Preachers guitarist

Laura Snapes

09, Feb, 2018 @12:46 PM

Article image
Richey Edwards case closed: how 14 years of hope ended

Parents finally wind up the affairs of Manic Street Preachers musician

Helen Pidd

29, Nov, 2008 @12:01 AM

Article image
Manic Street Preachers: Richey Edwards lyrics on new album

News: With words 'left to them' by Richey Edwards, and Steve Albini on production, the new Manic Street Preachers promises to be something special

Sean Michaels

05, Nov, 2008 @10:21 AM

Article image
Manic Street Preachers admit they ‘blanked out’ pain of Richey Edwards
In revealing interview to mark 20th anniversary of The Holy Bible, the last album Edwards worked on, the band say it was difficult to admit how desperate the guitarist was, writes Vanessa Thorpe

Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent

16, Nov, 2014 @12:05 AM

Article image
'If I had known Richey Edwards there's no way I could have written it'
Tim Jonze: Ben Myers's fictionalised account of what happened to the Manic Street Preachers guitarist was always going to upset people, including the band's bassist, Nicky Wire. So why did he write it?

Tim Jonze

20, Sep, 2010 @2:01 PM

Article image
Richey Edwards's final artistic statement

Dan Martin: Reading the lyrics to the new Manic Street Preachers album, Journal for Plague Lovers, it's as if Edwards, for his last work, chose to simply rejoice in language and imagery

Dan Martin

08, May, 2009 @9:52 AM

Article image
Manics' Richey Edwards is legally dead

More than decade after his car was found by the Severn bridge, a court order has declared the guitarist should be presumed dead

Sean Michaels

24, Nov, 2008 @11:28 AM

Manics say goodbye to Richey

Since his disappearance in 1995, Welsh rockers the Manic Street Preachers have been reluctant to address the fate of Richey Edwards, their former guitarist and lyricist. But the band's forthcoming album, Lifeblood, released on November 1, talks about him in song.

Dave Simpson

09, Sep, 2004 @10:59 PM

Article image
Esther Gordy Edwards obituary
Key Motown Records executive who helped her brother Berry found the company

Richard Williams

30, Aug, 2011 @5:22 PM