The Disappearance of Richey Manic 20th Anniversary

by JoHarrington

On February 1st 1995, Richey Edwards of the Manic Street Preachers booked out of his hotel in London. He was seen in various locations in Wales, then never seen again.

February 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of Richey Manic.

Two decades is a long time to wonder if somebody is alive or dead. The police inquiry was a mess (they didn't even check the CCTV footage until two years later). No body was ever found. His family still wonder if he'll one day walk through that door.

His parents officially registered him as dead only in 2008. It was to finally be able to access his bank account and personal effects, which had been kept in a kind of stasis for all those years.

We called him Richey Manic or Richey James. His parents knew him as Richard Edwards. He was the main lyricist and influential creative force behind the early Manic Street Preachers. His current whereabouts is one of the music world's great unsolved mysteries.

Memories of a Manic Richey Girl

We were stronger than Mensa. We spat out Plath and Pinter. Then suddenly that heartfelt song of soul was no longer a duet.

I remember precisely where I was when it finally hit that this was for real.

I was in a greasy cafe, in a Black Country back street, eating a baked bean, cheese and egg double decker toastie and reading the newspaper.

There was yet another article about Richey in there, as there had been ever since the announcement was made that THE Manic Street Preacher had gone missing.

I hadn't really thought too much about it before. I figured that it was just Richey being Richey. That he'd turn up again in a fortnight, with a self-effacing story to tell the press. We'd all read it wanting to both hug and kill him.

It might spawn a song that would break our hearts in hearing.

There was something in the wording of a quotation from James Dean Bradfield. I jolted in my seat and put my cup of tea down. It was 12.38 on the clock. The cafe's owner looked at me with a wordless 'yam owroight, me luv?'

And I didn't know if I was. It was like the world came into sudden focus. Richey had been missing for weeks already. He wasn't going to come back, was he? This was actually for real. A sharpened world, pivoting just slightly on its axis of reality.

I nodded to the lady and stared long and hard at the half-page picture printed there of Richey Manic. Black and white pixels displaying big Welsh eyes in panda-esque kohl and mascara.

MY Richey. The man who, just seven months before, had contributed most of the lyrics to The Holy Bible, the album which changed everything for me. He'd shifted then from 'a bloke who looks vaguely cool in a band I sort of like' into practically becoming my own personal Taliesin. The One Who Told it as it Was for those of us who could not.

I was still riding the initial crest of that. Listening to The Holy Bible with an intensity way past obsession, scrambling mentally up the life-lines cast by Richey Manic.

Then he was gone.

Compilation Footage of the News Breaking about Richey James's Disappearance

The Troubled Mind of Richey James

It's probably one of those 'you don't say!' moments - given that, in most theories, he either disappeared himself or committed suicide - when I tell you that Richey Edwards was not a well man.

Growing up as a boy in Blackwood, Gwent, he was remarkably well adjusted. Family and friends alike have described the young Richard Edwards as an almost preternaturally calm individual. Troubles dropped from him like water off a duck's back.

Then he went to university.

This was by no means usual for people from his background. Richey was born and raised in the Rhondda Valley, in the middle of the Welsh coalfield. Just about every adult man he knew worked in the mines.

But he was my generation and Thatcher's government put paid to that.

Novel about Richey Edwards by Ben Myers

Possessed of a fierce intelligence, Richey enrolled at University of Wales, Swansea. He was based at the Cardiff campus, where he lived during his scholarly tenure. He was there a full year before his best friend (and later fellow band-member) Nicky Wire.

Something in Richey seemed to give there. His sister recalled how he was increasingly 'flat' each time he came home. Nicky arrived to find Richey apparently woefully out of his depth.

Not academically. He was not only writing his own essays, but Nicky's too half of the time. But socially. He couldn't get his head around the fact that the largely middle class student body wanted to party. He thought university would be all about study groups filled with intellectual conversations, and he was starved for them.

Instead, Richey Edwards found himself as a too serious working class boy, in the midst of people who didn't get him. His confidence ebbed away.

He stopped sleeping. After branching out into seeing live bands, while necking glass after glass of vodka, Richey discovered that he could sleep after all. So he began drinking whole bottles of the stuff every day.

But come exam time, his anxiety levels rose to unprecedented levels. By his third year, Richey was caught by James Dean Bradfield willfully cutting himself with a metal compass. Richey had also stopped eating.

Richard James Edwards graduated from University with anxiety, anorexia nervosa, alcoholism, and a 2:1 in Political History. The promise of a high-paying job, for anyone armed with letters after their name, never materialized. This was still Thatcher's Britain and there are no graduate jobs in the Welsh valleys.

Blackwood's male population, including most of the band's fathers and elder brothers, were out of work miners. In a parallel universe, each band member would have been a miner too.

The Manic Street Preachers have intimated that they began with a 'color by numbers' strategy for infamy and fame. Basically they spent their days and evenings holed up in James and Sean's bedroom (the pair are cousins and Sean Moore lived with the Bradfields since childhood). While the music lovers listened to record after record to determine what worked, Richey sat piled up with magazines, biographies and history books.

He studied what successful bands and individual artists did to become famous. He made notes. He devised a formula for fame and presented it to the rest of the Manics.

Controversy equated publicity. Sloganeering created soundbites. The press love soundbites. Controversial soundbites guaranteed column inches and so each member of the band was charged with uttering them. The more outrageous the better.

It turned out that Nicky Wire was a natural.

(And still is. As a Manics fan, I spend half of my life apologizing to friends for Things that Nicky Said. He's still following Richey's strategy, plus it's expected of him by now.)

While James and Sean concentrated on perfecting the music, Richey and Nicky ran with the look, imagery and whatever it took to attract attention. They were the ones the press wanted to interview with good reason too. They were also the ones slapping on make up and flirting with each other for the cameras, despite Nicky actually being married by now.

But the strategy also provided a brilliant cover for Richey's increasingly erratic mental state. He could always claim that certain omissions of sanity were all part of the act. It inserted uncertainty into the minds of concerned family members. Even the band, who were with him almost 24/7, were sometimes blind-sided.

All of the issues that Richey James brought back from university were exacerbated out on the road, living in the full glare of public expectation. Things, which in a Welsh miner might have been caught early on and given succor, were not only misread in a publicity-seeking punk rock star, but openly encouraged.

Like the infamous '4 Real' incident, on May 15th 1991 in Norwich, wherein NME journalist Steve Lamacq accused the Manic Street Preachers of faking their whole punk ethic - being controversial for the sake of controversy (ssshhh!) - and that their feelings of political outrage and angst didn't run too deeply.

Then he sat there mesmerized, as Richey very, very calmly spoke, articulating with precision eloquence that the band really did mean it. All the while cutting the slogan '4 Real' into his own forearm with a razor, creating an injury which would require eighteen stitches to fix.

There were other major moments too. Like the time in Thailand, in 1993, when a fan presented Richey with a fabric rolled gift of a slender knife set. He took them with him on-stage and preceded to cut his chest into shreds before a packed concert audience.

They cheered him on. It was all part of the act. All that they'd come to anticipate. It was the whole reason that the fan had brought the knives.

James Dean Bradfield later said that, in retrospect, those two Thai gigs were the start of things spiraling completely out of control.

Yet it's hard to see the beginnings of things that have slowly escalated to that point, when you're too busy living it. We're all much wiser with hindsight.

By the time the Manics reached Europe, none of them were particularly inclined to brush off Richey's excesses. He was losing weight at an alarming rate, swamped by anorexia again. He was constantly drinking, starting each morning with the pssssht of a lager can opening. In Hamburg, Nicky walked backstage to find that Richey had cut open his chest again, this time requiring thirty-six stitches.

They cancelled the tour to whisk Richey back to Britain, where he was persuaded to enter the Priory.

The Priory was pretty much THE rockstar refuge back in the nineties. It was where junkies detoxed, alkies dried out and every other disorder was brought into check. So the artist could return to the machine and continue making money for their record companies.

Richey was to be hospitalized in the Priory three times during 1993-1994. He wrote most of The Holy Bible within its walls. He was in there again when the same was released.

He also had spells in another institution in Roehampton, and a hospital in Cardiff. In the latter, he was given so much Prozac that he was practically comatose for eight days, until the band's manager discharged him.

On the one hand, it seemed to do the trick. By the time Richey Manic entered 1995, his drinking seemed to be under control at least. Though the anorexia and cutting weren't finished, their levels appeared to be abating.

However, we all have our pet theories and The Priory stints constitute one of mine.

The whole method there involved a series of steps, which revolved around connecting with deity. Fine for the likes of me, but Richey was a confirmed Atheist.

He was forced to connect with deity anyway, over and over again. Despite all of his issues, Richey was painfully polite with an inherent need to please. He did it, because he didn't want to put his doctors and analysts out.

But with a mind and personality like his - intellectual, obsessive, addictive, intense - Richey couldn't just dabble. He dived into spirituality with the same keen focus with which he did everything else. And THAT messed with his mind.

Or, as Nicky later put it, 'The Priory is a mixture of all pseudo-God and religious boll**ks and doctors trying to cure you. (Richey) quickly realized that the cure means having to destroy the entire entity that you are.'

Richey tried desperately to believe in something, which all his instinct and reason told him didn't exist. When he couldn't make the connection, it felt like yet more rejection and failure. Moreover, it was pretty much spelled out to him that if he couldn't participate properly - in one of the highest ranking health clinics in the country - then he would never be cured.

It was in this context that Richey wrote the lyrics in Faster: I know I believe in nothing, but it's my nothing.

The Priory might have helped with the physical self-harm, but he emerged with a brand new diagnosis of nervous exhaustion. It took him a while to understand again that it was alright not to have to believe in a god.

By January 1995, Richey James was deemed well enough to resume his position within the Manic Street Preachers. On the last day of the month, he and James Dean Bradfield checked into a London hotel, each in their respective rooms, ahead of flying out to America the following day.

The band were finally set to break the States. But when James arose in time to catch the plane, he found that Richey had already checked out. It was February 1st 1995 and that receptionist had the last confirmed sighting of the man.

Richey Manic Missing News Footage Compilation 2 & 3

What Happened to Richey Manic?

None of us know for certain, though naturally everyone has an opinion. Only a few facts pierce that initial gloom, until he finally faded completely from view.

Image: Richey ManicMost people thought he'd be back. He'd disappeared before, returning after two days wondering what all of the fuss was about.

On February 1st 1995, James Dean Bradfield made a few 'phone calls to alert relevant parties - and attempt to track Richey down - then caught his flight to America as planned. No doubt replete with a few choice curse words directed at his errant friend, whom James expected to follow him later in the week.

This was a big deal for the Manics. All indicators said that, in 1995, America was ripe to receive them. They could easily have become the biggest band in the world. But Richey never did turn up.

For a while there, the police didn't even want to hear about it. Richey was a grown adult and he'd patently taken the decision to disappear.

And fans like me took days, weeks, even months or years to get our heads around the fact that this was really happening. It wasn't a lost weekend, or a few days holed up somewhere, hiding from the fact that he had to go to the USA and be famous. (He'd told his Mum on the phone, the night before, that he really didn't want to do it.)

Was Richey now dead? No body ever surfaced as proof. Is he still out there in the world, watching from afar as the Manics filled stadiums?  It's a comforting notion. But he'd also be witnessing his distraught family's periodic appeals, and Richey wasn't the type to let someone suffer so badly on his behalf, especially his family.

These are questions which have filled a limbo for twenty years. We're no closer to knowing. But I wish we were.

Theories abound about what happened to Manic Street Preachers' missing lyricist and guitarist Richey James. But in truth nobody knows.

Richey's Albums with the Manic Street Preachers...

... His Lyrics Also Appeared on Three Later Albums

Richey handed James Dean Bradfield and Nicky Wire a book full of lyrics before he went missing. Most of Journal for Plague Lovers uses his words.

More of my Music Articles on Wizzley

On August 29th 2014, we will be marking twenty years of The Holy Bible. This is probably the most important album of my lifetime. You'll either love it or hate it.
The stories told about the making of The Madcap Laughs are nearly as legendary as the album itself. Here I go through it track by track.
Performing under the pseudonym of Quiet Loner, Matt Hill strikes a powerful chord in protest against all that's wrong in British politics. He's very good.
The story behind 'Land of my Fathers' ('Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau') is one of poetry, bardic awen and the refusal to lay down and play dead.
Updated: 11/14/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 06/12/2014

I haven't! I really want to though. I've heard great things about it.

Mira on 06/09/2014

Nice article! Have you read the novel? The one by Ben Myers? His face looks so sad on the cover of that Michael Heatley book.

JoHarrington on 06/07/2014

My theory is that this article became ungainly long, so I'm half way through a follow up. Not a part two per se, but another facet of the diamond. I don't think he's dead, though I own that there are flaws in my reasoning. I've just been reading one of his biographers, who says he's 70:30 in favor of suicide.

We crossed the new Severn Bridge by the way. Remember that horrific gale and the car being taken, then me going, 'Oh crap! The channel!" And off we went over it, all exposed, and made it across to Wales. That wasn't Richey's bridge, but we could see his bridge from there. It was the next one along.

Ember on 06/07/2014 what is your theory?

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