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27 Years Ago: The Band’s Richard Manuel Found Dead

Richard Manuel
Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

Early in the morning of March 4, 1986, Richard Manuel, one of the most recognizable and emotive voices in rock and roll, was silenced by his own hands. After a concert at the ‘Cheek to Cheek’ lounge in Winter Park, Fla., by the Band, who had re-formed without guitarist Robbie Robertson, a depressed and drug-abused Manuel returned to his hotel room and ended his life by hanging himself.

Manuel had struggled with various addictions, and with his confidence as well, since the break-up of the Band in 1976. By the early-1980′s Manuel, co-writer of Band classics such as ‘Tears of Rage,’ ‘We Can Talk’ and ‘Whispering Pines’ had since ceased composing, and found himself stuck in a musical and emotional rut he could not fight his way out of. One contributing factor to his depression was the metamorphosis of the Band from a multi-million dollar touring rock beast, to a club act that was having issues filling up small venues.

Manuel was known as a sensitive soul who perhaps felt things too deeply, as reflected by the tenderness in his voice. Nicknamed ‘The Beak’ for his protruding nose, Manuel was a beloved and respected vocalist influencing and collaborating with fellow artists Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. His skill on numerous musical instruments – he would switch from piano to drums when Levon Helm picked up the mandolin – is as legendary as his reputation as a party animal.

Fellow Band mates Garth Hudson, Helm and Rick Danko (who discovered Richard’s body) all struggled to make sense of Manuel’s final choice. As is often the case with suicides, families and friends are left with more questions than answers. Manuel left suddenly, but left a lasting legacy through his soulful music.

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