The Band’s Richard Manuel

Richard Manuel — The ‘holy madman’ of The Band

Remembering Richard Manuel, the pianist for the rock group The Band, who hanged himself on March 4, 1986, in a motel in Winter Park, Florida. He was 42.

‘The true light of The Band’

Eric Clapton remembers Richard back in 1975:

“We had the same trouble. I felt insecure and he was clearly insecure, and yet he was so incredibly gifted. For me, he was the true light of the Band. The other guys were fantastic talents, of course, but there was something of the holy madman about Richard. He was raw. When he sang in that high falsetto the hair on my neck would stand on end. Not many people can do that.”

The Band’s Richard Manuel
The Band, from left, Rick Danko, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson in Woodstock, New York, 1968. — Photo by Elliott Landy.

The night he died, Richard and The Band had performed at the Cheek to Cheek Lounge next to the Quality Inn in the Orlando suburb of Winter Park where the group was staying during their Florida tour.

Richard loved to party and battled alcohol and cocaine addiction over the years but band members said he appeared to be in good spirits at the concert. Somewhat ominously, however, he thanked Garth Hudson for 25 years of “good music and appreciation.”

Around 2 a.m. Richard went to his room in the hotel, and, still fully clothed, lay down on the bed next to his sleeping wife Arlie. He finished off one last bottle of Grand Marnier and then went into the bathroom. He tied a leather belt around his neck and secured the end of it around the shower curtain rod. And then, according to the coroner’s report, he sat down hard, strangling himself.

Arlie discovered his body later that morning, along with the empty bottle of liqueur and a small amount of cocaine. 

Richard Manuel was buried a week later at the Avondale Cemetery in his hometown of Stratford, Ontario. At his memorial service in Woodstock, New York, where he lived, Rick Danko sang one of Richard’s most famous covers, Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”

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