Richard Hell was a high school dropout from Lexington, Kentucky who traveled to New York to become a poet, and eventually wound up in a tight social vortex that became the New York downtown punk scene of the mid-70s. In his early twenties he formed a band with high school friend Tom Miller (who took the name Tom Verlaine), which became known as Television. The performances of Television at CBGB[?]'s -- a bar on the Bowery, in what was then a very seedy neighborhood -- was a force that helped kick loose the first wave of punk bands, inspiring a number of different artists, notably Patti Smith who (1) wrote the first press review of Television for the Soho Weekly News in June of 1974; (2) started an affair with Tom Verlaine; and (3) formed a band of her own that began performing on double-bills with Television, and later with The Voidoids.
Richard Hell split from Television over what appears to be a fairly typical band dispute over creative control: originally Hell and Verlaine evenly divided the song-writing, but later Verlaine was insisting on favoring his own songs. It should be noted that this is Hell's side of the story, Verlaine seems relatively silent on the subject.
Then with some former members of the New York Dolls -- Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders -- he formed a band called the Heartbreakers[?] (not to be confused with the later Tom Petty band) and later moved on to form a group of his own the Voidoids.
The influence of heroin addiction on the lives and art of muscians during this period can be a difficult subject to get a handle on. For what it's worth, Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone (of the Ramones), Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan were a clique of heroin users, according to Marky Ramone[?] -- who himself was originally a member of the Voidoids under the name of Marc Bell. Marky Ramone, Joey Ramone, Tom Verlaine and Patti Smith, do not seem to have been members of this club, despite occasional rumors to the contrary.
Richard Hell is often regarded as the inventor of punk fashion: spiked hair with torn and cut shirts. It's commonly believed that Malcolm McLaren had the Sex Pistols imitate Richard Hell's look. Richard Hell articulated the notion that punk fashion should be cheap and easily accessible to anyone, in contrast to disco's expensive, flashy styles.
In recent years, Hell has returned to his first love, literature. He published a quasi-autobiographical novel Go Now in 1996, and has released a collection of short pieces (poems, essays and drawings) called Hot and Cold in 2001.