Andy Rourke, the bassist for the Smiths, has died aged 59. The band’s guitarist Johnny Marr confirmed the news on Twitter this morning.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer,” Marr wrote. “Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans. We request privacy at this sad time.”
Marr shared a longer tribute on Instagram, recalling when he met Rourke in 1975. “We were best friends, going everywhere together,” Marr wrote. “When we were fifteen I moved into his house with him and his three brothers and I soon came to realise that my mate was one of those rare people that absolutely no one doesn’t like.”
Morrissey issued a statement as well, writing on his website, “Sometimes one of the most radical things you can do is to speak clearly. When someone dies, out come the usual blandishments … as if their death is there to be used. I’m not prepared to do this with Andy. I just hope … wherever Andy has gone … that he’s OK. He will never die as long as his music is heard. He didn’t ever know his own power, and nothing that he played had been played by someone else. His distinction was so terrific and unconventional and he proved it could be done. He was also very, very funny and very happy, and post-Smiths, he kept a steady identity — never any manufactured moves. I suppose, at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued. Andy need not worry about that.”
The Smiths producer Stephen Street remembered Rourke on Twitter, writing, “Andy was a superb musician and a lovely guy. I haven’t been able to read any other news about details yet but I send my deepest condolences and thoughts to his friends and family.”
Rourke started playing bass and guitar at age 11, around the same time he befriended Marr. Later the pair formed a short-lived band of their own, called Freak Party, which also featured Simon Wolstencroft, a future member of the Fall. In 1982, Marr introduced Rourke to the Smiths and he soon joined the band, replacing bassist Dale Hibbert, who’d played just one show.
The Smiths recorded their first demo that year, setting the foundation of a sound that would would define and influence all manner of indie and alternative rock music in the U.K. and beyond for the next decade and more. Rourke’s role in that sound was crucial and his style of playing was powerful and potent, but also distinctly melodic
As he told Bass Guitar Magazine in 2016, “The nature of the music that we were playing in the Smiths meant that the sound needed a bit more of a kick… And because it’s me, and every time I do something I do it big, I exaggerated the new tone and made it super-twangy.”
It was also the way Rourke played alongside Smiths drummer Mike Joyce to form one of rock’s most formidable rhythm section. In an interview with Mojo, Rourke admitted he and Joyce didn’t get along well at first, but that dynamic influenced their playing as they slowly but steadily became friends.
“I had something to prove to Mike and he had something to prove back,” Rourke said. “It created quite a dynamic but aggressive sound. Even on the quiet ones there’s some kind of angst there between us, so not talking much probably helped us. There was nothing contrived about it. We were duelling off each other.”
After scoring early hits with “Hand In Glove” and “This Charming Man,” the Smiths released their self-titled debut album in 1984. Another run of succesful-non-album singles — including “What Difference Does It Make?” And “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” — were followed by 1985’s Meat Is Murder, and then 1986’s The Queen Is Dead.
Throughout this time, however, Rourke was also using heroin, and a 1986 bust for possession prompted the Smiths to kick him out of the group. His dismissal only lasted a few weeks, with his temporary replacement, Craig Gannon, remaining part of the band, but moving over to rhythm guitar.
As Rourke told The Daily Beast in 2013, he began using heroin when he was 16 or 17 and struggled with addiction for about 20 years before finally getting clean. “I spent a lot of money on that bullshit,” he said, adding: “I just started dabbling with drugs. You’re a young kid, and then overnight you’re in a successful band. You start getting a bunch of money and don’t know what to do. You start spending it on drugs.”
The Smiths released one more album, Strangeways, Here We Come, in 1987 before splitting. A couple years later, Rourke and Joyce sued Morrissey and Marr over unpaid royalties. Rourke — still in the throes of addiction and in need of money — settled early with the pair for £83,000 and 10 percent of future royalties (meanwhile, Joyce stuck it out and won about £1 million in royalties, plus 25 percent). Rourke later declared bankruptcy in 1999.
After the Smiths split, Rourke continued to work a bit with Morrissey, playing on some of the singer’s early solo singles, like “Last of the Famous International Playboys” and “Interesting Drug.” He also appeared on Sinéad O’Connor’s 1990 album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got and the Pretenders’ 1994 effort Last of the Pretenders, and spent a couple years touring with Badly Drawn Boy.
In 2007, Rourke linked up with fellow fellow Mancunian bassists Peter Hook (of New Order) and Mani (of the Stone Roses) to form a supergroup, Freebass. The band released a string of EPs, as well as one studio album, It’s a Beautiful Life, in 2010. After relocating to New York City, Rourke, Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, and DJ/producer Olé Koretsky formed the trio D.A.R.K., which released an album, Science Agrees, in 2016.
In more recent years, Rourke was working on scores for various film and TV projects. He also formed a new band, Blitz Vega, with former Happy Mondays guitarist Kav Blaggers. Last November, Marr joined Blitz Vega on a new song, “Strong Forever,” marking the duo’s first recording together in 35 years.
“We’ve remained friends, we’ve known each other since we were 13 years old,” Rourke told Rolling Stone at the time. “He’s my oldest and dearest friend and I feel our friendship gets stronger as time passes.”
This story was updated May 19, 2023 @ 9:17 a.m. ET with more info about Rourke and a statement from Morrissey.