Andy Rourke, English Musician Best Known as the Bassist for The Smiths, Dies at 59

“Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul,” Rourke’s former bandmate Johnny Marr says

Andy Rourke
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Andy Rourke, the English musician best known around the world as bassist for the groundbreaking English indie band The Smiths, died Friday morning from pancreatic cancer. He was 59.

News of Rourke’s death was made public by Johnny Marr, co-founder of The Smiths and Rourke’s friend since childhood.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer. 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 said in a statement Friday posted on Twitter, along with a photo of Rourke from his days in The Smiths.

Born January 17, 1964, Rourke grew up in Manchester, England, befriending Marr when they were 11. He would later reveal that it was when the pair attempted to form a band as teenagers that Marr convinced him to switch from guitar to bass.

Marr formed The Smiths with singer Morrissey in 1982; following the band’s first live performance, after which they fired their original bassist, Rourke was invited to join. The foursome solidified fast, with Rourke’s signature melodic style of bass complimenting Marr’s jangle pop guitars. The Smiths established a haunting, unique sound — synthesizing influences ranging from 1960’s girl groups to funk to 1970s glam, married to a literary aesthetic — and a local cult following. Within a year they’d secured a record contract and their self-titled debut album was released in 1984.

That sound, and in particular the interplay between Marr’s guitars and Rourke’s bass playing, is exemplified by the band’s 1985 track “Barbarism Begins at Home,” from their second album “Meat is Murder.” Rourke’s funk-influenced bass grounds the song, and also stands in ironic contrast to Morrissey’s brutal lyrics, accomplishing the neat trick of turning a song about child abuse into a club-friendly anthem that nevertheless doesn’t undermine the topic.

A similar effect can be heard in the band’s 1985 single “How Soon Is Now?” recorded during the same period.

But Rourke struggled with his own demons, having developed a heroin addiction that got him fired from the band for two weeks in early 1986, while The Smiths were recording their masterpiece, “The Queen Is Dead.” He was hired back and remained a member of the band until their 1987 breakup, but would struggle with the addiction for 20 years, finally cleaning up in his late 30s.

“When I was 17 or 16. 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,” Rourke told The Daily Beast in 2017.

The Smiths broke up in the summer of 1987 and Rourke, like Joyce, became something of a high profile, in-demand session musician for some of the biggest names of the day. He played with Sinead O’Connor, on a few of Morrissey’s solo songs, and with The Pretenders. Later he would play with Badly Drawn Boy, Ian Brown and various other influential artists.

Rourke and Joyce fell out with Morrissey and Marr over The Smith’s royalties in the late 1980s. It turned out that when creating the band’s contracts, Marr and Morrissey had essentially turned Rourke and Joyce into their employees. Rourke, like Joyce, only received 10% of the royalties and they began legal proceedings against their former bandmates.

Rourke, whose addiction was costing him increasingly more money, settled out of court in 1989. Joyce continued the legal battle until he prevailed in 1996. Rourke fortunately cleaned up by the end of that decade and despite their differences over money, he and Marr remained friends.

“Andy and I met as schoolboys in 1975. We were best friends, going everywhere together. 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,” Marr said in part in a much longer message on his Instagram Friday.

“We maintained our friendship over the years, no matter where we were or what was happening and it is a matter of personal pride as well as sadness that the last time Andy played on stage was with me and my band at Maddison Square Garden in September 2022. It was a special moment that we shared with my family and his wife and soul mate Francesca,” Marr added.

Rourke continued to perform as both a musician and DJ, eventually moving to New York City. And while he was intensely private about his personal life, it is known that he was married at least twice, telling The Daily Beast in 2017 that he was recently divorced and that his ex-wife “left in a hurry.” Whether or not he had children has never been publicly reported.