The Smiths’ Bassist Andy Rourke Dies at 59

Andy Rourke, founding bassist of The Smiths, has died. He was 59. Former Smiths bandmate, guitarist Johnny Marr, confirmed Rourke’s death on May 19, on social media, and said that he died after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer.

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“Andy will always be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by everyone who knew him, and as a supremely gifted musician by people who love music,” said Marr in a post on his social media pages.
“Well done Andy. We’ll miss you brother.”

In a Twitter post, former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce added, “Not only the most talented bass player I’ve ever had the privilege to play with but the sweetest, funniest lad I’ve ever met. Andy’s left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate.”

Born Jan. 17, 1964, Rourke first met his future bandmate, Marr, when he was 11 years old, and the two immediately connected over their love and obsession of music and playing. Rourke eventually left school at 15 to pursue music, joining several bands, including a short stint in the funk-rock group called Freak Party with Marr before the two co-founded The Smiths along with Joyce and vocalist Morrissey in 1982.

Throughout the decades, Rourke continued playing and collaborating with dozens of artists, including Morrissey. Rourke first appeared on Morrissey’s 1989 solo singles “The Last of the Famous International Playboys” and “Interesting Drug,” along with Joyce.

Rourke went on to play on several other Morrissey songs over the years. In 1990, Rourke also played on Sinéad O’Connor‘s second album,  I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, and also collaborated with the Pretenders, Killing Joke, and members of The Stone Roses, among many others.

Along with New Order’s Peter Hook and ex-Stone Roses bassist Mani, Rourke formed Freebass in 2007. He later joined up with The Cranberries‘ late vocalist Dolores O’Riordan and her boyfriend DJ Olé Koretsky to form D.A.R.K. in 2014. The band released their debut, Science Agrees, in 2016, just two years before O’Riordan’s death in 2018.

In his lengthier statement, Marr shared how he and Rourke first met, and how their love of music led to the formation of The Smiths.

“Andy and I met as schoolboys in 1975,” wrote Marr. “We were best friends, going everywhere together. When we were 15, I moved into his house with him and his three brothers, and I soon came to realize that my mate was one of those rare people that absolutely no one doesn’t like.”

He continued, “Andy and I spent all our time studying music, having fun, and working on becoming the best musicians we could possibly be. Back then, Andy was a guitar player and a good one at that, but it was when he picked up the bass that he would find his true calling and his singular talent would flourish.”

Marr also recounted how he and Rourke began playing in different bands in South Manchester before The Smiths. “It was on those Smiths records that Andy reinvented what it is to be a bass guitar player,” shared Marr. “I was present at every one of Andy’s bass takes on every Smiths session. Sometimes, I was there as the producer, and sometimes just as his proud mate and cheerleader. Watching him play those dazzling baselines was an absolute privilege and genuinely something to behold.”

The guitarist also shared one particular moment he said he’ll always remember, when The Smiths were recording their third album, The Queen is Dead. “One time which always comes to mind was when I sat next to him at the mixing desk watching him play his bass on the song ‘The Queen Is Dead,'” said Marr. “It was so impressive that I said to myself ‘I’ll never forget this moment.'”

Though The Smiths disbanded in 1987 with all four members pursuing solo projects, Marr says he and Rourke remained friends over the years. In 2022, Marr and Rourke reunited for their first collaboration in more than 35 years on the Blitz Vega song “Strong Forever.” The single marked the first time the two appeared together on a track since The Smiths’ fourth and final album, Strangeways, Here We Come, in 1987.

“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 Madison Square Garden in September 2022,” shared Marr. “It was a special moment that we shared with my family and his wife and soul mate Francesca.”

On his website, Morrissey also eulogized his former bandmate. “Sometimes one of the most radical things you can do is to speak clearly,” wrote Morrissey. “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.”

Morrissey added, “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.”

Photo by Monica Schipper/FilmMagic

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