Andy Rourke, bass guitarist of The Smiths, one of the most influential British bands of the 1980s, has died after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer, his former bandmate Johnny Marr said Friday. He was 59.
In a lengthy post on Instagram, guitarist and songwriter Marr paid tribute to Rourke, whom he first met when both were schoolboys in 1975.
“Throughout our teens we played in various bands around south Manchester before making our reputations with The Smiths from 1982 to 1987, and it was on those Smiths records that Andy reinvented what it is to be a bass guitar player,” Marr said.
Smiths frontman Morrissey said in a statement that Rourke “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,” Morrissey said. “His distinction was so terrific and unconventional and he proved it could be done.”
During their short time together as a four-piece band, The Smiths deliberately stayed away from the mainstream of popular music, garnering a cult following on the independent music scene.
Though much of the attention focused on the songwriting partnership of Marr and Morrissey, the sound of The Smiths owed much to Rourke’s bass and his rhythm section partner, drummer Mike Joyce.
‘Kind and beautiful soul’
As their popularity swelled, the band released some of the most enduring British music of the 1980s, including Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Girlfriend In A Coma.
The Smiths songs garnered a reputation of being depressing, but were in fact darkly humorous and accompanied by stirring and uplifting guitars. Their albums, including The Queen is Dead and Meat is Murder, remain a staple of any self-respecting music fan and are at the forefront of the revival of vinyl records.
“I was present at every one of Andy’s bass takes on every Smiths session,” Marr said. “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.”
Marr said he and Rourke maintained their friendship in the years after the band split up, recalling that Rourke played in his band at Madison Square Garden as recently as September 2022.
“It was a special moment that we shared with my family and his wife and soulmate Francesca,” Marr said. “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. Well done Andy. We’ll miss you brother.”
Drummer Mike Joyce, Rourke’s rhythm section partner in The Smiths, tweeted: “Andy’s left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual.”
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.
Mat Osman, the bass player in the British group Suede, said Rourke was a “total one-off — a rare bassist whose sound you could recognize straight away.”
After The Smiths, Rourke played alongside The Pretenders and Sinead O’Connor, as well as with the supergroup Freebass, which included Gary Mounfield from the Stone Roses and Peter Hook from New Order.