Andy Rourke death: The Smiths bassist dies aged 59

Andy Rourke, the bassist for legendary indie band The Smiths, has died aged 59.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer,” Rourke’s former bandmate, The Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr, wrote on Twitter.

“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.”

Rourke befriended Marr when he was 11 years old, and quit school four years later to pursue music.

When Marr formed The Smiths with Morrissey, they invited Rourke to play bass. He accepted, and ended up playing on the band’s most famous songs, including “This Charming Man” and “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”, as well as several of Morrissey’s solo tracks.

In 1986, Rourke left the band for two weeks after being fired after being arrested on suspicion of possessing heroin. Rourke said in a 2013 interview with The Daily Beast that, at the time of his arrest, he was “at a dealer’s house trying to get possession”, and confirmed that Morrissey fired him by sending a postcard.

This came just before the release of the record The Queen is Dead, Rourke’s contribution on which Marr once described as “something no other bass play could match”. Rourke rejoined the band when it became clear the arrest would not affect his visa ahead of their tour in America.

Andy Rourke playing guitar with Jonny Marr (Paul Slattery)
Andy Rourke playing guitar with Jonny Marr (Paul Slattery)

The Smiths split two years later, following the release of album Strangeways, Here We Come, and Rourke immediately found work playing bass for Sinead O’Connor. Other musicians he played bass for included Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, The Pretenders, and Badly Drawn Boy.

In the mid-Nineties, Rourke, alongside Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, launched a legal case against Marr and Morrissey over royalties. He ended up settling out of course for £83,000 as well as 10 per cent of future royalties.

Andy Rourke [left] performing with The Smiths on ‘The Tube’ in 1984 (ITV/Shutterstock)
Andy Rourke [left] performing with The Smiths on ‘The Tube’ in 1984 (ITV/Shutterstock)

Seven years after filing for bankruptcy in 1999, Rourke was one of the co-organisers of a series of concerts held to raise money for cancer research. The idea was generated after his then-manager and fellow organiser Nova Rehman’s father and sister were diagnosed with the illness.

The first concert took place in 2006, and saw Rourke reunite on-stage with Marr for the first time in 19 years, playing “How Soon is Now?”.

In 2007, Rourke formed the band Freebass alongside Stone Roses star Mani and New Order’s Peter Hook. He moved to New York two years later, where he hosted his own show on East Village Radio. He went on to form the band D.A.R.K. with musician and DJ Olé Koretsky and Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, releasing their debut album in September 2016, O’Riordan died in 2018.

In a 2017 interview with MusicRadar, Rourke said that his favourite bass guitar was his 1964 P Bass I, which he “bought in New York in 1982”, and added that one of his favourite ever bass lines featured in Stevie Wonder song “I Was Made to Love Her”.

Following news of his death, a number of musicians paid tribute to Rourke on social media.

Suede bassist Mat Osman called him “a total one-off”, writing: “Aw man. RIP Andy Rourke. A rare bassist whose sound you could recognise straight away.

“I remember so clearly playing that Barbarism [Begins at Home] break over and over, trying to learn the riff, and marvelling at this steely funk driving the track along.”

Andy Rourke [second from left] pictured with his Smiths bandmates in 1987 (Andre Csillag/Shutterstock)
Andy Rourke [second from left] pictured with his Smiths bandmates in 1987 (Andre Csillag/Shutterstock)

Travis frontman Fran Healy added: “Andy was such a lovely gentle soul”, while record producer Stephen Street wrote: “So sad to hear this news Johnny. Thinking of you at this moment and sending my very best wishes and condolences.”

Meanwhile, film director Stuart Hazeldine wrote: “A great bassist for one of the all-time greatest bands. RIP Andy. You played good.”

Marr also shared a lengthier tribute on Instagram, in which he described how he first met Rourke when they were children, and later went on to form The Smiths with singer Morrissey.

“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.

“Andy and I spent all our time studying music, having fun, and working on becoming the best musicians we could possibly be,” he continued. “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.

“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 that witnessing Rourke play bass during The Smiths’ sessions was “an absolute privlege and genuinely something to behold”.

“But 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’. It was so impressive that I said to myself ‘I’ll never forget this moment.’”

Rourke and Marr maintained their friendship over the years. The last time they played on stage together was with Marr’s band at Madison Square Garden in September 2022.

“It was a special moment that we shared with my family and his wife and soul mate 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.”