Andy Rourke, the Smiths' charming man, dies aged 59

Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 19 2023 08:00 PM

Musician Andy Rourke of The Smiths DJs at the Glenlivet Cellar Collection Experience in New York City in this January 14, 2013 file photo. Craig Barritt, Getty Images via AFP
Musician Andy Rourke of The Smiths DJs at the Glenlivet Cellar Collection Experience in New York City in this January 14, 2013 file photo. Craig Barritt, Getty Images via AFP

The Smiths bassist Andy Rourke, whose pounding rhythms underscored some of the most influential albums in British music history, has died at the age of 59, band-mate Johnny Marr announced Friday.

Rourke died "after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer," the Smiths lead guitarist and co-founder 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," Marr wrote on Instagram.

Along with drummer Mike Joyce, Rourke provided a whip-tight rhythm section underlying Marr's pioneering chords and co-founder Morrissey's mordant lyrics, as the Smiths became one of Britain's best-loved bands in the 1980s.

"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," Joyce tweeted.

"Andy's left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate."

Rourke's bass lines on songs such as "This Charming Man," "The Headmaster Ritual" and "The Queen Is Dead" defined a new era of craftsmanship that was acclaimed by contemporaries.

"A total one-off -- a rare bassist whose sound you could recognize straight away," Suede bassist Mat Osman said.

On "Barbarism Begins At Home," Rourke reverted to the funk bass of an early band he had formed with Marr -- although the song was less liked by Marr and Morrissey.

"I remember so clearly playing that 'Barbarism' break over and over, trying to learn the riff, and marveling at this steely funk driving the track along," Osman said.

Battling heroin addiction and financial difficulties, Rourke joined Joyce in suing Marr and Morrissey for a greater share of royalties after the Smiths split up acrimoniously in 1987.

The bassist settled out of court, and his friendship with Marr survived the bitter hearings, during which the judge described Morrissey as "devious, truculent and unreliable".

Morrissey, who has increasingly flirted with far-right politics in recent years, was virulent about his former band-mates before adopting a more conciliatory tone in his book "Autobiography."


"The Smiths' sound rockets with meteoric progression: bomb-burst drumming, explosive chords, combative bass-lines, and over it all I am as free as a hawk to paint the canvas as I wish," the singer wrote.

"It is a gift from Jesus."

Rourke and Marr met at school in the northwest English city of Manchester in 1975, and became best friends.

"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," Marr said.

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

Marr recalled the last time they played together, at New York's Madison Square Garden in September 2022, and at being present in the studio for every one of Rourke's bass takes during the Smiths recording sessions.

"Watching him play those dazzling bass lines was an absolute privilege and genuinely something to behold," he said.

"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.'"

The Smiths producer Stephen Street said he was "so saddened" at Rourke's death, adding: "Andy was a superb musician and a lovely guy."

Singer-songwriter Billy Bragg also sent his condolences.

"I have great memories of him playing with Johnny Marr and myself on the Red Wedge tour," he said, recalling concerts mounted by left-wing musicians to support Britain's Labour party in the late 1980s.

"He was a lovely guy and an amazing bass player."

© Agence France-Presse