Andy Rourke, whose creative bass parts played a crucial role in shaping the sound of the Smiths and who later contributed heavily to Morrissey’s early solo career after that band split, has died at the age of 59 at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital. His Smiths bandmate Johnny Marr announced the news on Twitter early this morning (May 19).
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer,” he said. “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.”
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Rourke met Marr as pre-teens in the mid-1970s in Manchester, England, and joined the Smiths on bass shortly after Marr formed the group with vocalist Morrissey in the summer of 1982. The Smiths quickly became one of the leading lights of the new U.K. rock scene, with Rourke’s melodic bass lines anchoring classic tracks such as “Hand in Glove,” “This Charming Man,” “The Headmaster Ritual,” “Stop Me if You Think You’ve Heard This One Before,” and “Girlfriend in a Coma.”
After abandoning his formal education around the age of 15, Rourke suffered with a recurring heroin addiction and was briefly fired from the Smiths in early 1986. When the band split for good the following year, he began contributing to Morrissey’s solo work in tandem with Smiths drummer Mike Joyce and second guitarist Craig Gannon. Rourke’s inventive playing drives songs such as “Interesting Drug” and “The Last of the Famous International Playboys,” and he also wrote music for the early Morrissey B-sides “Yes, I Am Blind,” “Girl Least Likely To,” and “Get Off the Stage.”
However, his second go-around with Morrissey was short-lived, and he went on to record and tour with the Pretenders, Badly Drawn Boy, Stone Roses vocalist Ian Brown, and Killing Joke, among others.
In 1989, Rourke and Joyce sued Morrissey and Marr for back royalties from the Smiths’ catalog. Rourke was struggling with drugs at the time and settled for a reported £83,000 and 10% of future royalties, but Joyce did not resolve his end of the dispute for another seven years and is said to have been awarded a much larger payday. Rourke declared bankruptcy in 1999.
“Sometimes one of the most radical things you can do is to speak clearly. 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,” Morrissey wrote on his web site. “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. 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.”
In later years, Rourke played in the band Freebass with former Stone Roses member Mani and New Order’s Peter Hook, and in 2006, he helped spearhead the Manchester V Cancer benefit in his hometown, during which he performed on stage with Marr for the first time since the Smiths’ dissolution.
In 2009, he moved to New York and began appearing frequently as a DJ at locales such as Williamsburg’s Passenger Bar. He staged additional surprise reunions with Marr during two solo concerts by the latter in New York in 2013, where they covered the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” and “Please, Please Please, Let Me Get What I Want.” Rourke most recently joined Marr at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Sept. 30, 2022, when they performed “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” and “How Soon Is Now?”
“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 wrote on Twitter. “Andy’s left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate.”
“I am so saddened to hear this news! Andy was a superb musician and a lovely guy,” added longtime Smiths and Morrissey producer Stephen Street on Twitter. “I haven’t been able to read any other news about details yet but I send my deepest condolences and thoughts to his friends and family.”
Tributes are pouring in from a host of musicians, including Billy Bragg, the Charlatans’ Tim Burgess, and Rick Astley. Marr’s daughter Sonny also shared that Rourke “was an incredible person; clever, kind and deeply funny. He and my dad were brothers and seeing them stand together in these last months was a profoundly moving experience.”
This is a developing story. Stay tuned to SPIN for updates.
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