Image: Getty/Pete Still
The Smiths bassist Andy Rourke has died aged 59 following a long illness with pancreatic cancer.
The news was announced by Rourke’s bandmate and friend Johnny Marr on social media:
It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer. 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.
Born in Manchester in 1964, Rourke met Marr at school when they were 11, bonding over the Neil Young Tonight’s The Night badge Rourke had pinned to his uniform. They formed their first band, the funk-influenced Freak Party, a few years later. Following unsuccessful searches for the right frontman, Marr quit the group and following the departure of original Smiths bassist Dale Hibbert after just one gig at The Ritz in Manchester, Marr called up his old school friend to see if he would like to join the new group he and Morrissey had formed. Rourke played on demo recordings of new Morrissey/Marr compositions Handsome Devil and Miserable Lie where he first met Morrissey and drummer Mike Joyce. The new line-up’s first gig was at Manhattan Sound in Manchester on 25 January, 1983 and they signed to Rough Trade later that year.
Rourke’s playing was an integral part of The Smith’s sound. High and melodic and drawing from a myriad of influences, Rourke’s bass lines frequently moved between and around the bedrock of Mike Joyce’s drumming and Marr’s guitars. On tracks such as This Charming Man, The Headmaster Ritual, Death Of A Disco Dancer, Rusholme Ruffians, The Queen Is Dead or Barbarism Begins At Home’s Haçienda funk, it’s Rourke as much as Marr driving the song.
“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 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,” said Marr in a written statement. “Watching him play those dazzling bass lines was an absolute privilege 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 was briefly fired from The Smiths in 1986 following an arrest for heroin possession, but rejoined two weeks later.
“I was devastated. I remember going round to Johnny’s in tears, going, ‘What the fuck am I going to do?’” Rourke told Q Magazine in 2004. “Luckily, I was out of The Smiths for about two weeks, and during that time The Smiths didn’t actually do anything. It was a wake-up call for me to get my head together, my last chance. At the time, though, it was probably the most horrible moment in my life.”
Following Johnny Marr’s departure from the band in 1987, Rourke and Joyce played on early Morrissey solo recordings including the singles The Last Of The International Playboys and Interesting Drug. Rourke also co-wrote Yes, I Am Blind and Girl Least Likely To with Morrissey.
In 1989 Rourke and Joyce took Morrissey and Marr to court, arguing they were owed an equal share of earnings on the group’s performance and recording royalties. Rourke settled for a lump sum of £83,000, while Joyce continued with the lawsuit and was awarded around £1m in backdated royalties.
Rourke formed the bassist supergroup Freebass with New Order’s Peter Hook and Mani from The Stone Roses and played with The Pretenders, Ian Brown, Sinead O’Connor and Badly Drawn Boy. His latest group, Blitz Vega, was a project with former Happy Mondays guitarist Kav Sandhu.
“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,” tweeted Mike Joyce. “Andy’s left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart, mate.”
Morrissey responded to the news of Rourke's death with a statement on his website:
"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. 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.