Andy Rourke, founding bass player with the Smiths, the iconic ’80s indie band whose reputation seems to grow with each passing year, has died following a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 59.
Bandmate and guitarist Johnny Marr confirmed the tragic news: “It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer,” he wrote on social media.
“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 performed on all four of the British band’s studio albums, each of them classics: The Smiths (from 1984), Meat Is Murder (1985), The Queen Is Dead (1986) and Strangeways, Here We Come (1987), after which time the band split.
Led by the enigmatic, swooning Morrissey, the talismanic Marr with his jangly guitar style, and Rourke, a natural talent on the four-string, the Smiths are considered the benchmark for what an “indie” band could sound like. And with its bank of hits, including “There Is a Light That Will Never Go Out,” “This Charming Man,” “How Soon Is Now,” and many others, an argument could me made that the Smiths represented the greatest in its genre.
Born Jan. 17, 1964 in Manchester, England, Rourke first met Marr at school, where they shared a love of the guitar. Singer Steven Morrissey and drummer Mike Joyce would later bond with the lads, and the Smiths were formed. After a successful five-year run during which their singular sound became a worldwide sensation, though, the band blew apart in 1987.
The split was an acrimonious one, which, in the ’90s, would descend into a legal battle over royalties with Rourke and Joyce on one side, Morrissey and Marr on the other. Rourke battled at times with heroin addiction (he was briefly sacked from the band in 1986 due to his drug problems), and financial troubles, but remained a much-loved member of a band whose influence can be heard everywhere.
After the Smiths quit, Rourke played with the so-called supergroup Freebass with fellow Mancunian bass players Mani from the Stone Roses and Peter Hook of New Order. Across his career, he also worked with the likes of the Pretenders, Killing Joke, Sinead O’Connor, and with Joyce and former Oasis guitarist “Bonehead” on Moondog One.
With monotonous regularity, rumors of a Smiths reunion would spread. It was only ever wishful thinking. Morrissey wrecked the dream when he appeared as a speaker at SXSW in 2006. The singer told a packed house that $5 million was on the table for the band to reform, but the offer was turned down. “Money doesn’t come into it,” he said at the time.
When Morrissey and Marr had a social media squabble last year, a Smiths reunion seemed ever less possible. With Rourke’s death, there will be no classic comeback.
Stars from the music world turned to social media to remember Rourke.
“Such sad sad news about Andy Rourke – He was an inspirational musician with a style that made so many of us pick up a bass guitar; and the driving force for Manchester Versus Cancer,” wrote the Charlatans singer Tim Burgess. “Our thoughts are with everyone who knew him.”
Billy Bragg added, “Very sorry to hear that Smiths bassist Andy Rourke has passed away. I have great memories of him playing with Johnny Marr and myself on the Red Wedge tour. He was a lovely guy and an amazing bass player. My condolences to his family and friends.”
The Smiths has yet to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Those who keep a close eye on the Rock Hall, and fans of the band, are confident they’re long overdue.