Andy Rourke, Smiths bassist, dies aged 59

Andy Rourke in 2013
Andy Rourke in 2013 (Image credit: Rob Kim / Getty)

Andy Rourke, bassist for seminal indie giants the Smiths, has died, aged 59. Confirming the news on social media, the band's guitarist Johnny Marr paid tribute to "a superbly gifted musician".

"It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer," wrote Marr. "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 was a school friend of Marr's and joined The Smiths shortly after they formed, remaining with them, apart from one brief hiatus, throughout their recording and touring career until they split in 1987. He then contributed to early Morrisey solo tracks, and recorded with Sinead O’Connor, the Pretenders, and Ian Brown, amongst others. One of his most recent projects was D.A.R.K, a project Cranberries singer Dolores O'Riordan, cut short by her own passing in 2018. 

Rourke and Marr's musical kinship began in a school playground over a shared love of Neil Young, and blossomed as both were guitar players. "His playing was assured and accomplished, and it was obvious that he was a natural musician," Marr recalls of their first musical meeting at Rourke's house in his autobiography Set The Boy Free. We passed the guitar backwards and forward and in those moments Andy and I made a connection that would take us through times and places we couldn't even imagine."

In his five years with Marr in the Smiths, Rourke's melodic bass style was a vital component of one of the most unique indie rock bands of all time.  He reunited with his old bandmate for the Blitz Vega single Strong Forever last year – their first recording together for 35 years – and onstage with Marr's solo band in October that year for a performance of The Smiths' There Is A Light That Never Goes Out at the Madison Square Arena in New York. 

Marr introduced Rourke as his "My best pal in the world" before the performance. Former Smiths bandmate has published his own tribute to Rourke on his website as follows:

"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."

Mike Joyce, former Smiths drummer, shared his own tribute. "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," he Tweeted. "Andy's left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate."

Will Groves

I'm lucky enough to be MusicRadar's Editor-in-chief while being, by some considerable distance, the least proficient musician on the editorial team. An undeniably ropey but occasionally enthusiastic drummer, I've worked on the world's greatest music making website in one capacity or another since its launch in 2007. I hope you enjoy the site - we do.