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The Smiths’ Andy Rourke dies at 59: ‘a supremely talented musician’

The music legend has passed away after living with pancreatic cancer for a 'lengthy' period

By Nick Reilly

Andy Rourke (Picture: Alamy)

Andy Rourke, the legendary bassist for The Smiths, has died at the age of 59.

Rourke’s passing was confirmed today (May 19) by former bandmate Johnny Marr, who said that the musician died 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,” said Marr.

Rourke was best known for providing the distinctive bass-line that underpinned The Smiths’ seminal music. He can be heard on all four of The Smiths’ studio albums: 1984’s The Smiths, its 1985 follow-up Meat Is Murder, 1986’s The Queen Is Dead and 1987’s Strangeways, Here We Come.

He met Marr at the tentative age of 11, with the pair jamming at their school music room and becoming firm friends. He then formed The Smiths with Marr, Steven Morrissey and drummer Mike Joyce in 1982.

As well as his work with the group, he also performed with The Pretenders and formed the supergroup Freebass alongside New Order legend Peter Hook and Stone Roses star Mani.

Most recently, he joined Marr onstage at New York’s Madison Square Garden to play a selection of Smiths tracks in 2022, while last year also saw them reuniting for the first time in 35 years to play on a song by Blitz Vega, Rourke’s new band.

In a lengthier tribute, Marr wrote: Andy and I met as schoolboys in 1975. We were best friends, going everywhere together. When we were fifteen 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. Back then Andy was a guitar player and a good one at that, but it was when he picked up the bass that he would find his true calling and his singular talent would flourish.

“Throughout our teens we played in various bands around South Manchester before making our reputations with The Smiths from 1982 to 1987, and it was on those Smiths records that Andy reinvented what it is to be a bass guitar player.

“I was present at every one of Andy’s bass takes on every Smiths session. Sometimes I was there as the producer and sometimes just as his proud mate and cheerleader. Watching him play those dazzling baselines 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.’”

He added: “We maintained our friendship over the years, no matter where we were or what was happening and it is a matter of personal pride as well as sadness that the last time Andy played on stage was with me and my band at Madison Square Garden in September 2022. It was a special moment that we shared with my family and his wife and soul mate Francesca.

“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. Well done Andy. We’ll miss you brother.”

Paying tribute, The Charlatans’ Tim Burgess wrote: “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. Our thoughts are with everyone who knew him. Travel well x”

Suede’s Mat Osman said: “Aw man. RIP Andy Rourke. A total one-off – a rare bassist whose sound you could recognise straight away. I remember so clearly playing that Barbarism break over and over, trying to learn the riff, and marvelling at this steely funk driving the track along.”

Oasis guitarist Bonehead added: “RIP Andy, one of the nicest people, you’ll be missed.”