Andy Rourke as seen in the iconic gatefold sleeve of “Hatful of Hollow”
Andy Rourke, the bassist for The Smiths whose deeply melodic playing anchored songs like “Barbarism Begins at Home,” “Cemetry Gates” and “The Headmaster Ritual,” has died of pancreatic cancer, his former bandmate and childhood friend Johnny Marr announced overnight. He was 59.
Rourke’s publicist confirmed that he died early Friday morning at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of Andy Rourke after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer,” the former Smiths guitarist wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Marr posted a fuller statement on Facebook about his friend and fellow Smith, noting his long and enduring friendship with the bassist. “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,” he wrote.
Mike Joyce, the band’s drummer, added in his own Twitter post: “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. Andy’s left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate.”
And Morrissey this morning released the following statement entitled “Beam of Light”:
“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.”
Rourke joined The Smiths after the band’s first show in 1982 and after they’d gone through a couple bassists, cementing the lineup of Morrissey, Marr, Rourke and Joyce that would remain in place through the group’s collapse in 1987, except for a short period between The Queen is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come when Rourke was fired over his drug use.
Following the breakup of The Smiths, Rourke and Joyce continued to play with Morrissey, accompanying him at his first solo concert. Rourke played on a string of early Morrissey solo singles, including “The Last of the Famous International Playboys,” “Interesting Drug,” “November Spawned a Monster” and “PIccadily Palare.”
Rourke would go on to play record with The Pretenders, Killing Joke, Badly Drawn Boy and more, and in the 2000s formed the group Freebass with fellow bassists Mani of The Stone Roses and Peter Hook of New Order and Joy Division. He also frequently worked as a club DJ after moving to New York City around 2009.
Below, some reminiscences of Rourke.
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. Andy's left the building, but his musical legacy is perpetual. I miss you so much already. Forever in my heart mate.
— Mike Joyce (@mikejoycedrums) May 19, 2023
We are all saddened to hear of Andy’s passing. One of the founder members of a great Manchester band, The Smiths, who had carved a new life out for himself in New York. We all feel for his friends, family and former band members. https://t.co/ejTEDQwfjX
— New Order (@neworder) May 19, 2023
Andy 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.
I’m grateful for the joy Andy brought to our lives. The joy is what I’ll remember. pic.twitter.com/pZRpJN6nOG
— Sonny Marr (@itssonnyhere) May 19, 2023
— Johnny Marr (@Johnny_Marr) May 19, 2023
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 pic.twitter.com/6hrrfl9bhx
— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) May 19, 2023
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. pic.twitter.com/r9moJTxgiG
— Billy Bragg (@billybragg) May 19, 2023
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. (pic – K Cummins) pic.twitter.com/c3iBdsstpC
— Mat Osman (@matosman) May 19, 2023
RiP ANDY ROURKE
I first met Andy aged 17 @simonWolstencr1 party.We remained pals. One of the highlights of my music life was Andy playing on my The World is Yours album and accompanying me onstage on a UK tour and my first show in MOSCOW. Belly laughs all the way. RiP Brother X
— Ian Brown (@ianbrown) May 19, 2023
PREVIOUSLY ON SLICING UP EYEBALLS
- Ex-members announce Classically Smiths concerts, but Andy Rourke denies involvement
- Listen: Peter Hook and Andy Rourke talk New Order, The Smiths, Manchester and more
- Together again: The Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Andy Rourke play ‘How Soon Is Now?’ in Brazil
- Freebass — Peter Hook, Mani, Andy Rourke — releases debut album, ‘It’s a Beautiful Life’
- The Smiths’ Andy Rourke no longer with Peter Hook’s Freebass triple-bass supergroup
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