Andy Rourke, whose basslines girded the indelible style of indie-pop icons the Smiths, has died, Johnny Marr confirmed in a statement on social media and through his publicist. Marr said his bandmate’s death followed “a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer.” Rourke was 59.
Rourke joined the Smiths shortly after his schoolfriend Marr and singer Morrissey formed the group in Manchester in 1982. His agile, melodic basslines sometimes took centerstage, as on “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” but more often bounced off of Marr’s dreamy guitar lines while locking in to Mike Joyce’s drums, creating a robust rhythm section that contrasted Marr’s ornate fretwork. As the band sprawled into stranger sounds, establishing an indie paradigm of incalculable influence, Rourke drew from neighboring genres like chamber pop and goth, as in the octave-hopping title track from The Queen Is Dead and the funk bass riff of Meat Is Murder’s “Barbarism Begins at Home.” For all the music’s delicacy (and Morrissey’s discophobia), it was music to which you could dance.
The Smiths released the last of their four classic studio albums, Strangeways Here We Come, in 1987 amid band conflicts, including royalty disputes, that soon brought about their demise and protracted litigation. Rourke played with Morrissey in the singer’s early solo career, to Marr’s chagrin, and went on to guest with the likes of Sinéad O’Connor and the Pretenders, as well as in the supergroup Freebass with two fellow Manchester bassists, Mani from the Stone Roses and New Order’s Peter Hook.
The band remained one of the great holdouts in the big-money reformation boom, Marr and Morrissey’s differences irreconcilable. But, last September, Rourke played with Marr once more, joining the guitarist’s band at Madison Square Garden. It was Rourke’s final gig. That “is a matter of personal pride, as well as sadness,” Marr wrote in his statement. “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.”
In a statement of his own, Morrissey wrote that Rourke “will never die as long as his music is heard.” And, on Twitter, Mike Joyce wrote, “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.”