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Andy Rourke, bass guitarist of The Smiths, dies at 59

Andy Rourke, bass guitarist of The Smiths, one of the most influential British bands of the 1980s, died Friday after a lengthy illness with pancreatic cancer, his publicity firm confirmed to CBS News. He was 59.

Rourke died early Friday morning in New York City at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Reybee Inc. said in a statement.

“Andy will be remembered as a kind and beautiful soul by those who knew him and as a supremely gifted musician by music fans,” the statement said.

In a post on Instagram, former bandmate Johnny Marr paid tribute to Rourke, who he first met when they were schoolboys in 1975.

“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,” Marr said.

“Andy and I spent all our time studying music, having fun, and working on becoming the best musicians we could possibly be,” Marr wrote on Instagram. “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.”

During their short time together as a four-piece band, The Smiths deliberately stayed away from the mainstream of popular music, garnering a cult following on the independent music scene.

Though much of the attention focused on the songwriting partnership of Marr and frontman Steven Patrick Morrissey, better known as Morrissey, the sound of The Smiths owed much to Rourke’s bass and his rhythm section partner, drummer Mike Joyce.

“He will never die as long as his music is heard,” the singer posted on his website, Morrissey Central. “He didn’t ever know his own power, and nothing that he played had been played by someone else.”

XFM Winter Wonderland in Manchester - Backstage
Andy Rourke, former member of The Smiths, backstage at XFM’s Winter Wonderland at the Apollo December 11, 2007 in Manchester, England. 

Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage via Getty Images

As their popularity swelled, the band released some of the most enduring British music of the 1980s, including “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Girlfriend In A Coma.”

The Smiths’ songs garnered a reputation of being depressing, but were in fact darkly humorous and accompanied by stirring and uplifting guitars. Their albums, including “The Queen is Dead” and “Meat is Murder,” remain a staple of any self-respecting music fan and are at the forefront of the revival of vinyl records.

“I was present at every one of Andy’s bass takes on every Smiths session,” Marr said. “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.”

Marr said he and Rourke maintained their friendship in the years after the band split up, recalling that Rourke played in his band at Madison Square Garden as recently as September 2022.

“It was a special moment that we shared with my family and his wife and soul mate Francesca,” Marr said. “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.”

After The Smiths, Rourke played alongside The Pretenders and Sinead O’Connor, as well as with the supergroup Freebass, which included Gary Mounfield from the Stone Roses and Peter Hook from New Order.

Ian Brown, the lead singer of the Stone Roses, said he first met Rourke when they were teenagers.

“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,” Brown tweeted.

Stephen Street, who was a producer for The Smiths, tweeted his condolences.

“I am so saddened to hear this news!” Street tweeted. “Andy was a superb musician and a lovely guy.”

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