How The Smiths’ short career was brought to a crashing halt

The fight that never goes out: How The Smiths enjoyed five years at the top before breaking up – after royalty rows between bandmates Morrissey, Johnny Marr and Andy Rourke sparked slew of lawsuits and tell-all memoirs

Bassist Andy Rourke’s tragic death from cancer at the age of just 59 has led fans to reflect on The Smiths’ glory days – and the bitter split that brought them to a crashing halt. 

Few bands have burned as brightly for so short a time, with just five years of frenetic activity cementing their status as legends of the indie music scene.

A row over royalties was the most obvious reason for their break-up, but other factors have been put forward that remain the subject of furious debate to this day. 

The first rumblings came in June 1987, when guitarist Johnny Marr decided to take a break after declaring himself exhausted by the workload. 

This is said to have prompted a backlash from his fellow bandmates, and a month later he quit for good.

The Smiths pictured from left to right: Johnny Marr, Morrissey, Mike Joyce and Andy Rourke

Morrissey tucks into a bunch of grapes in a hot tub in Beverly Hills, California in August 1992

The true causes of behind the scenes tensions has been a matter of dispute ever since, with Marr rejecting claims by NME that The Smiths’ lead singer Morrissey had been annoyed with him for working with other musicians. 

Instead, he insisted the split had been due to a disagreement over Morrissey’s desire to cover pop songs from the 1960s including hits by Twinkle and Cilla Black. 

Marr said in 1992: ‘That was the last straw, really. I didn’t form a group to perform Cilla Black songs.’ 

He added in 2018: ‘The differences in personalities are what often make for interesting chemistry, and inevitably the differences in personality comes a point when those things are gonna stop forward motion, I guess. 

‘I suppose as well, me and Morrissey just saw our futures differently.’

Conversely, Morrissey blamed The Smiths’ lack of a strong manager, which he believed caused problems to arise. 

The main point of disagreement was the issue of royalties, with Morrissey and Marr commanding 40 per cent each compared to just 10 per cent for Rourke and Mike Joyce. 

In March 1989, Rourke and Joyce began legal proceedings against their former bandmates, arguing they were equal partners in the band and should receive a quarter of the proceeds. 

The Smiths appearing on ITV's music programme, The Tube, during the 1980s

Rourke (left) and Joyce (right) arriving at the High Court in London in 1996 during their legal bid to win a bigger share of The Smiths' royalties

While Rourke settled before a trial, Joyce took his case to court in 1996 and won his case, with the judge branding Morrissey ‘devious, truculent and unreliable’ and Johnny as ‘willing to embroider his evidence to a point where he became less credible’. 

Despite the fallout, attempts at a reunion followed, and in September 2008 Marr met Morrissey for peace talks at a pub in South Manchester.

In an interview, he noted that while they both seemed ‘keen’, nothing came from their encounter.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, he admitted that she couldn’t see himself being friends with Morrissey again, but insisted that there was no bad blood between the pair, who both published their own memoirs.