Rourke was born on 17 January 1964 to an English mother and an Irish father. He was interested in music from an early age and began learning the guitar aged seven.
In 1982, when Marr formed The Smiths with Morrissey and Joyce, the group initially trialled two other bassists before permanently enlisting Rourke. Marr described playing the bass as Rourke's "true calling".
On the morning of 19 May 2023, at the age of 59, Rourke died from pancreatic cancer at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City