Born in Davyhulme, Lancashire, to a working-class Irish family, Morrissey grew up in Manchester. As a child he developed a love of literature, kitchen sink realism and popular music. Involved in Manchester's punk rock scene during the late 1970s, he fronted the Nosebleeds, with little success. Beginning a career in music journalism, he authored a number of books on music and film in the early 1980s. With Johnny Marr he established the Smiths in 1982, soon attracting national recognition for their self-titled debut album. As the band's frontman, Morrissey attracted attention for his unconventional yet expressive baritone voice, witty and sardonic lyrics, and idiosyncratic appearance; deliberately avoiding rock machismo, he cultivated the aesthetic of a social outsider who eschewed drugs and embraced celibacy. The Smiths released three further studio albums and had a string of hit singles. Personal differences between Morrissey and Marr resulted in the break-up of the Smiths in 1987.
In 1988, Morrissey launched his solo career with Viva Hate. This album and its follow-ups—Kill Uncle, Your Arsenal, and Vauxhall and I—all did well in the UK Albums Chart and spawned a number of hit singles. During this time his image began to shift into that of a more burly figure, who toyed with patriotic imagery and working-class masculinity. In the mid-to-late 1990s, his subsequent albums, Southpaw Grammar and Maladjusted, also charted but were less well received. Relocating to Los Angeles, he embarked on a hiatus between 1998 and 2003 before releasing a successful comeback album, You Are the Quarry, in 2004. Ensuing years saw the release of albums Ringleader of the Tormentors, Years of Refusal, and World Peace Is None of Your Business. He released his autobiography in 2013, followed by his first novel in 2015. His eleventh solo album, Low in High School, was released in 2017.
Highly influential, Morrissey has been credited as a seminal figure in the emergence of indie rock and Britpop. Acclaimed as one of the greatest lyricists in British history, his lyrics have become the subject of academic study. He has courted controversy with his forthright opinions—endorsing vegetarianism and animal rights, condemning royalty and prominent politicians, and promoting a vision of English national identity and Britishness. In a 2006 poll held by the BBC's The Culture Show, Morrissey was voted the second greatest living British cultural icon, behind only David Attenborough.
Steven Patrick Morrissey was born on 22 May 1959, at Park Hospital, Davyhulme, Lancashire. His parents—Elizabeth (née Dwyer) and Peter Morrissey—were working-class Irish Catholics. They had emigrated to Manchester from Dublin with his only sibling, elder sister Jacqueline, a year prior to his birth. They had given him the forename of Steven after the American actor Steve Cochran. His earliest home was a council house at 17 Harper Street in the Hulme area of inner Manchester. Living in that area, as a child he was deeply affected by the Moors murders in which a number of local children were murdered by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley; the killings had a lasting impression on him and would be referenced in the lyrics of the Smiths song "Suffer Little Children". He also became aware of the anti-Irish sentiment in British society against Irish migrants to Britain. In 1970 the family relocated to another council house at 384 King's Road, Stretford.
Following an early education at St. Wilfred's Primary School, Morrissey failed his 11-plus exam, and proceeded to St. Mary's Technical Modern School, an experience that he found unpleasant. He excelled at athletics, although was an unpopular loner at the school. He has been critical of his formal education, later stating that "the education I received was so basically evil and brutal. All I learnt was to have no self-esteem and to feel ashamed without knowing why". He left school in 1975, having received no formal qualifications. He continued his education at Stretford Technical College, and there gained three O-levels in English Literature, Sociology, and the General Paper. In 1975 he travelled to the United States to visit an aunt who lived in New Jersey. The relationship between Morrissey's parents was strained, and they ultimately separated in December 1976, with his father moving out of the family home.