Steve Harwell, who cofounded the band Smash Mouth in 1994, has died at the age of 56, band manager Robert Hayes confirmed. The musician, best known for hits like “All Star” and “I’m a Believer,” died at his home in Boise, ID “surrounded by family and friends.”
Harwell had been in hospice care following medical complications. The cause of death was liver failure, Hayes told Rolling Stone.
Hayes said Harwell “passed peacefully and comfortably.” In a statement to Rolling Stone, he offered a lengthy tribute to the artist, who was a staple of Nineties rock music and saw success with multiple albums and singles, selling more than 10 million albums with his band worldwide.
“Steve has been retired from Smash Mouth for two years now, and the band continues to tour with new vocalist Zach Goode,” Hayes said. “That said, Steve’s legacy will live on through the music. With Steve, Smash Mouth has sold over 10 Million albums worldwide-wide and topped the charts with two #1 hit singles, five Top 40 singles, three Hot 100 singles, four Billboard 200 albums and a Grammy nomination not to mention the hundreds of film and television placements and of course those musical features in Shrek.”
He continued, “Steve’s iconic voice is one of the most recognizable voices from his generation. He loved the fans and loved to perform. Steve Harwell was a true American original. A larger than life character who shot up into the sky like a Roman candle. Steve should be remembered for his unwavering focus and impassioned determination to reach the heights of pop stardom. And the fact that he achieved this near-impossible goal with very limited musical experience makes his accomplishments all the more remarkable. His only tools were his irrepressible charm and charisma, his fearlessly reckless ambition, and his king-size cajones. Steve lived a 100 percent full-throttle life. Burning brightly across the universe before burning out.”
While Harwell has not been an official member of Smash Mouth since 2021, he and bassist Paul Delisle are the only two original band members who had remained consistent through the majority of the group’s run.
Harwell began his music career in San Jose, California as a rapper with the group F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech). After the group’s demise, he began working with his friend, drummer Kevin Coleman in 1990. Later, he teamed up with guitarist Greg Camp and bassist Paul Delisle. The four-piece issued two demos that garnered airplay at a local radio station. They soon performed at a summer festival alongside No Doubt and Beck.
Their debut album, Fush Yu Mang, arrived in 1997 via Interscope and spawned “Walkin’ on the Sun,” a Number One hit on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart that reached Number Two on the Hot 100 chart.
The band’s sophomore set, 1999’s Astro Lounge, incorporated more pop and was more musically diverse than its ska-influenced predecessor. It also spawned “All Star,” their biggest hit of their career. The song appeared in numerous film soundtracks, including the first Shrek movie and helped propel the album to triple-platinum status. Their cover of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” also appeared in 2001’s Shrek.
Harwell spoke of Astro Lounge’s new direction and had a message for the band’s detractors in a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone. “A lot of people said that we weren’t talented enough to do that type of shit. Well, we did it, and I want them to eat their words. We got slagged so much by people who wanted us to fail,” he said. “Even friends want you to fail. They’d get a good laugh if I fell flat on my face. We did this record to let people know, “Hey, don’t fuck with us. We built this team and nobody’s going to take it away from us.”
That same year, the band released a collection of early songs called The East Bay Sessions. Coleman left shortly after, citing back problems. Ex-Tripping Daisy drummer Mitch Marine eventually replaced Coleman on tour and on later albums.
The band dropped two more albums in the early aughts — 2001’s self-titled LP and 2003’s Get the Picture? They issued their fifth album, 2006’s Summer Girl on new label Universal following Harwell’s appearance on reality show The Surreal Life alongside Alexis Arquette, C.C. DeVille, Sherman Hemsley, Maven Huffman, Tawny Kitaen, and Andrea Lowell, with Florence Henderson serving as the house therapist.
Smash Mouth’s most recent full-length album, Magic, was released in 2012, the same year their book Recipes From the Road dropped. The band continued to tour as more members rotated in and out of the group.
While Harwell remained a mainstay, he was prone to onstage outbursts before ultimately leaving the group in 2021. At a Fort Collins, Colorado show in 2015, he reportedly became angry during the encore, yelled profanities, and exited after bread was thrown onstage. He later apologized. (In August 2016, Harwell reportedly collapsed and was taken away by ambulance while the band finished the set without him.)
But it was an incident in Oct. 9, 2021 that led him to retire from music. At the Big Sip festival in Bethel, New York, Harwell was captured on video slurring his words, threatening the audience, and giving the middle finger to fans. A rep for the singer told the New York Post at the time that his Wernicke encephalopathy, a neurological condition, impacted Harwell’s motor functions and memory.
“Steve has been dealing with long-term medical issues over the last eight years and during his last performance at the Big Sip stage, he suffered numerous symptoms directly linked with his current medical situation,” the rep said at the time. “As of today, Steve will be retiring from Smash Mouth to focus on his physical and mental health.”
To mark the 20th anniversary of “All Star” in 2019, Harwell addressed the enduring appeal behind the song for Rolling Stone’s oral history of the track. “All Star” was more than just an inescapable hit that flavored films and your favorite memes, it became part of the fabric of generations of music lovers for nearly a quarter century and continues to resonate.
“It was definitely a moment where other artists and people finally realized we’re not a bunch of punk kids. We write great songs and it’s iconic,” he said.
“The song just won’t go away because it’s just one of those songs,” Harwell added. “It’s like fucking Led Zeppelin ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ It’s like fuckin’ Lynyrd Skynyrd. You have certain songs that bands make that just don’t go away. We were blessed with that, and it was ‘All Star.’”
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