Steve Harwell, the pioneering voice behind the band Smash Mouth, was reported dead today at his Boise, Idaho residence, succumbing to liver failure, according to The New York Times. The artist was just 56 years young.
In the years leading up to his death, Harwell battled various health challenges including alcoholism. He was diagnosed with a heart issue known as cardiomyopathy, as well as a neurological disorder, acute Wernicke encephalopathy, back in 2013. His health took a dramatic turn for the worse when he collapsed mid-performance during a gig a few years later. Harwell finally hung up his microphone after a strenuous New York show in 2021. At his retirement, he reminisced, “I’ve dreamt of being a rock star since my childhood, jamming in front of packed arenas. I’ve been blessed to live that dream. To my bandmates, it’s been nothing short of an honor to share this wild ride with you.”
Smash Mouth took to Instagram today to memorialize their fallen comrade, stating, “Steve Harwell was a true American original. A character so large, he could’ve been his own parade float. Steve’s relentless focus and fierce determination to break through to pop stardom should define his legacy.” The band’s complete statement is available below.
Before assembling Smash Mouth in 1994, Harwell dipped his toes into the rap scene with the group F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech), launching a single via Scotti Bros. Records. Reflecting on that era, Harwell told Stereogum, “We were heavily influenced by Chuck D at the time. I thought I’d have a career in rap.” However, Harwell soon recognized his future didn’t lie in the hip-hop genre.
Recalling a key moment in 2017, Harwell said, “Just when we were gearing up to release our rap single, Snoop Dogg came onto the scene and flipped the script. I found myself in Las Vegas, of all places, watching MC Hammer perform, and thought to myself, ‘I’ve had it with this hip-hop game; I want to front an alternative rock band.’ My manager thought I was nuts, saying it was a struggle to even get the rap single out. But he went along with my new direction, and well, the rest is history.”
Smash Mouth was born when Harwell teamed up with his then-manager and drummer Kevin Coleman, guitarist Greg Camp, and bassist Paul De Lisle, the last of whom continues to tour with the band. Their debut studio album, “Fush Yu Mang,” hit the shelves in July 1997 through Interscope Records. The album was an instant hit, featuring not just a cover of War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” but also the band’s breakout single, “Walkin’ on the Sun.”
So, if you ever wondered if a man could live his childhood dream of being a rockstar and then pivot from an aspiring rapper to a pop icon, Steve Harwell is your answer. As they say, rock stars never really die; they just go on an extended tour in the sky.