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Steve Harwell, Smash Mouth Singer, Dead at 56

Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell has died at the age of 56.

According to Smash Mouth’s manager, Robert Hayes, Harwell “passed peacefully and comfortably” at his home in Boise, Idaho on Monday, September 4th.

Harwell recently began hospice care due to liver failure. Additionally, he suffered from cardiomyopathy and Wernicke’s encephalopathy.

Born January 9th, 1967, in Santa Clara, California, Steven Scott Harwell actually began his career as a rapper. His group Freedom of Speech (F.O.S.) recorded one song, “Big Black Boots,” that earned them some local radio play and scored Harwell a manager before he set his sights on alternative rock.
Harwell formed Smash Mouth in 1994, teaming with drummer Kevin Coleman, guitarist Greg Camp, and bassist Paul De Lisle. Their debut album, Fush Mu Yang, arrived three years later, and featured the single “Walkin’ on the Sun,” which hit No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the Modern Rock chart.

While the band began playing ska punk, 1999’s Astro Lounge skewed more pop. The single “All Star” famously became a hit — thanks in no small part to its inclusion in 2001’s Shrek (as well as the band’s cover of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer”) — and a lasting meme for decades to come.

Harwell released a total of seven album with Smash Mouth throughout his career. While later releases failed to capture the ska-pop zeitgeist in the same way that Fush Mu Yang and Astro Lounge did, the band became known for their knack for covers, recording renditions of songs by the Sherman Brothers, the Kinks, and the Ramones.

The artist was dedicated to cancer research. His son, Presley, passed away in July 2001 at six months old following a diagnosis of acute lymphocytic leukemia. Harwell went on to create a medical research fund in Presley’s name, and years later, raised $15,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital when he turned an egg-eating dare into a charity event.

Harwell long battled alcoholism. He also began experiencing health issues in 2013, when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and Wernicke encephalopathy, a form of heart disease that can also affect motor functions. Following a pair of bizarre Smash Mouth performances in 2020 and 2021 — the former was later described as a COVID-19 superspreader event, while the latter saw a seemingly intoxicated Harwell perform a Nazi salute — the singer announced his retirement from the band, citing “physical and mental health issues.” He was replaced by Zach Goode.

“Steve’s iconic voice is one of the most recognizable voices from his generation. He loved the fans and loved to perform,” Hayes said in a statement. “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.”