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Steve Harwell, Former Smash Mouth Singer, Dies at 56

Artist had left the group in 2021 after struggling with health issues
steve harwell
(Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for 90sFEST)

Steve Harwell, the former lead singer and co-founder of pop/rock hitmakers Smash Mouth, has died at the age of 56. Per a statement provided by the band’s manager Robert Hayes, Harwell “passed peacefully and comfortably” today (Sept. 4) at his home in Boise, Id., surrounded by his family and friends. The cause of death was acute liver failure. SPIN previously reported that Harwell was placed in hospice care and had been battling heart and liver failure for the past two years.

Harwell was born on Jan. 9, 1967 in Santa Clara, Ca. Before forming Smash Mouth in 1994 with Kevin Coleman (drums), Greg Camp (guitar), and Paul De Lisle (bass), he rapped in the group F.O.S. Smash Mouth’s 1997 debut album, Fush Yu Mang, rocketed the group to fame on the strength of the No. 2 Billboard Hot 100 hit “Walkin’ on the Sun,” and was eventually certified double platinum for U.S. shipments of two million copies, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

Two years later, the follow-up album Astro Lounge fared even better, shifting three million copies thanks to the hit singles “All Star,” “Can’t Get Enough of You Baby,” and “When the Morning Comes.” “All Star” was heavily licensed to commercials and films, and earned Smash Mouth a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal in 2000.

The group scored one last major hit with its cover of the Neil Diamond-written, Monkees-popularized “I’m a Believer” from the 2001 Shrek soundtrack. That same year, Harwell’s six-month-old son, Presley Scott, died of complications from acute lymphocytic leukemia, leading the singer to create a research fund for the disease.

In addition to his work with Smash Mouth, Harwell appeared on The Surreal Life reality television show in 2006.

Smash Mouth’s last album, Magic, was released in 2012 (along with a cookbook titled Recipes From the Road), but the group toured regularly for the next decade. In 2021, Harwell retired from Smash Mouth in the wake of a bizarre performance in upstate New York, during which he cursed at the audience and appeared disoriented. At the time, a person close to the band told SPIN that the singer was battling cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that impacts motor functions. Harwell was replaced by Zach Goode in 2022.

“Steve Harwell was a true American Original,” Smash Mouth wrote on Instagram. “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% full-throttle life,” the band’s message continued. “Burning brightly across the universe before burning out. Good night Heevo Veev. Rest in peace knowing you aimed for the stars, and magically hit your target.”