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Steve Harwell, Former Lead Singer of Smash Mouth, Dead at 56

Harwell, who was also a cast member on 'The Surreal Life,' 'lived a 100% full-throttle life," according to manager Robert Hayes

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Source: Mega

Steve Harwell of Smash Mouth at the Budweiser Downtown Touchdown two-day festival in downtown Atlanta, GA in 2012

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Steve Harwell, founding member of Smash Mouth and frontman of the band from 1994-2021, has died at the age of 56 from liver failure. His death, which occurred only days after the announcement that he'd entered hospice, was confirmed by his manager, Robert Hayes.

In a statement issued in the wake of Harwell’s death, Hayes said, “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% full-throttle life. Burning brightly across the universe before burning out.”

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Source: Interscope Records

Smash Mouth on the cover of their self-titled 2001 album.

Harwell, who got his musical start in a rap group called F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech), founded Smash Mouth in 1994 with drummer Kevin Coleman, guitarist Greg Camp, and bassist Paul De Lisle. The band found their first burst of fame through a demo of their song “Nervous in the Alley” scoring airplay on San Jose radio station KOME, which in turn led to Smash Mouth – now including keyboardist Michael Klooster – getting a record deal with Interscope Records.

While the band’s debut album, 1997’s Fush Yu Mang, made its way into the top 20 of the Billboard 200, ultimately hitting#19, it might surprise you learn that none of the band’s singles from that album – not even the massive alternative radio hit “Walkin’ on the Sun,” which topped the Alternative and Adult Alternative charts – successfully cracked the Billboard Hot 100. It wasn’t until the band’s 1999 album, Astro Lounge, and its impossible-to-miss hits “All Star” and “Then the Morning Comes,” that the band hit #4 and #11, respectively.

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In 2001, Smash Mouth introduced a new generation to the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” thanks to their cover of the classic ‘60s pop tune, which they recorded for the Shrek soundtrack. The cover was also tacked onto the end of their third, self-titled album, an LP which included the summer anthem “Pacific Coast Party” as well as the single “Holiday in My Head.” In further movie exposure, Smash Mouth also scored a brief scene in the 2001 film Rat Race, directed by Jerry Zucker of Airplane! fame.

After the release of their 2003 album Get the Picture?, which featured the minor hit single “You Are My Number One,” Smash Mouth were dropped by Interscope Records. While they were subsequently picked up by Universal Records, it took a fair while for the band to release their next proper studio album, and although they played “Getaway Car” on an episode of Last Call with Carson Daly, in 2005, the album that they were supposed to be releasing – Old Habits – ended up being put in the vault in favor of the band remixing some of its tracks, recording some new tracks, and then releasing an album which was instead titled Summer Girl.

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One of the other ostensible reasons for the delay in the album’s release was a desire to have its emergence coincide with Harwell’s debut on the VH-1 series The Surreal Life. Harwell appeared on the show’s sixth season and was featured alongside an absolutely insane collection of fellow cast members, including Alexis Arquette, C.C. DeVille, Sherman Hemsley, Maven Huffman,Tawny Kitaen, and Andrea Lowell, with Florence Henderson as the house’s resident therapist.

It would be another six years before the next Smash Mouth album, Magic, would see release, and it would be on 429 Records. Although the album had the same general feel as all of the Smash Mouth LPs that had preceded it, Magic failed to chart and only produced one minor hit: the title track, which topped out at #22 on the Adult Contemporary chart. (Ouch.)

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Although Harwell did a little bit of work as a solo artist, recording a few tracks for the 2013 animated film Pororo, The Racing Adventure, Harwell stuck it out with Smash Mouth despite struggling with health problems, including alcoholism, cardiomyopathy, and Wernicke encephalopathy, a condition which can affect motor functions such as speech and memory and can also cause heart failure. It was ostensibly because of the effects of these conditions that Harwell opted to retire from Smash Mouth in 2021. (The band has continued onward with new lead singer Zach Goode.)

In the wake of his retirement, Harwell issued a statement to PEOPLE about his departure from Smash Mouth:

"Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of being a Rockstar performing in front of sold-out arenas and have been so fortunate to live out that dream. To my bandmates, it's been an honor performing with you all these years and I can't think of anyone else I would have rather gone on this wild journey with. To our loyal and amazing fans, thank you, all of this was possible because of you. I've tried so hard to power through my physical and mental health issues, and to play in front of you one last time, but I just wasn't able to."


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