Steve Harwell left his mark on the music industry as the lead singer of Smash Mouth, the rock band best known for hits including “All Star” and “Walkin’ on the Sun.”
Despite dealing with health issues and personal tragedy, Harwell never lost his passion for the band, telling Vice in 2014 that he’d never tire of playing the hits for live audiences.
“There’s always somebody in the crowd who hasn’t heard it. Or hasn’t seen it live. When I go out on stage, I look at it that way,” he told the outlet. “Has ‘Free Bird’ ever got old?”
Harwell died at age 56 in September 2023, one day after Us Weekly learned that he was receiving end-of-life hospice care amid liver failure.
Keep scrolling for a look back at Harwell’s life through the years:
Harwell founded Smash Mouth along with drummer Kevin Coleman, whom he met in 1990, guitarist Greg Camp and bass player Paul De Lisle.
During a 2014 interview with Vice, Harwell talked about the band’s early success, including the moment their 1997 song “Walkin’ on the Sun” reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“That was f—king big,” he told the outlet. “I was 27 years old. I’d f—king never owned a new car, [and] I went and bought a BMW f—king two days after signing a record deal. And paid cash for it. I was living in an apartment with my drummer, eating Taco Bell, and running extension cords over the roof to steal power off my neighbor’s house because we couldn’t pay our f—king bills.”
Smash Mouth’s star continued to rise with the release of the group’s best-known song, “All Star.” The song charted around the world and earned the band a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocals.
“It feels like it came out yesterday,” Harwell told Vice of the tune in 2014, adding that it “kind of pisses me off” when people asked whether he got bored of playing the hits at live shows.
“Why would I get bored of singing these songs? These are probably some of the best-written songs ever,” he said.
The same year that Smash Mouth contributed a cover of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” to the Shrek soundtrack, Harwell’s son, Presley, whom he shared with ex Michelle Laroque, died at 6 months old from acute lymphocytic leukemia. Harwell later created a medical research fund in his son’s name.
In June 2011, a writer for the website Something Awful offered Harwell $20 to eat 24 eggs. Additional offers were subsequently made via social media, eventually targeted to various charities.
One month later, Harwell said that he would accept the challenge if fans could gather pledges of $10,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. When the fundraising goal was reached in less than one week, Harwell enlisted his friend Guy Fieri to prepare the eggs.
The challenge took place in Dublin, California, in October 2011, with about 150 people in attendance. Although Harwell required assistance from the audience to finish the eggs, the money raised still went to charity.
Harwell was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and Wernicke encephalopathy. Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that can lead to heart failure while Wernicke encephalopathy is a neurological condition that can impair motor functions including speech and memory and cause weakness or paralysis of the muscles responsible for eye movements.
A TikTok video of Harwell performing with Smash Mouth at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York, showed him slurring his words, threatening the audience and swaying back and forth.
“I’ll f—king kill your whole family, I swear to God,” he said to one fan during the October show.
A rep for the musician subsequently addressed the erratic behavior and announced Harwell’s retirement from Smash Mouth.
“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 in a statement. “As of today, Steve will be retiring from Smash Mouth to focus on his physical and mental health.”
Harwell thanked his fans and bandmates in a statement of his own after the retirement announcement.
“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,” he wrote. “I am so grateful to each and every one of you who has helped Smash Mouth sell over 10 million albums worldwide, put us on top of radio charts and those who have kept ‘All Star’ relevant as one of the top memes on the internet today.”
In September, a rep for Harwell told Us that the singer was receiving end-of-life hospice care amid liver failure. One day later, Harwell died at age 56.
Smash Mouth manager Robert Hayes confirmed the news in a statement to Rolling Stone, noting that Harwell had “passed peacefully and comfortably” at his home in Idaho.
Hayes added that “Steve’s legacy will live on through [Smash Mouth’s] music,” calling Harwell a “larger than life character” with “one of the most recognizable voices from his generation.”
The band manager wrapped up the tribute by writing: “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.”
An additional statement shared via the official Smash Mouth social media account read: “Rest in peace knowing you aimed for the stars, and magically hit your target. Rest easy.”