5 Sep 2023

Smash Mouth frontman Steve Harwell dies at 56

8:25 am on 5 September 2023
(File photo) Smash Mouth, with singer Steve Harwell, performs at the after-party for "Dr. Seuss' Cat In The Hat" at the Universal Studios Cinema on 8 November, 2003 in Los Angeles, California. Harwell, a founding member and former leader of the US rock band died on 4 September 2023 at age 56, his agent said.

Steve Harwell on stage in 2003. File photo Photo: AFP / Getty Images

Steve Harwell, the lead singer of US band Smash Mouth, has died at the age of 56.

The band's manager had earlier said Harwell was in the final stages of liver failure and was receiving end of life care at his home.

In a statement Robert Hayes said Harwell died at his home in Idaho, "surrounded by family and friends".

Smash Mouth had a string of hits in the 1990s and 2000s with 'All Star', 'Walkin' on the Sun' and 'I'm a Believer'.

Hayes added that "Steve lived a 100 percent full-throttle life. Burning brightly across the universe before burning out".

Harwell retired from the band in 2021 over physical and mental health issues.

The musician, who struggled with alcoholism, was diagnosed with the heart ailment cardiomyopathy in 2013; and subsequently a neurological condition which affected his memory and speech.

But his final decision to leave Smash Mouth came after he appeared intoxicated at a performance in upstate New York, where he was filmed slurring his words and yelling at the audience.

Smash Mouth's long-time manager Robert Hayes confirmed to US media on 3 September that the singer did not have long to live, and was being cared for by his fiancée and hospice care.

Born in California in 1967, Harwell started his musical career in the rap group, F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech), who based their sound on the sample-heavy beats of Chuck D and Public Enemy.

Although they picked up local radio support for their debut single Big Black Boots, Harwell called time on the band when he heard Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg's game-changing work on The Chronic, and intuited that the sound of rap was about to change.

Taking a detour into alternative rock, he began jamming with his old friend, the drummer Kevin Coleman, and later formed Smash Mouth alongside Greg Camp and Paul De Lisle.

Their fusion of pop, ska, surf and punk, along with retro vibes from the 60s, generated an early hit in the shape of Walkin' On The Sun, which topped Billboard's modern rock charts, and helped their debut album Fush Yu Mang enter the Top 40.

Some critics wrote the band off as a one-hit wonder, but Smash Mouth proved them wrong with their second album Astro Lounge in 1999.

It went triple platinum and included the hits 'Can't Get Enough of You Baby 'and the incredibly catchy 'All Star' - a song which Rolling Stone magazine said "inexplicably mesmerized the world for 20 years".

Harwell preferred the second album to the band's debut: "The songs are more spread out, less fast and furious", he told the magazine in 1999.

His distinctive, raspy rap-singing voice was instantly recognisable and several of Smash Mouth's songs became viral sensations.

'All Star', which was written by Camp, had the longest afterlife of them all.

It became a hit a second time round after featuring in the original Shrek movie (with the band also covering The Monkees' 'I'm A Believer' for the closing credits), and spawned dozens of memes - including a Mario parody, and a TikTok trend that syncs up Harwell's opening lyrics with videos of people meeting various misfortunes.

"At first it was weird, and we were a bit guarded and resistant," Harwell said of the song's online popularity, in a 2017 interview with Polygon.

"But as we dove into it more and focused on it we started 'getting it.' Plus, to be honest, it has really spiked the sales [of the song]."

- This story was first published by theBBC

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