Steve Harwell, the former lead singer of Smash Mouth, died Monday at his home in Boise, Idaho, according to a statement from his representative Robert Hayes. He was 56.
He had been in hospice care.
Harwell co-founded Smash Mouth in 1994. The group reached to international fame with such hits as “All Star,” “Walkin’ on the Sun” and a cover of The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer,” which is featured in the 2001 animated film “Shrek.”
“‘Walkin’ on the Sun’ changed music,” Harwell told Rolling Stone in 2019.. “It changed the way people listen to music.”
“It was so different and it was so unusual, and it was so special,” he said. “It just had that sound that we created. Ask anybody that’s tried to copy us, you can’t. You just can’t.”
“Walkin’ on the Sun,” was the third song on the band’s debut album, “Fush Yu Man,” and the only hit. Its success helped the band get a major label with Interscope, Rolling Stone reported.
During Harwell’s time with Smash Mouth, the band sold more than 10 million albums worldwide, had two #1 hit singles and a Grammy nomination, NBC News reported.
Harwell had been retired from Smash Mouth for two years.
“Steve Harwell was a true American original,” Hayes said in the statement. “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.”
Born in California in 1967, Harwell performed in a rap group called F.O.S. (Freedom of Speech) before forming Smash Mouth, The Associated Press reported. The band released two two platinum albums, the ska-fueled 1997’s “Fush Yu Mang” and 1999’s “Astro Lounge.” The second album featured some of the band’s biggest hits, including the Grammy-nominated, platinum single “All Star,” and the cover of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer.”
Humor was a driving force behind Smash Mouth’s success, and at the forefront was Harwell’s playful alt-rock voice and persona, The AP wrote. He made a cameo in 2001 comedy film “Rat Race,” and had a well-documented friendship with the Food Network chef and host Guy Fieri.
Harwell, who had battled heart and neurological conditions, retired in 2021 to focus on his health. It came after a concert in upstate New York where Harwell slurred his words, threatened audience members and gave what appeared to be a Nazi salute to the crowd, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Harwell “has suffered profusely over the years with several types of addiction leading to medical and mental health issues,” including cardiomyopathy and Wernickes encephalopathy, a neurological condition that “has greatly impacted his motor functions including speech and impaired memory,” a spokesperson for the band told the newspaper.
Harwell was replaced in the band by vocalist Zach Goode.