Former Smash Mouth lead singer Steve Harwell — whose distinctive rasp can be heard on the ska/punk-pop classics “Walkin’ on the Sun,” “All Star,” and Shrek theme “I’m a Believer” — has entered hospice care, according to the band’s manager, Robert Hayes. The news follows a long battle with various health issues that forced Harwell, 56, to retire from music in 2021.
On Sunday, Hayes announced that Harwell was in hospice, under the care of his fiancé, for final-stage chronic liver failure, and that he had “only a week or so to live.” Said Hayes: “Steve’s iconic voice is one of the most recognizable voices from his generation. Steve loved the fans and loved to perform. Although Steve is here with us still, sadly it will only be for a short time. My only additional comment is that we would hope that people would respect Steve and his family’s privacy during this difficult time.”
Harwell formed Smash Mouth with drummer Kevin Coleman, guitarist Greg Camp, and bassist Paul De Lisle in 1994. After the group signed to Interscope Records in 1997, double-platinum success came swiftly upon the release of their debut album Fush Yu Mang, which was buoyed by the fuzzy-funk groove of the spy-movie/beach-blanket romp “Walkin’ on the Sun,” which went to No. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. In 1999, Smash Mouth’s triple-platinum sophomore album, Astro Lounge, yielded an even bigger hit, “All Star,” which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and received a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Two decades later, “All Star” took on a whole new life as an internet meme, becoming one of most-streamed rock songs from 2017 to 2021 in the United States.
In 2013, Harwell was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (a form of heart disease that causes the heart muscle becomes enlarged and weak), an acute neurological condition called Wernicke encephalopathy, and heart failure. He also struggled with alcohol abuse for much of his life. In August 2016, while performing with Smash Mouth in Urbana, Ill., he collapsed onstage and was taken by ambulance to the hospital. In 2017, Smash Mouth postponed several concerts while he underwent treatment for his heart problems.
In October 2021, following a bizarre concert at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts during which Harwell seemed intoxicated — slurring his words, threatening the crowd, flipping the bird, and even giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute — he officially announced his retirement due to his “longstanding medical issues.” A Smash Mouth representative explained at that time that the singer had forgotten “where he was [and] his own lyrics” at Bethel Woods and had “limited understanding of his environment due to one of his episodes.” The rep revealed that Harwell had “suffered profusely over the years with several types of addiction,” which had “greatly impacted his motor functions including speech and impaired memory. … Despite Steve’s best efforts to work through these ailments, he is heartbroken to share that it has become impossible for him to continue doing what he loves most, performing in front of the band’s millions of fans around the world.”
“Ever since I was a kid, I dreamed of being a rock star performing in front of sold-out arenas and have been so fortunate to live out that dream,” Harwell said in a 2021 statement upon his retirement. “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.”
With Harwell’s support, his Smash Mouth bandmates (De Lisle being the lone holdout from the original ‘90s lineup) then sought out a new permanent frontman, eventually hiring Zach Goode in January 2022. “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,” Harwell stated. “I cannot wait to see what Smash Mouth accomplishes next and am looking forward to counting myself as one of the band’s newest fans.”
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